Stone Cold Tomb

April 15, 2017 – Holy Saturday
Sealed Tomb
Read:  Mark 15:42 – 47, NIV
Focus: v. 46, NIV

So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

There was no fanfare at the death of Jesus. It was just – over. He was just – dead. What more could be said or done – now.  The Master was gone. But wait . . . there was still something to be done. The body needed to be properly buried. Left to the Romans it would likely have been thrown onto the garbage heap and left there for the carrion eaters. Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple, boldly goes to Pilate and asks for the body. Pilate is surprised that Jesus is already dead. Most lingered on much longer but the work of Jesus was finished – almost. Pilate gets confirmation from the Centurion in charge of the crucifixion and releases Jesus’ body to Joseph. Remember that the Sabbath is about to begin and Joseph has little time so he quickly wraps the body in cloth and places it in a stone tomb, one cut out of rock, and then rolls a large stone in front of the entrance. We are also told that Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joseph saw where they laid Jesus’ body. All have gone now. The only ones to remain would be the soldiers ordered to make the tomb site secure that no one could steal the body away and make spurious claims about it. All who cared are gone. Gone because of the Sabbath but they planned to return when the Sabbath was over.

What about Jesus now? Was everything he did and said for nothing? It sure seems to be the case. His body now lies in a stone tomb – stone cold tomb! It is the end of everything he stood for. It is the end of all His wonderful ministry of compassion. It was the end of three wonderful years of fellowship with the disciple band. It was the end of opportunities for the women who followed Him to minister to His needs. That will have to wait for Sunday when they can come to anoint His body with spices.

This stone-cold tomb holds now all that is left of a once vibrant, loving, compassionate person who spoke clearly against the “establishment” and its tightly held grip on the spiritual needs of the people. All is now quiet as the rest of the world solemnly goes to their homes and their beds and preparations for the Sabbath. The disciples are gone now, scattered in fear. Others speak quietly in the night about the events of that terrible day.

All Jesus has now is a borrowed STONE-COLD TOMB! It is Friday and Sunday is coming when . . .

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Greater Love

April 14, 2017 – Good Friday
greater love
Read:  John 15:9 – 17, NIV
Focus:  v. 13, NIV

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

In the midst of preparing these devotionals for this Lenten season, I remarked to our pastor that these devotionals are getting deeper and deeper theologically. He agreed with me. The one I was thinking of was this particular portion of Scripture where Jesus is directly speaking to the soon to be enacted events that took place during the Passover. This is so pointed and poignant; filled with meaning and pathos. I love Christmas and the stories from the Bible about it because that is sort of where it all started but Easter and the event leading up to it are at the top of my list because this is the culmination of why Jesus came as that tiny infant.

Love, real love, is at the center of this. This is love that is totally based on the Source of love – even more than that, it is based on LOVE, Itself! I did not use the word “Itself” lightly. Love is a person, a being. This is the Being – God – who created us and who has interacted with us down through the ages to show His love, His being, to us. Love, and the proof of that love, is preeminent throughout this portion. In here Jesus speaks of His relationship with His Father – God and His Father’s relationship with Him as being that of love. He brings it home to each of His disciples, including us, just how much that love is really at the center of everything we are and do and of who he is and what He does.

Twice in this short passage Jesus emphasizes what our relationship with each other is to be (see vv. 12 and 17). He even puts it as a command to emphasize its tremendous importance. I wonder sometimes how well we fulfill that command. I suspect you wonder also. This is of such importance that the beloved disciple, John, also reiterates it in his short letters. Is it any wonder that John’s writings are so beloved by most believers? I am struggling not to write a complete series of sermons right here and right now! Isn’t love at the center of God’s Word to us? John 3:16 puts it quite succinctly for all of us. So much so, that I don’t even have the need to quote it here. You are already remembering that verse in your own heart and mind.

It is time now to focus on our focus verse, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13, NIV). Jesus is making a statement here that he reiterates in succeeding verses about friendship rather than servanthood. Friends are privy to much more of the personal life of another friend. Things are shared back and forth between friends that would not be shared with a co-worker or servant or employee. They have their function or place in our life but do not have the same privileges with us that a friend has. Jesus appears to be inviting them into His inner circle, a place previously reserved only for His relationship with His Father, God. The statement made is indicating the importance of His relationship with them. He is willing, and will, die for them. They really do not understand this yet but later on they will grasp the depth of this whole conversation. John is writing this after nearly 60 years of pondering under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. The depth here is amazing.

Even more for us is the fact that this is not meant just for the initial group of disciples but is applicable to all who believe and thus become not servants but Friends of Jesus. My landlord, while attending Roberts Wesleyan College, was a Free Methodist evangelist who ministered for many years in Kansas and throughout the Midwest. His name was Rev. Warren Chase, and he had tremendous impact on my life during the almost 3 years I had the privilege of being around him. His favorite hymn was, “Friendship with Jesus.” It is an old one that is not often found in hymnals of today. Some lines from the chorus are: “Friendship with Jesus, Fellowship divine; O what wondrous sweet communion, Jesus is a Friend of Mine!” Aren’t you glad that Jesus is a Friend to you? If you do not yet know Him as your friend then it is my prayer that you would have that relationship with Him.

The Crucifixion – Wine, Part 2

April 13, 2017 – Maundy Thursday
crucifixion
Read: Mark 15:33 – 40
Focus: v. 36

One man ran and filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

We enter now into the final verses of Jesus’ life. No longer are we talking about a final chapter. Time is getting very short. Jesus is still on the cross at this point and it follows a very long time of Jesus being awake. Nowhere is there any indication that, from sometime Thursday morning (likely at sunrise near 6:00 AM when He would have risen for a day which included partaking  of a Passover Feast with His disciples and ended with His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane), Jesus had an opportunity to sleep. From then on He was in the hands of the Temple guards and dragged from place to place for His trials and beaten severely. This became so bad that he could not even carry his cross to the place of crucifixion. It is unlikely that all this time after the Passover Feast that Jesus has had anything to eat or drink. We wrote in an earlier devotional that he was offered wine mixed with myrrh to deaden the pain of crucifixion and enable Him to live longer and therefore suffer longer. Jesus, we are told, refused that wine so that He would experience the full impact of His act of redemption on behalf of all mankind.

The crucifixion was at 9:00 AM and in our scripture reading for today it has reached about 3:00 PM. Jesus has been on that cross for six hours of excruciating pain throughout His body. He has suffered from loss of sleep, beatings and the continued bleeding from the crucifixion wounds as well as the wounds from His beatings. All this means tremendous pain. He is thirsty but receives nothing, according to Mark, until after He makes His final cry from the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) After this, to mock Him, those standing by offer him “sour wine” (nearly vinegar) so they can hear if He says anything else. They thought he was calling to Elijah and wanted to see if Elijah came to take Him from the cross. Did Jesus accept the “sour wine”? Once again He refuses. Why? Because it was His responsibility to bear the full amount of pain and suffering from the crucifixion so that our sins would be paid for in full. He took no shortcuts to accomplish our redemption! Shortly after being offered the “sour wine” Jesus calls out loudly once more and “breathed His last.”

Salvation was now accomplished and Jesus was freed from this earthly life. Never again would He be bound by earthly things but after His resurrection would be free to return to His Father. Twice wine was offered to give some succor to the Savior and twice he refused. No one would be able to say He took any shortcuts to do the work the Father sent Him to do. In this respect also He is our example as believers. Do we take shortcuts while doing the Lord’s bidding?

The Crucifixion – Wine, Part 1

April 12, 2017 – Wednesday
Myrrh
Read: Mark 15:21 – 32
Focus: v. 23

Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.

There are two instances found in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus is offered wine to drink at the Crucifixion. This is the first instance and takes place at the beginning of the Crucifixion itself. It appears that nothing was offered to Jesus during the long night before the Crucifixion took place.  Why now? The soldiers in charge of the crucifixion of these unfortunates were not trying to be humane. Rather, they were endeavoring to make this hateful thing last as long as they could. Apparently to them and others watching, it was likened to a sport. We do know that certain things could be done to hasten the deaths of those being crucified. At the end of this long day for Jesus, and the two criminals, they decided to break their legs so the suffocation would take place faster since they could not support themselves and lift up to breathe when their legs were broken. This hastened their death.  This did take place for the two thieves but not for Jesus as He was already dead when they decided to do this at the request of the Jewish religious leaders. Those leaders did not want those men to be still hanging there when the Sabbath began.

Why give them wine mixed with myrrh? Because the myrrh added to the wine worked as a painkiller so they would last longer on the cross. It was not to be humane but rather so their agony could be dragged out as far as possible. Jesus had already been beaten so badly he could hardly stand and needed help carrying his cross to the place of crucifixion. Crucifixion was a very cruel Roman practice for executions and was well-known throughout the Roman Empire for its excruciating pain. I can well imagine the two thieves gratefully drinking this mixture since they knew what was ahead for them. We are told by Mark, however, that Jesus refused this elixir. Why would He do this? It seems Jesus was determined to drink this cup of bitterness to the full so that no one could say He took the easy road. Jesus bore ALL the pain with none of it deadened by any drug, neither the alcohol nor the myrrh. He bore it all! Jesus didn’t go halfway in any manner for our redemption!

Overcoming with Jesus

April 11, 2017 – Tuesday
Overcoming
Read:  John 16:16 – 33, NIV
Focus:  v. 33, NIV

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Isn’t it just amazing how the Holy Spirit uses the different personalities of the various writers found in the Bible? Each has specific tasks to perform for the presentation of the Good News about Jesus Christ. I think that John, the Beloved resonates with me better than most of the other writers in either the Old or New Testaments. That being the case then I need to pay closer attention to the others for they also have something I need to know and understand about my God. But, I do get to read some more in John’s Gospel for this devotional. Whoopee!

This portion of John apparently comes not long before the events of what we now call Holy Week containing what led to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This particular segment emphasizes that their grief will turn into joy. Now, I would rather talk about joy anytime and talk about grief – maybe never!  This interesting passage brings the disciples face to face with something Jesus has been trying to warn them about and prepare them for. Jesus is speaking about “in a little while” this and “in a little while” that and the disciples got confused. They did not catch His “drift” – as some of us would say. Verse 18 says they “Kept” asking each other about what Jesus meant by “in a little while.”

Jesus, however, knew that they were confused about what He was saying. He plainly asked them, “Are you asking one another what I meant . . . ?” Then He went on to explain what He meant by the words “in a little while” and other things He had spoken of. Then they seem to “get it” and thought He was finally speaking clearly. He told them that He had been speaking figuratively but the time was coming when He would speak “plainly about My Father.” See verses 28 and 29 which make it appear that now they understood what He was saying to them. The truth is they did understand some of what He was saying but not all of it. In the first place the time of the “in a little while” was coming closer each day and was almost upon them. I guess they understood the substance but not the total essence of Jesus’ remarks. This is obvious in the events that unfolded. It became something immediate very quickly and they did not adjust well to it. And did many of the things He said they would do.

There is an important section in here that we do not have time to enlarge upon for this devotional. It has to do with something that is often misunderstood by believers and misquoted because of it. That is the latter part of verse 23. Read it for yourselves and see if you can figure out what He meant. Hint: Pay special attention to the words “in my name.”

This whole section is about the special relationship His disciples (we are also disciples) can have with Jesus. Joy is the hallmark of the Christian. Troubles may come and troubles may go but our joy is made complete through Jesus Christ. Peace, brothers and sisters, is because in the end Jesus won it for us. Jesus never sugarcoats anything. He tells it like it is. Someone asked me about my medical clinic experience recently and I told them I greatly appreciated my caregiver. She didn’t sugarcoat anything but gave me the options straight up. That is what Jesus will do and even more. Real peace is ours even when there are troubles all around us. Peace is found in our relationship with Jesus. He is real and He really loves us. In John 14:27 Jesus tells us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The Dangerous King

April 9, 2017 – Sunday
The Dangerous King - Logo
Read: John 12:1-16
Focus: 9-11, 13

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

Why is it that so many of our leaders, throughout history, are assassinated? Surely there are many reasons but often it’s simply because they have become too dangerous to those who don’t want to lose their power. More recent examples in American history might include such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Go back a whole lot further and add Jesus to your list of those who became too dangerous to the powers that be.

In John 12:12-16 we have the curious event of Jesus entering Jerusalem to the waving of palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” Taken alone these verses lack the context necessary to understand what is going on. If we open it up to the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus we learn that this event was foretold in such places as Zecharaiah 9:9 where it says, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This was also the time of the Festival of Booths (Feast of Tabernacles) in Jerusalem where Israel remembered their exodus from Egypt and God’s provision in the wilderness. It was also at the Feast of Ingathering that recognized the end of the harvest that happened sometime in September or October. This was a time when many Jews made a pilgrimage to the temple so the city was filled with a lot of people. On the seventh day of the festival the people would wave palm branches and quote Psalm 118:25-26 saying, “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.” In verse 27 it says, “With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”  By the way, check out verses 22-24 in that Psalm where David talks about how “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  There’s a lot going on here!

Oh, and the Jewish leaders were watching and they were getting worried about this dangerous man known as Jesus.  To better understand the context of our passage you really need to back up a bit. In John 12: 1-7 we see Jesus in Bethany at the house of Lazarus. This is the place were Mary takes a pint of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus feet before wiping it with her hair. We talked about a similar event a few weeks ago when we looked at the story in Luke 7:36-50 (the woman who was forgiven much, just like us) that happens much earlier in Jesus ministry. Mary understands she was forgiven of much as well and this special act of devotion has a different meaning here as Jesus claims this perfume was for the day of his burial which, he knows, will be soon. He’s a dangerous man.

Now we need to back up a little bit more. Back in John 11 we see why Jesus came to Bethany. It was where Mary and Martha lived along with their brother Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. By the way, John 11:2 tells us that it was this same Mary we read about in Luke 7 who cried at the feet of Jesus and wiped those tears off with her hair. Here we learn that Lazarus is sick. Jesus receives this word but waits two more days before coming. The disciples don’t want him to go because the leadership is hostile to him there. But they must go and, in John 11:11 he tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I’m going there to wake him up.”  The disciples don’t realize that Jesus is saying the man is dead and he’s going there to reverse the unreversable; to revoke the irrevocable. He says to them, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. (vss. 14-15)” This would be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

You know the story. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany he finds a funeral and Lazarus has been in a tomb for four days already. Martha comes out to meet him but Mary stays home, fixed in her grief. How many times had she seen Jesus heal another? Surely, if he had been there on time, Lazarus would still be alive. Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again (vs. 23.” Yeah, sure, on the last day – at the final resurrection. “No,” Jesus says. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Mary comes and they take him to the tomb where we find the shortest verse (John 11:35) in all the bible: “Jesus wept.” The stone is removed at his command people are starting to worry about what it might smell like. Then he utters the command that rocks the world: “Lazarus, come out!” You know what happened. Lazarus comes walking out all wrapped in the strips and linen he was embalmed and buried in. What else can Jesus say? He says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Wow.

Now is when things get crazy as the Jewish leaders hear about what happened. What would you do if you heard about an event such as this? Might you believe this man was who he said he was? Or would you see him as too dangerous to keep around? Oh the hardened heart that chooses the second option and sees Jesus as too dangerous. Yet so many still see him that way today. Witness all those who attempt to stamp out our Christian faith and deny it. They will do anything to get rid of it because it still stands in the way of their designs today.

Fast forward again to John 12:12-16. This is the Palm Sunday event. This is Jesus entering Jerusalem just a few days after he raises Lazarus from the dead and the people are buzzing. Everyone knows what he has done and they give him a triumphal entry into the city, just as foretold in prophecy. The people had decided he was a king but the day before it was the chief priests who decided he was too dangerous. They plotted to kill him. The made the decision in their minds and hearts and that was the only option they were willing to accept. It had to be done and, if they waited much longer, he would be too popular to do the deed safely.

This is the beginning of Holy Week and it comes in triumphantly with the dangerous king named Jesus. By the end of the week he will be crowned – but not with gold – this crown will be made of thorns. And the Cross, something that is so often nothing more than a symbol worn around your neck, will be the instrument of his death.

I want you to think about this dangerous man throughout the week. When next Sunday dawns we will see Jesus crowned with the crown only worn by the King of kings and ruler of all there is. Our greatest enemy, death, will be defeated with a resurrection even more amazing than that of Lazarus. But, to get there, we have to go through Good Friday. This is the Way of the Cross and we’re almost at the starting point. The Way of the Cross follows this Dangerous King and we must die with him. This is the total sacrifice and He has paid the penalty of our sins on our behalf.

Day 23 – Blessed Is He!

Thursday – March 3, 2016

Day 23 – John 12:12-19 triumphal entry

Focus: v. 13

13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

The 1942 comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner stars Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and Monty Woolley. Woolley plays a self-absorbed critic who slips and falls in front of the home a local factory owner. He takes over the house of Ernest Stanley and suddenly everyone’s life revolves around the famed critic Sheridan Whiteside and his grand personality. Sheridan has many friends and it’s Christmas time so crazy gifts keep showing up at the house including a box full of penguins.

At one point Whiteside’s old friend and actor Banjo shows up, played by Jimmy Durante, and makes an epic entrance. He sweeps into the house as big as life and goes on and on about his poor friend. He starts the scene by sweeping Whiteside’s nurse off her feet and carrying her about the room before planting a big kiss on her, despite her many complaints. He then strolls over to the piano and starts into one of his famous songs. He sings, “Did you ever have the feeling you wanted to go but then you had the feeling you wanted to stay . . ..”  It’s a magnificent scene and the one I look forward to the most every time the movie comes on the TV. It’s one of the grandest theatrical entrances of all time.

In acting terms that scene is a Stage Entrance or Theatrical Entrance. It’s the moment a new character is first introduced and the way it’s choreographed determines so much of how you, the viewer, sees the character. Will you love him or hate him? Will you boo him or cheer him? The director is there to help you see what that character is all about.

Cue the entrance of Jesus into the scene in Jerusalem at the start of the Passion Week. The people take palm branches and wave them around and lay them on the ground before him. They’re shouting phrases that belong to the Messiah. They are giving an entrance fit for a king and that’s exactly what Jesus is. By the end of this week He will be betrayed, put through a sham of a trial and sentenced to die in the worst way the Romans could come up with. But right now He’s given the grandest theatrical entrance you can imagine. The Divine Director is showing Jerusalem the real Jesus and giving them the opportunity to root for the real hero of the story.

This is the story of Jesus, the King. God is telling you exactly who this guy is and giving you the choice to accept it. By the end of the week you will have to choose which side you will be on. Are you rooting for the hero of the story or will you side with the mob that is shouting “Crucify him!” This is the choice all of us have to make in life. Do we accept Jesus as King of our hearts or do we reject Him. John is working on his case that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of all creation. The two lawyers are arguing their case and you are a member of the jury. Which side will you land on? How epic of an entrance does Jesus need to enter your heart?

Prayer Focus: Dear Jesus, You are my King. Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Help me to make you the King of my heart. Amen.