Calling God on the Carpet??

“Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”Job 38:3

Poor Job! Not only was he impoverished in a day, but he lost his family, and his health! And to make matters even worse, he was trying to understand what had happened to him with a mistaken point of view — which the rest of the world of his (and ours) often holds. His mistaken paradigm was “I’m good and should be rewarded; only the bad get punished.” To make matters even worse, his friends came to call on him to repent of stuff he didn’t do — because “The good are rewarded and the bad are punished.” Up until this verse quoted above Job had vigorously professed his innocence and begun to call on God to correct His mistake.

The problem was, of course, that Job was wrong and God was right.

It’s a common problem even today, and I’m not just talking about the question of why bad things happen to good people! We live in a world that has some very strong opinions about what is right and wrong, about what is correct and incorrect, what God should be approving of and what He should not be approving of. The issues range from questions of morality, what is true, true religion in general, what political party God must belong to (really?), and even about spiritual reality like Heaven and Hell. And in many a mind, the assumption is that prior teachings, found in the Bible itself (the very word of God), must be wrong and what we currently think must be right.

In the book of Job, God calls Job’s call for correction of His will on the carpet, “Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!” God calling on Job to compare his abilities to God’s, his knowledge to God’s, his power to God’s, his wisdom to God’s. After a fashion, He was challenging Job to see if Job could “measure up”.
The same questions really should be asked of self-important, modern men and women today. Will we really ask God to check His work? Reconsider right and wrong? Withdraw His commands about sexuality, gender, roles, church, worship, priorities, and morality? Will we really try to play the teacher and “bleed all over” the Bible with our little red pens? We must be really smart to “school” the Creator of the Universe; the One who ordered the stars and planets; and the One who made man, woman, marriage, and family. We must be super-extra smart to know better about the changes that “must” happen with modern culture than the One who has foreseen things to the end of time. Yep, God needs to sky-write “Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”

After God helped Job to realize how weak, foolish, ignorant, and limited he was as a human being with an awesome tour-de-force of God’s infinite power, wisdom, and knowledge; all Job could say was, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did know know. Hear now and I will speak — I will ask You, and You instruct me.” (Job 42:3,4).

The solutions to the world’s problems, the solution to religion’s problems, the solution to the church’s problems boil down to the epiphany, in which we finally admit, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me…I will ask You, and You instruct me.” It’s the best teaching anyone could ever have, and the best prayer anyone could ever pray.

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The LORD Showed Moses His Back


Moses was called the friend of God. With Moses the LORD spoke “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11 and Numbers 12:6-8). At one point, then, Moses asked of God a special favor, “I pray You, show me Your glory! (Exodus 33:18)” God answered his request by telling Moses, that he would hide Moses with His “hand”, pass all His goodness before him, but only ultimately let Moses “…see My back, but My face shall not be seen. (Exodus 33:19-23)” This was simply because no man can see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20). Of course, God doesn’t have a literal face and literal back; rather, these are metaphors for the full glory of God versus a diminished version of the glory of God. Thus, Moses was shown a diminished version of God, which was enough to cause Moses’ face to shine (Exodus 34:29) for a while. What a grand privilege!

We may envy Moses perhaps; but the principle actually applies even today to Christians today. You may have never thought of it this way before, but we have also been shown the “back” of glory.

Consider for example, that Jesus (divinity, equal to the Father) came in the flesh and as the apostle Philip asked (very much like Moses) to be shown the Father, Jesus said, “Have I been so long with you, and you do not know Me?” Moses had to content himself with the “back” of God; but what Christians have may be better than His “back”; we’ve had God live among us — Emmanuel. While among us, He showed us God’s mercy, compassion, wisdom, fiery anger at sin, forgiveness toward repentant hearts, focus on spiritual things rather than on material things, and more. Not God’s full glory, but glory enough to swell the heart with wonder and humility.

Connected to this, every Christian baptized into Christ has been granted the promise of Acts 2:38, the Holy Spirit indwelling us as the presence of God, an honor without equal in this world; but one day we’ll see and dwell with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to face (see 1 Cor. 13:12).

Right now, we are already God’s redeemed people. However, one day we will be “bought back” from this fallen world, doomed to death and corruption, and be full redeemed in resurrected bodies living in a new heaven and earth of perfection in the very presence of God (see Romans 8:18-25).  

While still living in this world, we are now saved, although we have the potential to fall away again (see the parable of the sower, Matthew 13). One day, however, but we will understand full salvation; a full and final rescue from a sin-filled, tragedy filled, sickness and pain filled, and death filled world (Revelation 21:4). A world so wondrously different that we cannot even imagine it (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

We have eternal, new life here, in the forms of our walk following after Christ and God’s promise. But one day we’ll get to live that same kind of life forever in a new heaven and earth — the promise fulfilled — a life greater and more glorious than any we’ve ever known or known about!

We know joy here, but one we’l know fullness of joy forever.

We are indeed sons even now, inheritors of the wonderful things God has in store for us; but only as “minor children”; one day we’ll “gain majority” and be full inheritors.

Every Sunday we have fellowship in communion with the Lord and with others; but this weekly communion is just the poor shadow of the grand banquet in Heaven

The list could easily go on, but the point is that as many blessings and privileges that we know here, we will know more fully at Jesus’ second coming. All that God will show us now is the “back” of the blessings, but one day we will see them face to face in all their glory and fullness.

While on earth below, we might grow weary and discouraged with things as they are; but we must always be mindful that the joys, promises, blessings, and hopes we have in Christ in the here and now are only — can only be— the “back” of those joys, promises, blessings, and hopes. The fullness to come is more, so much more.

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Is the End Coming?

I’ve observed several blogs and email warnings crossing the internet over the past several days speculating that the End is near. It is all in the context of, first, the COVID-19 pandemic, and second, a lot of political radicalization that has painted “the opposition” as being the anti-Christ. So, whatever it’s worth in an ocean of internet opinion on the subject, I thought I would weigh in with some important observations from the Bible.

First, the Bible tells us that the End will indeed be a turbulent time, but only for Christians. Jesus said that when the End comes that people will be going about their daily lives as if nothing were wrong: “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the day of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did to understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:37-39). Notice that men will be making plans for the future as if there would be many more days ahead. Paul’s teaching was in accord with this, too, “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape” (1 Thess. 5:2,3). 

However, things will be different for Christians; Satan will be loosed and God’s people will be under malevolent attack, surrounded as in a siege (Rev. 20). Jesus put it on a parallel with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (AD 70) in His dual prophecy of Matthew 24. 

Secondly, you should know that before the the End comes, there will a great anti-Christ, however, he/she will be, generally speaking, universally hailed as a great leader and even a god. The tendency down through the centuries has been to label every authority that we don’t like as evil and an anti-Christ. The Pope, Hitler, Stalin, and others have been so labeled in the past. Today different parties point the finger at Trump or Pelosi, depending on your political leanings. The book of 2 Thessalonians 2 gives us more details, and I would invite you to read it for yourself; but suffice it to say that the things said in that prophecy don’t match anything that we can see in current events.

But what about the current pandemic? The Bible tells us that there will be disasters, earthquakes, famines, plagues, wars, and more that will continue to curse the world; but they are not signs of an imminent end of the world. Sometimes they are punishments from the Lord (I know this is politically incorrect to say these days, but it is very biblical), sometimes they are just random things that happen in this old fallen world, and sometimes they are the consequences of men’s sins. But the Bible tells us that we may expect such catastrophes in the normal course of history from time to time. 

So, while it is absolutely certain that the End will come, that Jesus will return, that this world (and universe) will be destroyed, that all of the dead will be raised, and that everyone will be judged by the great Judge Jesus; it does not appear that any of the events that are roiling our current lives are signs that the end is near.

But now, if I may, I would like to say a word to those who are suggesting to others that the End is truly near, that we are in the “end times”. Although I am confident that your intentions are good; you want to motivate people to finally come to the Lord. But there’s a problem that you might not have thought about. When Christians go around telling people that the Lord is coming very soon, and it doesn’t happen, it disappoints and gives the Bible and all of Christianity a bad name. When it doesn’t come to pass, it destroys faith and makes it almost impossible to reach them again — “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Now, I don’t say all this to pat everyone’s hand and say, “Don’t worry about things, you have plenty of time to come to the Lord.” The end of the world may not be at hand, but our individual ends could come within an hour of reading this. Any one of us could get infected with COVID-19 and be one of the unfortunate folks who dies from it; you could cross the street and get sideswiped by a car; you could pick up something heavy and have a stroke; etc. Jesus’ counsel is to get ready and remain ready to meet your Maker. You get ready by becoming a Christian: believe in Jesus as the Son of God, repent of sin, confess Jesus as Lord, be baptized for forgiveness of sins, follow Jesus faithfully — including to church.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Resurrection Day

The Scripture doesn’t give us an exact time of the resurrection of Jesus, but in putting together a few clues — 1) the women arrived just at daybreak, 2) the soldiers appear to be just picking themselves up on the ground from becoming like dead men at the appearance of the angel who rolled away the stone — it would appear that Jesus rose from the dead just before dawn on the first day of the week.

Before the sun had arisen, several women who followed Jesus got up and went to the tomb to finish anointing the body of Jesus. A problem was anticipated, though; who would roll the stone away for them? The tomb was guarded, sealed, and really heavy. However, when women arrived, they got news that they could scarcely believe from an angel who had rolled the stone away to reveal an empty tomb. “He is not here, He is risen!” 

Mary Magdalene ran immediately to tell the apostles. Upon hearing this amazing news, Peter and John ran to the tomb to check it out. Mary, who had already run all the way to where the apostles were (and was probably tired) trailed behind the two running men. Peter and John arrived at the tomb and looked into the empty tomb, but they don’t understand and they walk away puzzled. Meanwhile, 

Mary finally arrives back at the tomb, fatigued, confused, and deeply grieved. She peers into the tomb and sees angels there, who ask her why she is weeping. “They’ve taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve laid Him,” she replied. A “gardener” shows up and Mary, through tears, asks him where the body of Jesus was; to which the “gardener” simply replied, “Mary.” Immediately Mary’s ears recognized what her tear filled eyes didn’t see, Jesus. She fell at His feet, but Jesus gave her a new job, to tell the disciples that she had seen the resurrected Jesus. 

Meanwhile the other women returning to tell the apostles of an empty tomb also see the resurrected Jesus. Mary and the other women possibly arrived where the apostles and other disciples were staying about the same time, with similar but different stories. 

A little later in the day, two disciples (one named Cleopas), were walking back to a town called Emmaus. As they were discussing the amazing events of the crucifixion, the confusing report of an empty tomb and mind-blowing reports of the women who claimed to have seen the Lord, they were joined by a stranger who asked a lot of questions and opened their minds to how all these events could not only be true but fulfillment of prophecy. As they arrived in Emmaus about dinner time, they invited the stranger to stay and have dinner. As the stranger broke the bread, their eyes were opened to realize that it had been Jesus the whole time — who then disappeared before them. The men in joy rushed back to Jerusalem and the apostles to report a new sighting of the Lord.

Between the women’s reports, the empty tomb, and the apostles disbelief there seems to have been a bunch of head scratching in the upper room where they had gathered — until Jesus appeared in their midst in a locked upper room. There the apostles were given the opportunity to touch and have tangible proof that Jesus had truly arisen from the dead. 

Jesus had risen, really risen from the dead!!

What does it mean?

Jesus is the Christ — The one sign that Jesus gave to doubting opponents that He was the Son of God was what was called the “sign of Jonah”, three days and three nights in the tomb from which He would arise. It happened and truly proved that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God!

Our sins are really forgiven — The cross was the key to our salvation, but the resurrection is the key to belief. Had Jesus not risen from the dead there would be no evidence that our sins have really been forgiven, but because He did, we have no doubts.

The skepticism of the apostles is a good thing — While we may cluck our tongues at the disbelief of the apostles (Why didn’t they listen to His predictions and teachings about His resurrection?) the skepticism of the apostles gives us strong reason to believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead. These men were not naive bumpkins who were easily fooled into believing pretty much anything. In their experience — just as in ours — the dead remain dead. They were skeptics until they had been able to see with their own eyes, touch with their own hands, and hear with their own ears. We should be thankful for their disbelief, because it didn’t remain doubt after the evidence was given — if these skeptics could believe, we can too.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Saturday, 7th Day Sabbath

Hopefully, you missed my posting. I didn’t post anything early on purpose, to illustrate the silence of God during seasons of our lives. In the disciples’ lives at this point in the story that’s exactly what they felt. Jesus was still in His tomb, the questions were still swirling in their hearts, the future was dim and not looking good. But God was not “late for work”. God’s plan just needed to run its course.

What about your life? Especially in days like these, when the future looks hazy at best. God is still at work, sometimes His plan just needs to run its course. Keep praying, keeping following His will, and stand amazed at what God does.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Friday, Passover

So, for the past several days we’ve been following Jesus around in His last week on earth as an earthly human. Most days were chock full of teaching, healings, and confrontation of enemies. Thursday, yesterday, was likewise full, but in a different way — both profoundly tragic and eternally significant. 

But on Friday, a Passover Sabbath, Jesus’ body lay in a borrowed tomb. Jesus’ spirit on the other hand was in Paradise. As I was trying to speak of the major events of Jesus’ crucifixion yesterday, I skipped over the incident of Jesus’ conversation with the two thieves crucified on either side of Him. Other Gospels reference the other thieves, but only Luke tells us how one of the thieves repented of the mocking things they had said to Him earlier and asked Jesus to remember him in Christ’s kingdom. In response to this repentance, Jesus famously told him, “This day will you be with Me in Paradise.” 

Some may be wondering, “What and where is Paradise?”

When a person dies (any person) their soul (the spiritual substance of who they really are) are taken to a place called Sheol (Hebrew name) or Hades (Greek name), the realm of all the dead. A thorough study of Luke 16:19ff could be done for more detailed information (or I’ve written a book on the topic entitled “What Comes Next?”). The “where” is probably not findable by GPS, but was often (probably metaphorically) located deep in the earth. In Hades (Sheol) there are two sections divided by a deep chasm. In one section the souls of the sinful and unrepentant are tormented (called Tartarus); in the other section, the souls of the righteous and saved are comforted (called Paradise by Jesus as He spoke with the thief on the cross). 

We do not know for certain what Jesus did in Paradise. There is one New Testament statement that alludes to some activity, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). However, knowing more is apparently not to our advantage, so we know no more (Deuteronomy 29:29 ““The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law”).

Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, found themselves deeply grieved, confused, and disappointed on this Passover. The only statement made in Scripture that speaks to their hearts’ thoughts is found in Luke 24:18-22 as part of the story of two of Jesus’ disciples walking on the way to Emmaus pondering the reports of Christ’s resurrection. A “stranger” joins them and starts asking questions, “One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?’ And He said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to Him, ‘The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. ‘But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning,’” His disciples relate their high hopes about Jesus as the Messiah, the wonderful signs and miracles He performed, and how they had hoped that He would be the one to redeem Israel — but how He had been tragically condemned and crucified. And all Passover (the first time that Israel had been redeemed), they had probably tried to make some sense out everything they had seen and heard — all in the midst of their shock and grief.

What can we learn?

When bad, shocking, grief inducing, inexplicable tragedy occurs in our lives — as they often do — instead of letting it weaken our faith; maybe what we need to is take a step back. Although we can occasionally make some sense of events in our lives, we also need to realize that God may be doing something wonderful that we may not be able to make sense of in our wildest imagination. Instead, we need to trust the Lord to work things out in His own time, while we just do what we ought to be doing.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Thursday

This day, which started at 6PM, was the most intensely critical 24 hours in all of history. They are the last hours of the Lord Jesus’ physical life on earth. These hours are given more attention and painted in much greater detail than any other period of time in Jesus’ life — and obviously for good reason.

It begins with what is known as the Last Supper. To detail and expand all that occurred at this last time of fellowship and teaching would take an entire book; but since this is only a blog posting, I will do my best to summarize. This was a Passover meal; not only did Jesus and the apostles refer to it as such, but Luke gives us a glimpse of detail that others don’t as he mentions Jesus passing around a first cup of wine to begin things, as was traditional at a Passover meal. Unfortunately, the meal began with a disagreement about who would be the designated foot-washer for the meal (John 13). This was considered a very lowly job for the person who was lowest on the “totem pole” of status; but it is a job which Jesus voluntarily took up to quell the argument and teach a crucially important lesson that the apostles had struggled over for almost the whole time of Jesus’ ministry, the greatest would be the servant of all. In the midst of this Passover meal, Jesus took some of the usual elements of the meal and gave them new significance. He took the unleavened bread on the table and told them that it would now be used as a token of remembrance of the body he would be giving in death for them and us all; He blessed it, broke it, and passed it around to them all to eat of. Similarly, He took a cup of wine and gave it a new meaning; it would be a token of remembrance of His blood, the agent of purification from sin and also of the new covenant. John tells us that Jesus spent a good deal of time after establishing the Lord’s Supper in comforting the apostles with teachings about the Holy Spirit and praying for their strength and unity.

After the meal was done, the Gospels tell us that they all sang a hymn and left for Gethsemane, a garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. On the way, Jesus warned the apostles of the arrest and that they would be scattered. Peter vehemently proclaimed his loyalty to suffer prison or even death for the Lord, but Jesus told him that before the rooster would crow that morning, he would deny Jesus three times. In Gethesemane Jesus settled 8 of the apostles in one group to pray, but then led Peter, James, and John a little farther and likewise charged them to be praying so that they would not enter into temptation. Then Jesus walked a little farther still and fell down in fervent prayer. In this prayer He famously asked the Father to let the cup of suffering He was about to endure pass from Him — yet, not as He willed but as the Father willed. Clearly Jesus had free will to choose whatever He wanted, but He trusted in the plan and will of the Father. This prayer, the Scripture tells was very intense and fervent, so much so that Jesus began to sweat drops of blood. So deep was His grief, that the Father sent an angel to strengthen Him in His time of agony. After this time of prayer, Jesus returned to Peter, James, and John and found them asleep. He roused them and charged them with prayer again, then He returned to His own prayer. After a while He returned again and found them asleep once more. Jesus let them continue their slumber and returned to pray a third time until the betrayer and the Roman cohort were almost upon them.

Passover is always during a full moon, and April is often a dry time of year. It is likely, then, that Jesus had been able to watch Judas and the soldiers leave the city, walk across the Kidron Valley, and up the slope to Gethsemane. But He didn’t run or seek to escape; underscoring the deliberate attitude of Jesus to do the Father’s will. Judas led the crowd of soldiers right to Jesus and with a kiss on the cheek of greeting, he showed the soldiers who they should arrest. The kiss, however, wasn’t necessary; Jesus readily admitted to being Jesus of Nazareth, so that the soldiers might allow the apostles to walk away free. But Peter drew one of the swords brought along for defense and turned it into a weapon of offense to protect Jesus. He took a swing at the high priest’s servant, Malchus, and cut off his ear. Jesus, however, healed the wound on the spot and told Peter to put the sword away. From here everyone seemed to have scattered, including a young man who had followed Jesus and the apostles to Gethsemane in nothing but a sheet; most scholars believe it could well have been Mark, the writer of the Gospel of Mark.

Although Peter ran away like the rest, he and John did continue to follow Jesus and the soldiers at a distance. Because John’s family was acquainted with the high priest’s family, Peter and John were able to enter the court of the house. A fire in the middle of the court for a little warmth had been kindled, and Peter joined a circle around the fire to take the night chill off. While there, one of the servant girls identified Peter as a follower. Peter denied it. Another person around the fire, a relative of Malchus, also recognized Peter, but again Peter denied knowing Jesus. Finally, antlers person told Peter than He must be a follower of Jesus, because he had a Galilean accent; to this Peter swore that he absolutely didn’t know Jesus. At that moment the cock crowed, Jesus looked directly at Peter, and Peter remembered Jesus’ words and went outside the courtyard and wept bitterly. In the high priest’s house, Jesus faced both Annas and Caiaphas who questioned Him about His teachings, hoping to find something to accuse Him of before the Sanhedrin and the Roman governor, Pilate. At dawn Caiaphas sent to convene the Sanhedrin to condemn Jesus. Here they asked Jesus if He was the Son of God and Jesus answered yes. This, the Sanhedrin believed, was blasphemy and worthy of death. The problem, however, was that the Romans had received for themselves alone the authority to execute capital punishment; so they needed to send Jesus to Pilate. 

The accusation that the high priest and Sanhedrin made against Jesus had nothing to do with blasphemy, but rather sedition, calling Himself a king. when Pilate asked with Jesus, however, it became apparent that Jesus was not claiming to be physical king, but a spiritual one. Pilate sought let Jesus go by appealing to the people and by trying to trade Jesus for a well-known murderer, Barabbas. Finally, Pilate agreed to condemn Jesus to death, but sought to soothe his conscience by ceremonially washing his hands in protest against the religious officials and bloodthirsty crowd that they had whipped up to chant, “Crucify, crucify!”

In preparation for crucifixion, it was necessary to weaken the condemned with a terrible flogging that made ribbons of Jesus’ back. The pain and shock was enough to kill some men before they were ever crucified. After the flogging, Jesus was forced to carry His own cross beam for the cross. This proved to be more than His weakened physical body could manage, and He stumbled. A passerby, Simon of Cyrene, was forced to carry the cross beam the remainder of the way to Golgotha (translated: Place of a Skull). Here Jesus was laid down on a cross as soldiers drove nails through the fleshy part just above both wrists. Then His feet were drawn up slightly and also nailed, probably through the arch of the foot. The cross then was raised and dropped into a pre-dug hole causing the body of the Savior to pull against the nails. The priests who had been responsible for His condemnation stood before Him and mocked Him. Soldier gambled for Jesus’ clothes, the condemned were usually stripped naked and clothes were valuable. From 9AM to about 3PM Jesus suffered enormous physical pain, but it may have been the spiritual pain that was the most unendurable, as Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The Son, for the first time in all eternity, was separated from the Father, because the sin of the world was being laid on Him — Isaiah 53:6 “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” At the end, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” and He died. 

Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple, but a man with status in the city, approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. When Pilate allowed it, Joseph took Jesus’ body and put it in His own new tomb, which was not far away from the scene of crucifixion. A hasty embalming process was undertaken and a large stone was rolled over the mouth of the tomb. Additionally, a Roman seal was put on the tomb to discourage any tampering with the body, and a guard of Roman soldiers was stationed there to stand guard — just in case Jesus’ disciples might try to steal the body and falsely claim a resurrection. And then the Passover Sabbath fell over Jerusalem.

What do these things mean?

The bread and the wine — This ritual, which became known as either Communion or the Lord’s Supper or Breaking Bread, became a weekly observation in worship every first day of the week very early in the life of the church (see Acts 20:7). There’s a two dimensional aspect to the Lord’s Supper that should be noted here. In the bread we remember Christ, whose body was given to be punished in our place should be remembered (a vertical dimension), but as a matter of communion, too, we remember the one body that we are as the church (1 Cor. 10:17), a horizontal dimension. In the cup we remember the blood of Jesus given to forgive us our sins and establish a new covenant with God (vertical), but since we are in covenant with the Father, we are all related to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (horizontal).

The prayer for unity — This prayer uttered by Jesus in the upper room with His apostles was in the midst of a number of other important teachings about the Holy Spirit. Pay close attention to John 17:22 ““The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.” This is different from the union of the denominational world, where everybody is “OK” and we’ll just ignore the differences. The unity of the Father and Son is much, much more — real oneness.

Two more observations — although there are thousands in this section of Scriptures: In the story of Peter and what we know happened later, we can find hope for those who fall in a moment of weakness and confusion — it needn’t be fatal. The Lord is gracious.The Lord seems to specialize in fixing broken things and making them something glorious. Peter the denier became Peter the proclaimer. Maybe you’ve dropped the metaphorical ball in your life with sin or even a sinful set of years in your life, but in Christ there is always a “But God…” What do I mean? Consider this:“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…made us alive” (Ephesians 2:3-5)

Just a couple words of closing comment here: Read Isaiah 53.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Wednesday

The Gospel writers don’t have much to report about Jesus’ activities on Wednesday during the day, but there are some assumptions that we can make based on Luke 21:37, “Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet.” So, it is safe to say that Wednesday evening (our Tuesday evening) Jesus had gone to the Mount of Olives (probably Gethsemane, where He was later arrested) and that Wednesday morning He went to the Temple to teach. This verse also makes it unlikely that the dinner in Simon the leper’s home happened on Tuesday or Wednesday evening (our Monday or Tuesday evening), since Bethany is another 1.5 or 2 miles (perhaps an hour’s walk, because of the hilliness of the road) away from Gethsemane.

It is not known exactly when Judas went to make arrangements with the chief priests to betray Jesus. It could have been Monday evening (our Sunday evening) right after Jesus rebuked him for criticizing Mary for anointing Jesus with the expensive perfume in Bethany. Or it could have been after Jesus began spending the night in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, perhaps Wednesday evening (our Tuesday evening). Knowing where Jesus was planning to be overnight would be advantageous to know where to lead the authorities for a quiet, non-public arrest. My personal conclusion is that it was Wednesday evening.

The Mount of Olives would have been a most convenient and beautiful place to “camp out” for Jesus and His disciples. The Mount of Olives faces westward toward Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. It is directly across from the former site of the Temple, which faced eastward, making a walk from the Mount of Olives to the Temple only a short half to three-quarter mile walk. As the sun arose in the morning, it would brilliantly light up the white facade of the Temple, which was reportedly one of the most beautiful buildings in the world at the time.

Wednesday would have been the 13th day of the month Nisan, a day spoken of as the Day of Preparation. It is about this point when the question is raised about why Jesus would be be preparing to eat the Passover (as many of the Gospel writers clearly state He was), when the priests and the rest of the nation would be preparing for Passover on Nisan 14th and celebrating it on Nisan 15th. The simple answer is that God originally set Passover as being Nisan 14th (Day of Preparation would be Nisan 13th), but rabbinic tradition had changed the dates, so that during Jesus’ lifetime the Day of Preparation had become Nisan 14th and Passover Nisan 15th — as it is even today. Jesus and His disciples were simply observing Passover as God had originally instructed. Thus, Jesus’ disciples asked Him where He wanted them to prepare the Passover meal. Jesus gave them instructions about how to identify where the meal was to take place, and left the remainder of the preparation details to them to arrange. The rest of that day, at least for Jesus, appears to have been spent teaching and perhaps healing in the Temple — despite the weight of grievous anticipation of the next 36 hours or so that surely must have been bearing down on Him. 

So what can we learn?

One observation that I’d like to make is Jesus’ choice of day to celebrate the Passover. Rather than following the traditions (man-made changes to God’s will), Jesus chose to follow the original command. This is not just Jesus’ lone example (although that would be enough for any disciple, right?), but it is the constant call of the prophets throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

  • Isaiah 8:20 “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”
  • Jeremiah 6:16 “Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
  • Jeremiah 7:23 ““But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’”
  • Malachi 4:4 ““Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.”

And even in the stories of the Old Testament, there are evil kings (e.g., Jeroboam and Ahab) who departed from God’s original patterns and great hero kings (like Hezekiah and Josiah) were those who sought to restore God’s original commands and patterns.

This call to restore the original continues through the New Testament, too. Jesus Himself criticized the traditions of the rabbis that contradicted the original commands of God; and Paul urgently charged men like Timothy and Titus to hold to the standard of sound words (e.g,. 2 Timothy 1:13) rather than be lured by the corrupted traditions (cum doctrines) of men.

Bottom line here: God doesn’t appreciate human innovation when it comes to His commands and will.

Secondly, we should observe the trust and focus of Jesus even on the brink of His arrest, kangaroo court of a trial, intense suffering, and cruel death. Still healing, still teaching, and letting tomorrow worry about itself. How could He do that? His implicit trust in His Heavenly Father. Yes, a brutal 36 hours lay ahead of Him — but Sunday was coming!! There was exquisite pain and shame yet to endure, but His Father was completely and absolutely in control.

Given our current circumstances of quarantine across the country, we might find a perfect example to follow and find the peace and comfort we all long for. But even beyond this, it gives to us the right example in enduring persecution and difficult times that we may yet be facing — keep focusing on the good works before us, leaving worrying for the those without God’s hope, and relax knowing that we win in the end — Sunday’s coming!!

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Tuesday

You might be wondering how anyone might be able to determine what day was which in this walk through the last week of Jesus on earth as a man. The Gospel of Mark actually provides us a day by day account of the last 5 days with “on the next day” phrases. If we assume the first of these day (Mark 10:46ff) being Sunday, then knowing Monday (Mark 11:12), Tuesday (Mark 11:19,20), Wednesday (Mark 14:1), and Thursday (Mark 14:17). Using Mark as an timeline and outline, we are now on Tuesday.

Tuesday of Jesus’ last week was a thoroughly busy day. It began with Jesus and His apostles and some disciples walking from Bethany to Jerusalem. On the way those following Jesus noticed that the fig tree that He had cursed the day before was completely withered, which gave Jesus the opportunity to do some on the road teaching about the power of prayer (as we referred to yesterday).

Arriving at Temple, Jesus appears to have been confronted quickly by the chief priests about the authority with which He was “doing these things”. We don’t have a clear antecedent to what “these things” might be; they could be His miraculous healings, His raising Lazarus from the dead, His teachings, or perhaps even His cleansing of the Temple of the money changers and livestock merchants. Of these four possibilities, it would seem that the teachings and the cleansing of the Temple are the most likely antecedents; the authority for the miracles would seem to be obviously God. This, however, highlights once again the the blindness of Jesus’ critics, who couldn’t seem to make the connection between the miracles and their logical conclusions about who Jesus was and the authority that His teachings carried.

Jesus’ response to them was a counter-challenge. Generously paraphrased it amounts to “I’ll answer your question only if you answer Mine: Who gave John the Baptist his authority to preach and baptize?” The chief priests instantly found themselves in a no-win situation; any answer they gave would make them look bad. If they said that John got his authority from God, then Jesus would ask them why they didn’t believe John’s testimony about Himself. If, on the other hand, they said that John didn’t have any authority from God, they would become very unpopular, since the people believed that John was a legitimate prophet from God. So, the chief priests gave the only safe (but embarrassing) answer, “We don’t know.” So, Jesus refused to answer their question, too, and supplied us with a deft strategy for dealing with malicious critics.

But Jesus didn’t drop their challenge entirely. He went on in His teaching to tell a scalding parable about the wicked vine-growers (alternatively known as the parable of the landowner). In this parable Jesus depicts a landowner who lets us property out to vine-growers expecting a portion of the harvest as payment. When the vine-growers fail to pay the land owner sends servant after servant to collect payment, only to have those servants abused and killed. The landowner finally decides to send his son to collect, thinking that they would respect his son, but the wicked vine-growers, seeing an opportunity to kill the heir and take the land for themselves, kill the landowners son, too. Then Jesus asks the obvious question, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” The obvious answer: He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. Then Jesus quotes the Psalm (118:23) that prophesies, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone.” This prophecy against these wicked chief priests could not have been clearer, and it made them even more determined to find a way to stop Jesus.

Mark (11:13) tells us that it was these same chief priests and who sent other religious leaders to come challenge Jesus in the Temple courts, so the next few hours of Jesus at the Temple is filled with clearly hostile questions intended to stump Him or make Him look bad in the people’s eyes.

It started with some Herodians. They began by trying to flatter Jesus, hailing Him as one who was truthful and deferred to no one, but then gave Him a problem they thought would make Him guilty of treason in the eyes of the Romans or a collaborator in the eyes of the people — “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Jesus’ response was beautifully simple, (paraphrased, of course) look at the denarius in your own purse and tell me whose likeness and inscription is on it. Then, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.

Sadducees joined the effort to bring Jesus down in the eyes of the people with what they considered an unanswerable question about the resurrection. What if, they proposed, a man married a woman and then died before they had children — and then her brother marries her (under the Levirate law) but also dies before they have children — and then she marries the next brother, etc. down to the last of 7 brothers and then the woman dies. If there really is a resurrection, whose wife will she be? Jesus, agains, skillfully diagnoses their errors and answers them brilliantly. Their error: they didn’t understand either the Scriptures or the power of God. The answer: there will be no marriage in the resurrection and, yes, there will be a resurrection, testified to by a verse right out of Exodus (3:6), “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” — the stress being placed on the present tense verb “am” (as opposed to the past tense, “was”). Jesus concluded, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”

Another came asking what the greatest command might be. This was a question of great concern to many a religious Jew, since there were so many laws that must be observed, let alone all the traditions. Would it be keeping Sabbath, would it be keeping kosher laws, would it be keeping the holy days? Could it even be whittled down to the 10 commandments? What was the one command that, if you kept it perfectly, you could rest assured that you would be saved? Jesus’ answer might have surprised many, essentially it was the well-known “Shema” of Deut. 6:4,5 — there is one God and you shall love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then Jesus adds, for good measure, the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This answer was so profoundly correct, that even the scribe who seems to have asked the question as a trap, was impressed and said so. And this seems to have shut down the oppositional questions — for the moment.

But Jesus had a question for them to ponder from Psalm 110:1 which prophesied that the Messiah would be both a son of king David and One that king David called “Lord”. Fathers, especially a king, never called their sons “Lord” — unless their son was indeed of higher status, like God.

Jesus’ day also consisted of pointing out the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders who prayed long prayers for show and then privately oppressed the poor. He also sat across from where Temple contributions were deposited and watched while rich men dropped in bags of silver or gold with an accompanying loud thump; and also as a poor widow dropped in a few small coins that probably couldn’t even be heard as they hit the bottom of the box. Jesus’ commentary on the value that God placed on such gifts has lived on in precious memory now for centuries. It illustrated what a great difference there is in giving disposable income and giving one’s rent and food money.

Toward the end of the day, Jesus and the apostles left the Temple on their way to the Mount of Olives, where they planned to spend the night. As they left, the apostles commented on the beauty of the Temple, but were shocked to hear Jesus predict that not one stone would be left on another. When they arrived at the Mt. of Olives, probably Gethsemane, the apostles asked Him to explain what He meant and when this end of the world (as they understood it) scenario would make place. Jesus then uses what is known as a double prophecy to predict what would happen in the near term (AD 70) and what would happen in the longer term (the end of time).

Now what can we learn? Actually, too much for one blog, so I’ll condense a few observations.

Jesus’ answer to the Herodians encourages us to be good citizens of the physical authorities (as much as that is possible, while being good citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom — always.

The criticism and warnings that Jesus provided to the Jewish leaders in the Temple needs to be heeded by modern religious leaders, too, this writer included. God holds leaders to a higher standard and they need to read Scripture carefully, objectively, thoroughly, and practically.

The scribe who came asking what the greatest commandment might be gives us insight and hope that not every skeptic’s heart is cast in concrete. It is way too easy to write people off completely if they ever express skepticism about Christianity or an inclination toward something worldly. Jesus’ and the apostles’ early converts included a lot Jewish priests (see the book of Acts), Pharisees (e.g., Nicodemas), and tax collectors and sinners.

Beyond the conversion of the scribe, the answer Jesus gave about loving God first and second loving others is, of course, worth pondering. Jesus’ priority guidance is to love God first and then to love our neighbor.

The hubris of the Sadducees, believing that they could trap Jesus with their proof-texted resurrection question should make all us take greater care in our Bible study. Correct Bible study needs to include to important things 1 pay attention to details, and 2) use the “sum” of Scripture and not just “some”. These are still the shortcomings of many a would-be theologian.

Lastly, the prophecy about the destruction of the Temple put side by side with the true end times is something that should be studied, not for trying to figure out exactly when the Lord will be returning (that will NEVER happen), but for the sake of fortifying ourselves in perseverance and hope against the great forces of worldliness that will persecute every disciple of Christ.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Monday

I certainly hope that everyone is doing well today. I pray that all of my readers (as I write, we are almost all under “stay at home” orders because of the COVID-19 pandemic) are staying healthy and maintaining strong faith in the God Who keeps us as the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8) and good humor despite the trials of staying at home, concern about finances, and the anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow might bring. 

We left off yesterday with Jesus leaving the Temple in the evening for Bethany. That evening is, according to the Jewish reckoning, Monday. He stayed at the home of Simon the leper (there’s bound to be a great story there that we may never know until we get to Heaven). Although the evening’s meal was at Simon the leper’s house, Martha (sister of Lazarus and Mary) was serving as hostess. Lazarus was there and also Mary. Although we do not know all the details, there are indications that Mary might have taken on the task of washing feet of the diners that evening; however, as she came to Jesus’ feet, she offered a most expensive present. 

Over Jesus’ feet  and head she broke and poured an alabaster vial of expensive perfume, pure nard (according to John 12:3). This caused no little kerfuffle among some of those present. John notes that it was Judas especially who was offended that such an extravagant “waste” had occurred; a vial of such perfume was worth as many as 11 months’ wages. Judas, John makes clear was not merely a budget hawk, but rather was offended that it had not been sold and put into the common purse over which he presided and out of which he often helped himself (otherwise known as theft or embezzlement). 

Jesus rebuked the indignant stir among the disciples and defended Mary’s gift. Indeed it was extravagant, but Jesus accepted it as a burial anointment before His coming death and burial. He continued to defend Mary’s gift by reminding those who thought it would be better used to help the poor that they would always have the poor to help, but they would not always have Him —again alluding to His impending death. This gift of kindness, these “flowers” before His funeral, Jesus said, would be remembered about her everywhere that the Gospel was preached, and indeed it is found in three of the four Gospel accounts. This rebuke, however, seems to have had motivated Judas to perhaps seek revenge by speaking to the chief priests about betraying Jesus.

The next morning Jesus left Bethany and on the way passed a fig tree. He looked for figs, but there were none, because it was not the season for figs. The season for figs is generally from mid-June through August, yet it was early April. Nevertheless, Jesus pronounced a curse on the tree. Later that day, on their return to Bethany, the disciples noticed that the fig tree had withered. Jesus used the fig tree as an illustration of the power of faith-filled prayer, that we’ll talk about later in this post.

When Jesus arrives at the Temple, Mark tells us that he found that the money changers and other merchants had returned to turn the house of prayer into a marketplace once again. And again, Jesus drove them out. Some have suggested that since Matthew and Luke note that Jesus cleansed the Temple on Sunday, that Mark must’ve have been mistaken. Others grasp at this so called discrepancy and try to discredit the Scriptures as be man-made and full of factual errors. But the truth is that both could be true. John records yet another cleansing of the Temple in the early part of Jesus’ ministry. Could it not be that Jesus did this several times in the course of His ministry and that the Gospel writers are merely reporting different instances? In fact, it makes good sense that if Jesus was incensed at this marketplace atmosphere once, He would have been incensed many times. One wonders if every time the merchants saw Jesus walking through the Temple gates they started urgently finishing up whatever business they were conducting and began bagging coins as fast as they could. Incidentally, archaeology has discovered coins in the water drains of the Temple in Jerusalem from Jesus’ era. In my mind’s eye I can see the tables being overturned by the Lord, coins rolling everywhere, including toward the drains and dropping in for us to discover as token evidence of this very incident. One by product of this cleansing of the Temple was anger from the chief priests, who allowed merchants to “rent” space in the Temple. Merchants being driven away equalled no income for them. It was just one more reason they had to get rid of this pesky Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, on this Monday before His death, appears to have spent the rest of His day in the Temple. Because of raising Lazarus and the wonders He performed in healing the blind and lame who came to Him, Jesus naturally drew crowds and appropriate praise and celebration especially from the children who had come to the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” You’ll recall from yesterday that “Hosanna” was a word loaded with praise-for-God meanings. These spontaneous outbursts of praise  provoked criticism, again, from the chief priests and scribes, who saw it as blasphemous. Jesus responded simply, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?” As if to say, “Are the kids recognizing something that you are ignoring? “ And of course, they were — signs, healing miracles, and even the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

What do these things mean to us?

First, Jesus’ teachings in connection with the fig tree is a powerful one. There are some who have a hard time getting past Jesus withering a tree, just because it didn’t have any fruit out of season. This wasn’t petty revenge, however, it was intended to teach the disciples and us something important. It was to teach us about the power of faith-filled prayer. It is way too easy to lose faith in prayer, when we don’t see immediately results or the results we were expecting; and that’s why there is as much teaching in the Bible about it as there is. There are a lot of reasons why prayers disappoint, but the one that Jesus wanted to point out here, not long before His death, is lack of faith. Praying in faith is not about how earnestly you pray, nor about how much oomph you might put into it. Rather, it is about what you are willing to do in conjunction with your prayer. Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark (11:24) were, “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” Paraphrased, Jesus is saying that after our petition in prayer we should then turn around and act like God is going to give it. I like to to use the illustration of Israel as they crossed the Jordan River. The priests were commanded to march forward toward the river, which was in flood stage, even though the waters were not held back until the soles of the priests’ feet touched the water. Too often we ask for things in prayer and then wait for God to do everything like a cosmic waiter — then feeling disillusioned because our faithless prayer wasn’t answered. 

What about this possible third cleansing of the Temple? We must realize that trying to right bad situations won’t happen overnight. It takes persistence, perseverance, and consistency. Do don’t give up trying to encourage a non-Christian spouse, trying to correct a wayward child, trying to change injustice or error. Jesus’ efforts were many times ineffective — like cleansing the Temple, trying to correct the Pharisees, or getting the apostles to quit fighting over who would be the greatest — but He didn’t give up; and neither should we.

Lastly, it is almost inexplicable that they chief priests and scribes should be seeing the same miracles, seeing the same signs, hearing the same wonderful and true-to-the-Scriptures teachings and be seeking to put Him to death. And yet they were! The only explanation can be that they were so invested in the status quo of financial gain, prestigious position, certainty of their own righteousness, and their traditional teachings that they could not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Now we could cluck our tongue as such blindness or we could realize that we ourselves are not immune from this kind of blindness. Being faithful to God means staying humble, listening carefully, examining everything closely, and being fiercely loyal to God above all.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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