Welcome to the March 2013 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2013
March 1, 2013
“And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders shall fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and shall worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.” Revelation 4:9-11, ASV
I saw an interesting video clip the other day about how we perceive color. They asked whether we see color the same. In other words, does my perception of red match your perception of red? The answer might not be so easy to answer. Our eyes have rods and cones which are photoreceptors that share the information our brains need so that we can see. The rods work at very low levels of light and are far more numerous than the cones. The cones help us to see color. There are three kinds of cones, and each receives light at different wavelengths. One sees red, another sees blue and the third sees green. The cones are not evenly distributed, so one person might have many red and few green, while another has more blue than red.
These differences mean that the amount of light seen will be different from person to person, so while I might see an apple as bright red, you might think the apple is darker or lighter. The video showed a diagram with a circle of squares, all but one were exactly the same color. The one that was different was only slightly different, making it hard to pick out. When I looked at the circle of squares, I thought I was looking for one that was darker than the rest, and I pointed to two or three before they revealed the answer. As it turned out, the one that was different was slightly lighter. I could see it when it was pointed out, but I would never have guessed that one on my own. In my mind I saw differences in other squares.
Though we might see colors differently, it is unlikely that the differences will be more than just variations of the same color. There have been studies to show that color impacts our mood. Orange makes us peppy. Blue makes us calm. It has been discovered that the reason for this has to do with the design of the human body. Human beings tend to be diurnal, which means we do most of our activity during the day. The reason for this has to do with the color of light. Daytime is in the range of orange, while nighttime is in the range of blue. Nocturnal animals only have two types of cones. They don’t see the daytime colors that give us our daytime energy. So, though my red might be different than your red, it is likely that we are both actually seeing red because we have the cones that inform our brains of red light waves.
This is a very simplistic explanation of something I don’t fully understand. I don’t think anyone, even the most advanced scientists, fully understand how it works. We are beginning to understand the brain, but there is so much about it that is just beyond our reach. When you think about the complicated process of seeing color in the human eye, how can you ignore the reality that we have been created by a magnificent and incredible God? He created us, even down to the tiny rods and cones in our eyes that help us perceive light and color, numbering each so that we can see the world in all its beauty.
“For there is no good tree that bringeth forth corrupt fruit; nor again a corrupt tree that bringeth forth good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” Luke 6:43-45, ASV
I have to admit that I haven’t memorized many bible verses. I can’t quote a passage for every circumstance, and I don’t often know the exact address of a passage when asked. I do know how I can find the scriptures and I usually know where it is in context, so I can sometimes even find it without access to a concordance. I do know what the bible says on most subjects and can find helpful words from God for someone in need, even if they aren’t verbatim. I don’t think I’d ever win a race, but I can quickly find the books of the bible. Those who can quote scripture have an impressive talent, but it is not something I’ve felt the need to pursue.
I have read my bible cover to cover. I’ve only done it once, although I’ve read a majority of it over and over again. I try to spend time in the scriptures on a daily basis, not only for my writing, but for my own edification. It is important to read and reread the scriptures, not to memorize the words but to lay God’s Word on your heart. The better you know the scriptures, the more easily it can come to you when you need it. Have you ever been faced with a friend in need and know that the best thing would be to share a psalm or encouragement from Jesus, but you didn’t have a bible nearby? You don’t need to have it word for word, but it is so good to have it ready in the depths of your spirit so that when the time comes the Holy Spirit can bring it forward.
I don’t write these words to boast; I have nothing to boast about. I write as an example of one who tries to live according to these words of Jesus. See, the more of God’s Word that we have embedded in our hearts and in our Spirits, the more likely that His voice will come from our tongues and His purpose will manifest in our lives. The life that bears good fruit is one that lives according to God’s Word. Daily attention to the scriptures helps us to be good trees, and keeps us from becoming thorns and bramble bushes. Are you prepared with God’s Word in your heart for that moment when the Holy Spirit will guide you to speak grace and mercy into the life of a friend in need?
“And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16, ASV
It is very windy at our house today. The weathermen have reported that we will have northerly winds of 20-30 mph through the day with gusts up to 45 mph. I’m not sure whether the wind is that strong at my house, but it is constantly blowing. The wind blowing between the houses is creating an eerie sound. It is garbage day, and I’ve seen at least one empty garbage can rolling down the hill. I’ve been waiting for the garbage man to come to my house so I can move the can inside the gate as soon as possible so we don’t lose it in the wind. I’d rather not have to chase it down the hill.
The trees that we have here in Texas tend to lose their leaves in February and March rather than in October and November. As I look out the window I can see the leaves raining down from the trees. They are flying off the trees and blowing around the yard and streets. I feel so bad for Bruce because he spent a good portion of his Saturday afternoon collecting the leaves that had fallen the last time we had wind. Now it looks like he never did the task. I joked last week that we had as many leaves at our doorstep as some places had snow. It looked terrific after Bruce did the work this weekend, nice and clean. Now the leaves are back, even more than last week.
The lid on our garbage can flipped open overnight. The bag on top was filled with some of the leaves Bruce collected this past weekend. Though I had tied it shut, the tie came open during the night. I didn’t see any leaves escape, but I wondered as I watched whether the bag would even stay in the can until the garbage truck arrived.
Wind blows and you never know what it is going to do. A lot of the recent weather news has been about snow, but when you think about the worst weather stories, it often deals with some sort of wind. Tornadoes and hurricanes cause a great deal of damage, most of which is due to the wind. In those storms the winds can reach speeds over hundreds of miles per hour. The wind can take the roof off a house or knock down a tree. The wind can pile snow or leaves or sand or even tumbleweeds at our doorsteps.
The wind can steal things from us, too. It can take a hat or umbrella. It can grab a piece of paper out of your hand and send it flying out of our reach. It can grab an empty trash can or grocery bag and send it flying away from us. Just the other day the wind grabbed an empty shopping bag right out of my shopping cart and took it halfway across the parking lot. I must have looked ridiculous chasing after it.
We take precautions when we know it is going to be windy. I waited for the garbage man so I could move the can as soon as possible. We take the umbrella down from our patio table so that it won’t blow away. We hold onto things tightly so that it won’t be taken from our grip. Do we take the same precautions when we are faced with the blowing winds of opinion and doctrine? God has brought us together as the body of Christ so that we can hold each other firmly in the truth of His Word and His grace. It is not unusual to be caught off guard on a windy day, and the same can happen to us when it comes to matters of faith. So, let us hold together, keeping each other from being tossed by the winds so that we will be the Church God intended.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 10, 2013, Fourth Sunday in Lent: Isaiah 12:1-6; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3, ASV
Survival experts have what’s called “the rule of threes.” You can survive three minutes without air, three hours without protection in a harsh environment, three days without water and three weeks without food. And they say that it is not pleasant to experience any of these circumstances. We need air, shelter, water and food to survive.
My focus today is water. We need water to live, to survive, to be healthy. We need water to drink and we need water to grow our food. We need water to clean our bodies and to make our homes sanitary. We use water in other ways, too. We use water to play. We use water to cook. We use water for beauty as in fountains. We use water for transportation.
The earth without water becomes parched and dry. I took a photo of our lawn this week, if you can call it a lawn. We are dealing with a pretty severe drought in our region and we’ve been unable to restore our lawn which had been neglected by the previous owners for at least a year. In some places, particularly where the sun shines harsh, there is nothing left but cracked dirt and a few hardy weeds. We experience dust storms when the wind blows. Without water, farmers are unable to grow crops or feed livestock. Food becomes scarce and people go hungry. It does not matter how much gold you have, you will die without water.
I suppose that’s why water is often used to describe God and His work in this world. Jesus is the Living Water. God quenches the thirsty desert and soul. He will make rivers flow in the dry places. Streams of living water even flow out from His throne in heave. Water means life, not only in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual.
The psalmist writes, “My moisture was changed as with the drought of summer.” This psalm begins as a song of thanksgiving for the great mercy of God. It describes the life of one who has been forgiven. The psalmist goes on to tell us why he needed to be forgiven. He describes the life of one who is separated from God, who is suffering from the absence of God’s grace. In verse four the psalmist admits that his life is without life, and that there was only one thing left to do. He confessed his sin to God, and in repentance received the forgiveness that God has promised.
The psalmist writes, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” The word here is sometimes translated, “Happy.” So, how do we experience the same happiness, or blessedness that the psalmist proclaims? First we recognize our sinfulness and our need for God, and then we turn to Him in confession. He forgives and forgets our sin. In this we are truly blessed. Our drought-ridden flesh and spirit are giving new life with the waters of grace.
Isaiah writes, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The text from Isaiah also begins with a song of thanksgiving. In this passage, we see God repenting. That might sound odd, since we generally think of repentance as the act of the contrite heart that turns to God. In this case, we see that God turns His wrath from the sinner. God’s heavy hand is removed and His saving grace is applied, so that we can sing for joy and drink from the wells and experience life in His grace. Without God we are parched and thirsty. With God we are happy, blessed and thankful, no longer thirsty.
The son had everything. He had a home, food, water. He had the love of family and a future of prosperity in the estate of his father. He wanted something different. Perhaps he thought the family business was boring or too much work. He may have just wanted to see the world, live in a city, or experience something new. Home and family was not enough. He may have felt oppressed or trapped, by the expectations. He may have wanted to go to a place where he was honored and respected. After all, he was the younger son. He would never control his father’s estate. He would always be number two. He wanted to be number one.
He asked his father for his share of the inheritance. Now, at that moment he would have received just one third of the value of the estate at that moment. He did not know if the value of his portion would grow over the years; he was willing to take the risk to escape. He accepted what his father offered and left home to see the world. That portion was probably enough to begin a wonderful life. He could probably buy land, build a house, and begin a trade. Instead, the younger son squandered all the money. It is very easy to spend vast fortunes if you are not a good steward of your resources.
He didn’t foresee the future that was ahead of him. Not only did he lose everything with reckless living, but the country where he settled fell into a severe famine. No water meant farmers are unable to grow crops or feed livestock; food became scarce and expensive. People went hungry, including the son. He found a job, but it wasn’t a very good one. As the hired hand who fed the pigs, he had to suffer the humiliation and frustration that the pigs were eating better than he was.
He knew that at his father’s house he could find everything he needed for life. They had water, food and shelter. Even the servants were living better than the son. He had no hope in this new life he chose, but knew that as a servant at home he’d live well. He decided to repent, to turn around and go confess his sin against his father. He was willing to be a servant, to work for his food and shelter. It would be better to servant feeding the pigs in a place where he would have bread to eat, than to wither away into death in freedom.
Now, I imagine that the son looked much different at this point in the story. He might have had some good times, but in the end he experienced hunger and exhaustion. He was probably thin and dirty, tired and forlorn. He may have left home in fine clothes, but he most certainly returned in little more than rags. He was probably unrecognizable. The words of the psalmist come to mind as I imagine what the son must have looked like: bones withered away, moisture dried up as in the heat of summer.
I wonder if that’s what God sees when He looks upon us as we dwell in our sin. We are dirty and exhausted, wearing nothing but rags. Without God, we are that son. We aren’t any different than him. We want to be in control. We want to take the gifts of the father and use them for our own purpose. We want freedom. We want our own life. But we quickly find that when we are all alone, separated from God by our sinful selfishness, that there is no water or food or shelter for us. There is nothing. We are nothing.
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my guilt.” Lent has historically been a time of repentance, of confessing our sin before God in preparation for the events of holy week. As we realize our sinfulness we come to a greater appreciation of the work of Christ on the cross. After all, it is our sin that sent Him there. Jesus took our sin upon Himself so that we would not suffer the wrath of God. Through Him, the Living Water, we are given new life.
Just as the son realized that life would be better in the shadow of his father, so too we see that we will have true life in the Kingdom of our Father. We see our sin, confess our sin and our Father restores us to Himself. He recognizes us, though we are unrecognizable. He sees us coming and does not wait for us to come to Him. Like the father in the Gospel story, our Father runs to receive us, to clean us, to feed us and to celebrate our new life.
It is no wonder that Isaiah and the psalmist sing about thanksgiving for God’s mercy and grace. Paul writes, “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.” We are changed by our relationship with God, no longer looking at the world in quite the same way. We see things through grace. God reconciled the world to himself in Christ and freely gave forgiveness to those who sought His face. This is something to celebrate.
In God’s kingdom, He’s the one that throws the party. The father received his son as if he had died and come back to life. He heaped upon the son the best robes and gold rings. He slaughtered the best lamb and opened the finest wine. He threw a party when the son was willing to be a slave.
Isn’t it interesting that the younger son was willing to be a slave but was received as a son, but the older son thought of himself as a slave even though he’d been loved as a son all along? The young son sought out the father, asking for mercy and got far more. The elder son thought he earned the gifts of the father and expected everything, but missed the joy of being in his father’s house. He thought the party was proof of the father’s love, and he was offended by the waste. After all, the father never threw a party for him! In the father’s eyes, however, both were loved.
The prodigal story is about restoring that which had been broken and making it whole. During Lent we discover that our bond with God is broken by our own selfishness and it has left us like the desert in a drought. We are all selfish, whether we are like the young son who took the blessings of the father’s love and ran away to be free or like the older son who wanted to celebrate his own goodness. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We are all separated from God and need to be restored to Him. We are all thirsty and need the Living Water for life. And as we are restored and welcomed into the house of our Father, we will joyfully drink of the waters of His salvation forever.
“So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world: but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So that thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Howbeit at that time, not knowing God, ye were in bondage to them that by nature are no gods: but now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again?” Galatians 4:3-9, ASV
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the oceans and land, the plants, fish and birds, the animals and people. He created everything and it was good. Everything belonged to Him. It did not belong to Him in the sense that our property belongs to us. We possess things. We use things. We even abuse things. But they are ours, so we can do whatever we want to them. God does not possess the world, but all creation belongs to Him.
Unfortunately, in the beginning Adam and Eve accepted the word of the serpent and ate the fruit from the only tree in the Garden that God said they should not touch. At that moment the serpent stole all creation from God. The heavens and earth, the oceans and land, the plants, fish and birds, the animals and people were held captive at the hands of that which stands against God and His goodness. Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden to dwell in a world that was ruled by sin and death.
This might seem like a harsh punishment for eating a piece of fruit, but God loved His creation so much that He did not want them to live eternally in a broken relationship with Him. So, He cast the man and woman out of the Garden, but He never intended it to be permanent. From the moment they rejected God, He planned to redeem the world.
To redeem is to free from captivity. We are held captive by sin and death, and God planned to set us free. He planned to recover His ownership of His creation by paying a ransom. We belong to Him, then, now and always, even though we have been imprisoned since that day in the garden. When the time was right, He paid the price. If we think being cast from the garden was harsh, how much harsher was the ransom? We deserved to be cast out of the garden because we did not believe God’s Word, we turned from the one to whom we belonged to go out on our own and follow our own desires. But Jesus was always obedient to His Father. He never turned, He never sinned. He remained faithful. He went to the cross to die even though He did not deserve death. He did so for our sake, to redeem us for His Father.
And now, in Christ, we have been returned to our Father. We are no longer separated from Him as we were when we were slaves under the rule of sin and death. We are now children, adopted by God to dwell with Him as we were meant to when we were created. He paid the price to set us free, and now we can live with the one to whom we belong forever.
“A worthy woman who can find? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband trusteth in her, And he shall have no lack of gain. She doeth him good and not evil All the days of her life. She seeketh wool and flax, And worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant-ships; She bringeth her bread from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, And giveth food to her household, And their task to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it; With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, And maketh strong her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is profitable: Her lamp goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the distaff, And her hands hold the spindle. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; For all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh for herself carpets of tapestry; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, When he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh linen garments and selleth them, And delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing; And she laugheth at the time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; And the law of kindness is on her tongue. She looketh well to the ways of her household, And eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children rise up, and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praiseth her, saying: Many daughters have done worthily, But thou excellest them all. Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; But a woman that feareth Jehovah, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her works praise her in the gates.” Proverbs 31:10-31, ASV
One of my favorite International charities is Heifer International. The organization is designed to help people around the world become independent and empowered. They began in 1944, when a man named Dan West realized that the people suffering from war were often sick because they had no milk. He was determined to provide livestock for those communities, but quickly realized it was a difficult and expensive task. It occurred to him that if he sent pregnant heifers, the communities would receive two for the price of one. The organization has evolved into so much more, and now provides more than just milk cows. They give people and communities different types of animals to meet all their needs. It is my goal to one day donate an “Ark,” which is a pair (or group) of every type of animal that they provide.
Heifer International is one of several organizations that I support that are dedicated to empowering women to rise out of their poverty. The animals that they give at first meet only the physical needs of the family, as they provide milk or eggs. They animals also provide manure and muscle for better fields of crops. Eventually the animals are used for meat and materials, like leather. Eventually the animals also provide money as the women and families are able to sell their surplus to their neighbors, after they share the blessing of a gift of an animal with their neighbors. The work of Heifer motivates the people to become independent and prosperous. It not only saves their lives, but it gives them hope that they can move beyond survival.
It might seem odd to pick the text of the Proverbs 31 woman on this day, especially since it is a day to empower women. The Proverbs 31 woman is often described as the unattainable ideal. She is like the “Martha Stewart of King David’s court.” Why would we want to put that burden on women who are just trying to find food for their children and the resources to give them a better life? The Proverbs 31 woman, however, is more than a superwoman whose life cannot be copied; she is a model of excellence, displaying a number of virtues that every woman should strive to emulate. She is trustworthy. She displays godly shrewdness, generosity and competence. She is a seeker of wisdom and is spiritually confident.
Perhaps it seems like a day like today is only about uplifting the women in countries where they are oppressed and burdened by impossible circumstances. However, even in the United States there are women who need to know that they are valuable and that they are capable. It may seem impossible for any woman to be like the Proverbs 31 woman, but if we teach and encourage women to be trustworthy, shrewd, generous, competent, wise and faithful, they will see their lives changed for the better. Their family will be blessed and so will their community.
So today, let us pray for those women that we cannot directly help, help those we can, and encourage those who cross our path so that they will see that they are worth more than rubies and their good works are worthy to be praised.
“For it is as when a man, going into another country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability; and he went on his journey. Straightway he that received the five talents went and traded with them, and made other five talents. In like manner he also that received the two gained other two. But he that received the one went away and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. Now after a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them. And he that received the five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: lo, I have gained other five talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that received the two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: lo, I have gained other two talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou didst not scatter; and I was afraid, and went away and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, thou hast thine own. But his lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I did not scatter; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back mine own with interest. Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath the ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away. And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 25:14-30, ASV
I like to watch the show “Worst Cooks in America.” It is a show that pits two teams of terrible cooks against each other, each team led by an incredible chef. During each episode, the chefs teach the contestants some important culinary procedure and then set them free in the kitchen to create a dish of their own. The contestants are truly horrible. They set fires, burn water, and put together the most bizarre flavors. They overcook the meat and undercook the vegetables. They can’t use a knife or follow directions, and in the end their food is often inedible.
I like to watch this show because these very bad cooks make me feel like a master chef, and yet I’m not sure that I have any right to laugh. I’ve set fires, burnt water and put together some bizarre flavors. I have overcooked the meat and undercooked the vegetables. I can use a knife, but I doubt my onion cuts would pass the test of those chefs that host the television show. I’ve made inedible food.
The show is a story of redemption for those who make it to the end of the series. The final two contestants make a meal for a panel of judges, and though the meals are usually not restaurant quality, they are delicious and suitable for eating. Those chefs arrive on the set unable to cook a box of macaroni and cheese and they leave with the confidence to feed their families. The chefs take incompetent cooks and teach them the skills they need to create healthy and delicious food.
Cooking is a skill that you can acquire. You can learn how to boil water and how to bake cupcakes. You can learn how to cut onions and follow directions. You can learn to understand flavors and put them together in a way that will enhance all the ingredients. You can learn how long to cook meat and vegetables. Cooking is a skill that can be learned.
But there are those who have a talent for cooking. For some, the process of preparing food comes as naturally as walking and talking. Another cooking show I like to watch is “Masterchef.” That show invites home cooks who desire a change in their life. They love to cook and they want it to become the focus of their career. They want to get a job in a kitchen or even open their own restaurant. Now, many of those contestants have learned how to be good chefs from years of experience in their own kitchens. However, you can occasionally see contestants who seem to have a natural ability. You know it is a talent when they are confronted by a challenge they’ve never experienced. They don’t know how to cook shellfish, but they come up with the most delicious and technically superb dish. They have never baked a cake, but can throw the right ingredients into the bowl and come up with a tasty and fluffy dessert. They can take a quick taste of a new spice and incorporate it perfectly into a dish. Cooking is a skill, but there are those for whom it is a talent.
What’s the difference? A skill is learned, and it can be learned by anyone. A talent is God-given, it is the ability to do something naturally. Most talents are skills that can be learned, but it is never easy for someone that hasn’t been given the gift. It takes hard work and long hours of practice. It can be a struggle, and many who try will give up when competing against someone who has been given that talent. But it isn’t always easy for the person who has the talent. They have a responsibility to share their gift, to use it for the sake of others. A person who is a talented chef should feed people, not hide the gift away in their own kitchen.
In today’s lesson, Jesus talks about a master giving his servants talents to use while he is away. The use of the word “talent” as a natural ability comes from this story. The talent in this case is a coin, but we understand that Jesus means something beyond money. He is talking about gifts from God, innate abilities that are meant to be used for the benefit of others. Of course, the story makes it sound like the master is greedy, and yet in the end the master doesn’t keep the profit for himself, he gives it to one who earned it. And in the process, the talents benefited others.
What talents do you have? What gifts have you been given? Do you keep them hidden at home or do you share them with others? It might seem greedy to become a chef in a restaurant, but what good is your gift of cooking if you only feed yourself? God has given you your talent to be used, to be shared, to make life in this world a little better, a little more beautiful. There might be others out there that can develop the skill, but don’t let that keep you from using your talent because your talent is needed in the world.
“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water.” John 7:28, ASV
When I was doing my research for yesterday’s post, I discovered that the ‘talent’ was first known to describe a unit of measurement, usually the amount of water used to fill an amphora. An amphora was a container that held approximately thirty kilograms (about sixty pounds) depending on the place. The coin was based on the value of the corresponding mass in metal. In the story, Jesus was referring to the coin, of course, but what if the master had given each servant an amphora full of water. How could that talent be used to benefit the master and what would happen if that water was buried in the ground and left unused?
Suppose the first servant used the talent to water some grain, which when harvested refilled the five amphorae with seed? What if the second servant used the talent to water some vines, which when harvested refilled the amphorae with wine? What if the third servant just left the talent alone? What would have happened with that water? It would evaporate or become stagnant, no good for anyone to use.
I know this is a bit of a stretch for the story, since the water in five amphorae would not water very much of a field or a vineyard; it is unlikely that with that little water the servants could refill those amphorae with so much grain and wine. However, we can see in this example what happens when we ignore a talent. Yes, talents are natural abilities, but can we take those talents for granted? Can we ignore them for years and then expect to be able to use them later? Can an athlete ignore his body for years and then be able to compete against other athletes, even if he is naturally gifted? Can a pianist ignore piano exercises for years and then be able to play beautiful music if their joints are swollen and in pain? Practice not only helps develop our abilities, but it keeps our bodies in shape to use them.
God does not give us gifts to ignore and let become stagnant. He wants us to use everything He has given us: ourselves, our time and our possessions. We are created for a purpose, each one gifted and called for a unique purpose. Are you walking in faith, trusting that God has provided you with all you need to accomplish His work in this world? Are you doing everything you can with the gifts He has given to you? Is the Living Water flowing from your amphorae producing something great and beautiful for His Kingdom?
Scriptures for Sunday, March 17, 2013, Fifth Sunday in Lent: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; Luke 20:9-20
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth; shall ye not know it?” Isaiah 43:19a, ASV
When I read the Gospel passage, I can’t help but ask myself, “How does someone get there?” Luke writes, “But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’” How does anyone think that killing the son will make the landowner turn his property over to the tenants? It doesn’t make sense to me, and yet seems to make sense to these tenants. They think they have a right to the vineyard; they think that all they need to do is remove the obstacle that is keeping them from what they deserve.
I think the same thing when I hear stories about people doing extraordinarily horrific crimes. How does a mother get to the point that she truly believes that God is telling her to drown her children in a bathtub? How does a young man decide that the best way to solve his problems is to take guns into a school and shoot innocent children? How do residents in a city destroyed by a natural disaster think that it is right for them to break the windows of stores and take anything they want?
On this last example, I can almost understand hungry people breaking into a grocery store to steal food to eat, but what need has anyone of a 55” television? It is wrong to steal whether the item is worth a quarter or a million dollars, but it might be necessary when people are suffering in such extreme circumstances. It seems that sometimes the end does justify the means.
Looting often begins with someone who is trying to help in some way, but human nature always gets out of control. The first people might go in and take only a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter to feed their kids, but soon others follow who are bent on destruction. They aren’t trying to meet a need, but to satisfy a desire. It doesn’t matter; the grocery store owners are rich, right? They are probably safe on high ground, houses untouched by the flood or earthquake. They should suffer like the rest, right? An understandable desire to meet human need is easily turned into something ugly and false.
That’s certainly not what we see happening in today’s Gospel lesson. They were tenants who owed the landowner their rent. Now, they might think that it is only fair for them to keep the fruit of the vineyard. After all, they did all the work, right? They tended the vines, harvested the grapes and even produced the wine. They worked hard; don’t they deserve to keep the result of their hard work? Besides, the landowner is wealthy. Why does he need a few bottles of wine when he already has so much?
They didn’t begin with the assumption that they deserved the land. When the landowner sent a servant to collect the rent, they simply said no and sent the servant back with a few bruises. The second servant received the same welcome. They made an agreement and refused to fulfill their part of the bargain. Perhaps they thought they deserved to keep the entire harvest because they did all the work.
Or did they? That landowner bought the land and planted the vines; he had a financial stake from the beginning. Is it fair for the tenants to keep all the fruit just because he had more than they? Is it fair for the tenants to live on his land and benefit from his work, without giving him his due? Is it right for them to go against the agreement? The landowner was disappointed by the response of his tenants, but he gave them another chance. He sent several servants; each servant was beaten and sent back empty handed. How would you respond? Would you send your son?
While I might understand thinking that they deserved to keep the wine, I can’t understand how they thought that they deserve the whole vineyard. How does one go from tenant to owner at someone else’s cost? How does anyone justify killing the son? How can they possibly think that the landowner will respond to the murder of his son by giving the land to his murderers? They think the end justifies the means, and the only end that matters is the one that will benefit them.
We might think that this story speaks to some very real, current issues in our world today, but we need to be careful that we keep this in context. We need to be careful we don’t see ourselves as something better than those tenants. We make mistakes. We focus on our own self-interest. We think the end justifies the means. We think that we should own the vineyard.
This is a story about God’s Kingdom. The scribes and the chief priests understood what Jesus was saying, and it upset them. They knew that He was talking about destroying those who had assumed they deserved the Kingdom of God, but who were not honoring the Master. They perceived that Jesus was speaking against them, saying that they were not serving God as God intended.
They were right. The servants sent by the landowner were the prophets who had been sent by God over and over again to call the people to faithful living in the covenant. They claimed to follow the letter of the law, but they did not live in a relationship with God. They pursued a righteousness based on their own good works and they rejected the Son who would make them right with God. And they did exactly what Jesus said they would do: they planned to kill the Son.
Now, before we act holier than thou, let us consider our own human nature. We can easily ask the question, “How do you get there?” when faced with a story like this, or when faced with very real stories that don’t make sense. I don’t expect to do anything extraordinarily horrific in my lifetime. But can I honestly say that I’ve never done anything wrong? Can I honestly claim to be righteous before God? Haven’t I rationalized some sin because I faced extraordinary circumstances? Do I ever think that the end justifies the means? Have I told a lie for the right reasons? Have I taken something that wasn’t mine to help someone, even though it is wrong to steal?
Did I kill the Son of God?
It is very easy to see sinfulness in others and to think that we can’t ‘go there.’ I can’t imagine ever killing the son of an owner who has entrusted me with his property, but what if after all my work the harvest was poor due to a drought? What if my house was destroyed in a natural disaster? Would I resort to theft so my family could eat? I hope not, but can I say for sure? I’m human and I will always be tempted to meet my needs even at the expense of someone else. I’m not as different from those tenants as I want to be.
Just as the landowner bought the land and planted the vineyard, God set the foundation and planted the seeds for His Kingdom. The Israelites were given the responsibility to take care of the Kingdom, but Kingdom belongs to God. He didn’t ask much in return, just faithful stewardship and respect. They refused to give God the respect He is due; they beat the prophets and they would kill the Son. God promised to give the Kingdom to others.
The scribes and chief priests saw the ‘others’ as being far from God; the gentiles, pagans, tax collectors were sinners. The Kingdom was theirs because they were the ones that God brought out of Egypt. They were inheritors of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their forefathers were the ones that experienced the exodus. They deserved the Kingdom; they earned it. They were relying on the past, but God had something greater planned. They were relying on their heritage, but God was about to do something new.
In the passage from Isaiah, God tells the people to forget the things that have gone before. “See, I am doing a new thing.” The God of Isaiah, the God of the Israelites, can do amazing things. He made a path through the Red Sea so that they could escape slavery and oppression. We were not slaves to Egyptians, but we are slaves to our flesh. We are oppressed by the expectations of this world and by the burdens of the Law. We rely on our past and our own good works. We are controlled by our own need for power, by our own self-interest.
But God is about to do a new thing; He is about to create a path through the sea of oppression so that we will be free. Jesus Christ is the living water that He promises, water in the wilderness that we are given to drink. After the long wander in the wilderness of Lent, we are waiting anxiously for this new life that he has promised. We wait in hopeful expectation of what will happen, even as we look back to what has already taken place. Sometimes it is hard for us to see that the promise is real and that God is faithful. We look to our past and wonder, is the future really going to be better than what we already have?
Wouldn’t it be easier for God to just give us what we want? We’ll just keep this vineyard, and He can go do new things someplace else. But whose vineyard is it? It is not ours, it is God’s. We are simply stewards, called to work the vines and give Him the glory. Yes, it is easier to be in control, but God has taken all the risks. He even sent His Son to teach us how to be His people. But we killed Him. We killed Him with our self-centeredness, our opinions, our insistence that we deserve to have it all, at His expense.
Thankfully, the old is past and something new is coming. Jesus died on the cross because we are sinners in need of a Savior, but the story did not end there. The son of the vineyard owner might have died forever, but the Son of God did not. The vineyard owner might have destroyed the tenants who killed his son, but God raised His Son so that we can have new life in His Kingdom.
There is no Christian who has more right to boast than the Apostle Paul. He reminds us in today’s letter that he has it all. He was “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” Paul deserved to inherit the Kingdom. And yet even Paul knew that He did not deserve anything.
The letter to the Philippians was written as a thank you note for ministry support given to Paul by the church in Philippi. It was also written to encourage them to stand fast in what they knew to be true. They were facing persecution, perhaps from the Romans who lived in the town, but also from the Jews who were trying to convince the Gentile Christians that they needed to be circumcised to be true believers. Paul reminded them that they did not need to pursue a righteousness that comes from obedience to the Law; Christ made them righteous by His work on the cross. They couldn’t earn their place in the Kingdom; Jesus the Son gave them their place in it.
Paul had every reason to believe that he deserved to inherit the Kingdom, but he knew that it was all worthless. The only thing that matters is to know Jesus. The only thing that matters is to receive the Son.
Paul does not believe that he has already obtained it all; as a matter of fact Paul calls himself a sinner greater than all other sinners. Yet, he was striving for that which has already been promised and is assured by God’s faithfulness. He encourages the Philippians, and us today, to set aside all that has gone by and continue moving forward toward the promise. God has done something new. While the acts of God from the past are great, we can rest in the promise that the best is yet to come.
We are no different than those tenants, trying to take control of the Kingdom which belongs to God. The death of His Son is on our shoulders, as it was upon theirs. But God’s mercy is never ending, and even such a great offense is not held against us. We who now believe are welcome into the Kingdom and we are forgiven, even when we fail. Whose vineyard is it? The vineyard does not belong to us, it belongs to God. He has made us stewards, and calls us to serve him with humility and joy.
“Martha therefore said unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. And even now I know that, whatsoever thou shalt ask of God, God will give thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I have believed that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, even he that cometh into the world.” John 11:21-27, ASV
Fanny Crosby was a prolific hymn writer, known for over 8000 hymns. Cyberhymnal, an online resource of music media has listed 442 hymns, most of which have links for the midi files to hear the hymns and see the lyrics. Fanny Crosby was not born blind, but she lost her eyesight because a doctor made a mistake when she was just an infant. That didn’t stop her from being a successful writer. Besides the hymns, Fanny wrote poems and secular music until she died just short of her 95th birthday. You probably would recognize some of her hymns, which are found in most hymnals, no matter the denomination. Among them are “Blessed Assurance,” “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” and “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.”
Fanny’s faith remained strong throughout her life. She loved writing hymns that could be used to share the love of Jesus and the Gospel message with people. She was incredibly gifted. One day a musician named William Doane visited her and asked for words to go with a tune he wrote that he wanted to use at an upcoming Sunday School convention. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much time. He played it once and she said, “Your music says, ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus,’” and she wrote the words to the song.
Though she has been deceased for nearly a hundred years, a manuscript was found that included a poem entitled “For What His Love Denies.” This poem suggests that perhaps Fanny sought God’s healing for her blindness, but it shows her faith that God knows best.
“God does not give me all I ask, Nor answer as I pray; But, O, my cup is brimming o’er With blessings day by day. How ofte the joy I thought withheld Delights my longing eyes, And so I thank Him from my heart For what His love denies.
“Sometimes I mess a treasured link In friendships hallowed chain, And yet His smile is my reward For every throb of pain. I look beyond, where purer joys Delight my longing eyes; And so I thank Him from my heart for what His love denies.
“How tenderly He leadeth me When earthly hopes are dim; And when I falter by the way, He bids me lean on Him. He lifts my soul above the clouds Where friendship never dies; And so I thank Him from my heart For what His love denies.” Fanny Crosby, January 6, 1899.
Our prayers are not always answered in the manner we would choose. We ask God in faith to give us healing and peace, but sometimes the answer is not what we might expect. Martha and Mary sent for Jesus when Lazarus was sick; they knew He could heal him. They were disappointed that Jesus did not come in time. Martha had faith that Lazarus would experience the resurrection at the last day, but she wanted to love her brother for a little longer in this world. “Jesus, I know that Lazarus will spend eternity with you, but we needed him now. If only you had answered our prayer.”
Jesus told Martha that He is the resurrection and the life. She wouldn’t have to wait because true life comes from Him. The answer to her prayers for healing was “No.” She was willing to accept the answer that her brother would be resurrected, but even that was not the answer Jesus was going to give her. “I am the resurrection. Believe in me and live. Do you believe?” The answer for healing was no. The answer for eternal life was “yes,” but Jesus gave her even more.
Just because God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would have them answered, doesn’t mean that God is ignoring our prayers. Sometimes we just have to have faith that God is doing something better and thank Him from our hearts for what His love denies.
“Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humbleminded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For, He that would love life, And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips that they speak no guile: And let him turn away from evil, and do good; Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And his ears unto their supplication: But the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil.” 1 Peter 3:8-12, ASV
A seer once told Julius Caesar to beware of the Ides of March. On the Roman calendar, the Ides fell in the middle of the month, somewhere between the 13th and the 15th. In March it fell on the 15th and fell on the first full moon of their calendar year. The Ides of every month was set aside to honor Jupiter, the supreme deity of the Romans. The day was filled with religious rituals, including the sacrifice of a sheep.
As part of their New Year celebration, the Ides of March was also the day of feasting in honor of the goddess Anna Perenna. The celebration was a favorite of the common folk, who celebrated with picnics, drinking and revelry. Another ritual of the day was Mamuralia, an observance akin to the scapegoat of ancient Israel. Instead of a goat, however, an old man was dressed in an animal costume, beaten and cast out of the city, perhaps to symbolize the passing of the old year. Other celebrations followed the Ides of March, telling the stories of other gods and goddesses they honored. I suppose it is easy to come up with holy days when you worship so many gods.
Caesar was a man without fear, so he did not take the warning of the seer seriously. He was a powerful man. He expanded the Roman world by conquering many lands. But his success led to his destruction, he let his power go to his head. As he conquered more and more peoples, he took upon himself a title that was not deserved, he became a dictator, taking away the authority of other men. Caesar said, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” He wasn’t just referring to his military victories; he was referring to everything about his life.
When the seer warned Caesar of the impending doom, he was unmoved. He thought the men who surrounded him were loyal. One man, Marcus Brutus was not only his friend, but Caesar had forgiven him immediately when he failed miserably to win a battle. Despite that bond of both friendship and debt, Brutus led a group of upper statesmen in the murder of Julius Caesar. Caesar had usurped their authority; he had named himself dictator of the empire, making the Senate worthless. Caesar expected men like Brutus to remain loyal because they reached their positions of authority by his grace, but they did what they felt was necessary for the empire.
Caesar was not God; he was not even a god. He was a man who stepped over the line of his given authority and stole an empire. However, murder is never the right solution. Caesar might be an extreme case of power gone wild, but it is not unique to that time. Every generation of man has had to deal with authorities that take more power than they are given. It happens in homes, in politics, in workplaces, in religion. They use deceit and violence to get their way. Though this is wrong, we should not repay the deceit and violence with the same. Do not seek revenge when you have been wronged. Instead turn your eyes to God and trust that the evil will be overcome by His power.
“And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed; for Jehovah God, even my God, is with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until all the work for the service of the house of Jehovah be finished.” 1 Chronicles 28:30, ASV
A book I’m reading made a reference to a number of unfinished statues that were discovered after the death of Michelangelo. The author was making a point about how God does not leave anything unfinished, and how He keeps His hand on His work until it is complete. The comfort for us is that even when we feel abandoned, we must continue to have faith because God is never far and He is doing His work on us in His way. He has not abandoned us; we just don’t always understand what He’s up to.
The same is not true of human beings. Michelangelo easily turned away from a work, and (according to the writer of my book) threw them out in the backyard. I decided to do a little research about these unfinished pieces. What I discovered is that the interpretation of these unfinished pieces depends on the point of view of the reporter. One writer thought that Michelangelo abandoned the works because he was impatient with the stone. He thought the artist was not willing to give it the time necessary to make it complete. Perhaps his impatience had to do with some flaw he discovered in either the stone or in his work.
Michelangelo was obsessed with finding the perfect stone, and spent hours at the quarry, much to the frustration of those for whom he worked and who worked with him. He could ‘see’ the figure that would emerge from the stone as he chiseled away the unnecessary parts. He believed that the only true process of sculpture was that which took away rather than added to. In other words, he likened clay sculpture to painting and regarded his type of sculpture a higher art form.
Another writer talked about how at least a few of the unfinished pieces were meant to be part of a larger piece, a tombstone for a pope. Unfortunately, the pope died well before expectation and though the work continued after his death, the funding was gradually reduced until it was obvious Michelangelo could not complete the work as first designed. He changed the design and finished the tomb, leaving behind a number of unfinished sculptures that were no longer necessary.
Another writer suggested that the statues were left behind because Michelangelo found other projects that interested him more, particularly the paintings in the Sistine Chapel. We do not know why he chose one project above another, especially since he seemed to prefer his work with rock. Perhaps there was more money available for the work in the Sistine Chapel, and his motive was financial.
Even if Michelangelo planned to eventually finish those works in his backyard, his time on earth was limited and death made it impossible. Whatever the reason, we see in this story of the unfinished sculptures that human beings are not trustworthy. We can’t keep all our promises. We can’t finish all our work. The only one who is completely trustworthy is God.
I thought it was interesting how many different writers found a way to compare Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures to other areas of life. One looked at the sculptures from an artistic point of view. Another used the story to make a point about politics. Another used it in a sports story. And of course, the writer of the book I’m reading used it to talk about God. Their focus drove their interpretation of Michelangelo’s motives, with some focusing on negative traits and others finding artistic integrity in setting them aside. We will never really know what was going through his mind when he cast those unfinished works to the backyard.
One of the most interesting aspects of this story is that there is some comfort for us in what has happened to those unfinished works. While it is possible that Michelangelo was throwing those imperfect pieces away, someone saw the incredible beauty and value to the castaways. Those sculptures are now housed in a museum and have traveled around the world to be viewed by many art lovers. In the unfinished sculptures we can see the hand of the artist, ponder how he accomplished the work and imagine where he was going with it.
There is one sculpture that is hard to identify. Is it David? Or is it Apollo? The unfinished part of the sculpture would help to identify the subject. It has been suggested that this sculpture was not completed because Michelangelo struggled between his loyalty to the republic and his devotion to the Medici family. He was perhaps also struggling with his faith. Even unfinished, the sculpture is beautiful and of great value.
The same is true with the work we do in God’s kingdom. We might not leave sculptures in the backyard or even begin more projects than we can ever hope to complete, but our time is limited. Our resources are limited. Our patience is limited. Our ability to complete all the work we want to do is limited. And no matter how hard we try, we will never finish everything because we will die before we can. It may come suddenly or slowly, but when we die we will leave something unfinished. And yet, whatever we leave behind in our work for God’s kingdom, whether finished or not, is beautiful and of value. That’s the comfort we have in the reality of our limits, and the reminder that we should never stop working even if we think we can’t finish. God will use the work we’ve begun in some way or He’ll call others to complete it. We need not worry that we are a disappointment, for God is gracious and is able to do miracles with our imperfection.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language; Their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth.” Psalm 19:1-4a, ASV
Have you ever spent a lazy afternoon lying on the soft green grass, watching the clouds float by? Have you ever tried to find shapes and pictures in the clouds? It is amazing to find a bunny in the clouds and then watch it transform as it passes by into something else. The pictures are not always visible to all; I’ve spent time with others who could not see in the clouds the shapes I saw, and they saw shapes I couldn’t see.
We also look to the sky for inspiration. We see God’s promises in the rainbows that come with the rain. The beauty of sunrises and sunsets has brought tears to my eyes. I love when I see crepuscular rays, which is when the rays of the sun visibly radiate from a point in the sky, spreading out from behind a cloud. Although I know God is always present, at those moments it seems like we are seeing the glory of God, like he’s hiding behind the cloud by shining His light for all to see. Heaven might not be located in the sky, but we do look to the heavens for visions of God.
A large number of people saw a sign in the heavens that they believed was from God. A photograph shows a cloud which was being illuminated with a pink hue in the shape of what some believe was an angel. The vision appeared shortly after the new pope was elected, and so many have considered it a message of God.
There were also many skeptics. In an article about the formation, Alan Boyle, science editor for NBC News, explained, “humans experience a type of pattern recognition known as pareidolia (a Greek word meaning ‘wrong shape’), meaning we are so prone to recognizing faces and other human patterns, that we often associate them to inanimate objects. Consider for a moment folks who see the face of Jesus in a piece of burnt toast or even the man in the moon.”
Was it really just a contrail or a strange cloud in a cloudless sky. Or was it really a message from God? It is certainly true that the heavens declare the glory of God, and that cloud could be proclaiming a message of God’s grace. The problem with this type of vision is that we cannot clearly identify the message God is supposedly sending. Even if the timing is not coincidental, it is easy for those who approve of the new pope to interpret it as a message of joy, while those who do not approve see it as a message of foreboding. We must be careful that we do not to make our interpretation of these signs an infallible tenet of faith.
The photo of the cloud is beautiful and I wish I had seen it. I’m sure that I, too, would have been inspired by the vision, although I’m not sure I would have necessarily seen an angel. I do know that the heavens declare the glory of God, and if crepuscular rays, rainbows or angel shaped clouds make us praise God and thank Him for His grace, then they have done something good. But let us not make every sign a prophetic word from God that means whatever we want it to mean, but rather turn always to the scriptures for God’s Word to us today and always.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 24, 2013, Palm/Passion Sunday: John 12:12-19 (Processional); Deuteronomy 32:36-39; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:39-23:56
“And he will say, Where are their gods, The rock in which they took refuge.” Deuteronomy 32:37, ASV
We begin this week with the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. For three years, our Lord has traveled about the country, teaching the about Kingdom of God and calling the people into a relationship with their Father. He has cast out demons, offered forgiveness, healed sickness. He has mentored a group of men and women who would follow His leadership and ministry. He even raised Lazarus from the dead.
Now, many were bothered by the authority with which Jesus spoke, and they were concerned about the lessons He was teaching. They didn’t like that Jesus had gained a following, which was so obvious when He entered Jerusalem. The thing that concerned them most was the raising of Lazarus, because in that one incredible miracle, Jesus won the hearts of the crowd. John tells us that the witnesses were telling the story to everyone, and because of it, they came running to meet Him. After all, if He could raise the dead, then surely He must be able to do anything. They were even calling Him the King of Israel.
Of course, we’ll hear in the second Gospel reading how quickly the acclaim would pass, but in this story we see the disciples beginning to grasp what they had joined. Jesus wasn’t just a rebel with a cause or someone who wanted to fight for the crown. He was the fulfillment of God’s promises. They saw how the words of the old prophecies were coming true in His life. He rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, and it was a sign that the people should not live in fear. The King is coming! But would Jesus be the king they expected?
The people had every reason to look for a king that would be like David. Their ruler, if you can call him that, was nothing but a puppet for Rome. He was one of them, but not really. He was willing to compromise and tolerate the Roman rule because he had the power to make himself comfortable. The religious and other leaders felt the same way. The Romans may have abused the average citizen of Israel, but they had everything they needed. They even had justification in their interpretation of the Law: if the people were suffering, it was their own fault. They were sinners that deserved everything that came to them. They did not want anything rocking the boat.
They may have talked a good game, teaching the people about caring for neighbor and living according to God’s Law, but they were hypocrites who promoted that which benefitted them and rejected the suggestion put forth by Jesus that they had lost touch with God. They demanded offerings and sacrifices, but forgot what it meant to be merciful. They insisted on strict obedience to their laws but lost sight of God’s laws to love Him and one another. It was more important for a son to give an offering to the Temple than to care for his aging parents. It was better to speak long agenda filled prayers than to admit that they were sinners in need of a Savior.
In the text from Deuteronomy we are told that the Lord will judge His people. The problem with human nature is that we tend to create our own gods and we ignore or reject the true God. For those in the days of Moses, the gods were localized, specifically attributed to certain aspects of the world. They had a god for rain and one for the sun. They had a god for procreation and another for the harvest. If there was a death in the family, they prayed to a god that helped their beloved over to the afterlife.
The gods we create are not always so easy to identify, especially when we claim to believe in the one true and living God. The gods of Jesus’ day were, of course, the Roman gods, but even the Jewish religious leaders had their own gods. They conspired with the secular authorities to keep their power, and by doing so honored their ruler as a ‘god.’ In some ways, they even acted as if they were also gods; their power and position was more important than God. They missed the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ because they were focused entirely on themselves. We are, too often, our most beloved god.
So, in Deuteronomy, when God sees that His people have stumbled and that they are left powerfulness, He asks, “Where are their gods? Where are the ones they relied upon to save them? Where are the gods that ate their sacrifices and drank their wine?” Those gods, whether they are the ancient gods of the pagans, the Olympic gods of the Romans, or the gods of self and power and position, have no power to save. There is no god but our God; no god has power the power of our God. He can kill and He can bring life. He wounds and He heals. And no one can do anything to defeat His power.
The tide turns very quickly for Jesus. He didn’t present Himself as the conquering hero they expected. He didn’t call the troops to arms or confront the Roman leaders who were oppressing them. Instead He confronted the priests and religious practices, attacking the piece of their world they thought was right. They willingly supported Barabbas, a Jewish insurrectionist who was in Roman custody. Instead of choosing Jesus as their Messiah, they chose the man they thought would lead them to a victory against their oppressor. They didn’t understand that they were oppressed by something greater.
What is amazing about the Passion story is how Jesus seems to be so out of control. After all, if Jesus is the Messiah, shouldn’t He have the power and the authority to subdue any opposition to His plans? It is no wonder that Jesus lost the crowds. He didn’t act like a man who was ready to fight for a throne. He acted like a man with a death wish. He even talked about death, His own death, more than was healthy. We don’t expect our leaders to do anything so foolish as to get hung from a cross.
The Passion and Easter story is the most difficult thing about Christianity to believe and to accept. Why did Jesus have to die and how does that line up to the ideal of a loving and caring God? How does that help Jesus’ social ministry and seemingly political aspirations? It doesn’t make sense. It might seem like Jesus had no control, but the reality is that Jesus was in control of every moment. They could see it, after the fact, in the way every step fulfilled the prophecies of the past.
And yet, we can’t help but understand why Jesus might have felt like the writer of today’s psalm. After all, Jesus was fully human even as He was fully divine. Despite His confidence in God and in God’s will, Jesus felt the weight of the pain and suffering of the cross. He was abandoned, broken, attacked from every side. Even though He experienced the anguish, He knew that God was faithful. He trusted God, He put Himself in God’s hands. He sought deliverance, but with twenty/twenty vision we know that the deliverance promised by God was not fulfilled by saving the one many Jesus from the cross. Instead, Jesus dying on the cross provided deliverance for all who believe.
On this Sunday we celebrate the triumphant entry with a processional and palms, but we also focus on the Passion of Jesus. In the lengthy story we see how Jesus came up against the leaders, both Roman and Jewish, and He stood firm in the Father’s will. He never wavered; He never turned away from God. The day begins happy, but ends on a very sour note. Jesus was dead and they laid Him in a borrowed tomb. Luke tells us that the women followed so that they would see how Jesus body was laid, and then they returned to their home to prepare the spices. They could not even deal with His body until the Sabbath was over. We are left hanging with them, wondering what will happen next.
Every moment that followed the triumphant entry was planned and foreseen as God’s plan for His Messiah for the salvation of His people. From the last supper and the prayer in the garden, the trial and journey to Golgotha, and then the nailing of His flesh to the cross, was purposeful. Jesus knew what He was doing and He did so for our sake. At the very moment of death Jesus commended Himself to the hands of God.
Paul encourages us to have a similar attitude. Paul writes, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.”
Paul is not calling us to follow Jesus to the cross, but to follow Jesus wherever He leads us. He won’t make us hang on a cross; He finished that work. But now we have been saved for a purpose, to continue the work that Jesus began. Now that sin and death have been defeated, it is up to us to take God’s promise of forgiveness, healing and restoration to the world. We can’t do that if we are busy chasing after our self-created gods. We can’t do that if we are focused on our selves. We can’t do it if we are too worried about rocking the boat to tell people the truth.
It won’t be easy. We will suffer persecution at the hands of those who would rather worship their own gods. Should we let it stop us? Jesus did not. After all, He left the glory of heaven to come to earth in flesh to reconcile us to God our Father. His nature is to love and save. He willingly suffered humiliation in life and death. We are called to do the same, not on a cross but in our every day experiences.
The day will come when all will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but will they bow in thanksgiving or fear? We are sent into the world with an attitude like Jesus, trusting in God and following Him where He leads. We are sent to introduce the lost to the Lord Jesus so that they will be found, those in darkness so that they will see the light, the sick so that they will be healed, and those who are still dead in sin so that they will have eternal life.
“But ye are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lust, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:9-12, ASV
Amanda Bynes starred in a film called “What a Girl Wants.” In the movie, she played a teenage girl whose parents had divorced before she was born. Her father was an important member of the English aristocracy and her mother Libby was a commoner from America. The divorce was manipulated by people who wanted to control the future of her father, Lord Henry Dashwood. He thought Libby left him and she thought he left her. He didn’t even know she was pregnant. The girl, named Daphne, wanted to know her father, so she saved her money, bought a plane ticket to London, and showed up on her doorstep.
Despite the heavy security at his estate, Daphne managed to jump the fence and get close to the house. She was apprehended and taken to Lord Henry who thought she was paparazzi. She explained that she was his daughter and that she just wanted to meet him. He was shocked, as was his fiancée. Henry’s fiancée was a gold digger, and she was ready to do anything to make Daphne disappear. She told Henry that she was probably a fake and that the birth certificate was a forgery. Henry told her he was absolutely certain that Daphne was his daughter. “How can you know?” she asked. “She has my eyes,” he answered.
Peter writes that we are an elect race. We aren’t elected to an office or elected to membership in some club. We are chosen by God to a divine destiny. That destiny is not some great accomplishment or fortune. We are chosen to resemble God, to reflect God’s heart. We are called out of darkness into the light so that the light will then flow from our lives into the world. We are made into a holy nation, a priesthood that is ordained to glorify God in everything we do.
Daphne spent the social season with her father and he planned to throw a ball in her honor, a coming out party which is given for all girls in his social class. During that time, Daphne had to learn how to be a part of that world. Henry was running for office and the public had certain expectations of the children of the elect. She didn’t do very well, however, being very independent and strong-willed. She was from a totally different culture and did not understand the rules. She tried, and failed. She eventually turned away from Henry and went home so that he could win his campaign.
Henry, however, realized that he was not being true to himself. He discovered the lies that were told when he married Daphne’s mom and he fired those who were at fault. He quit his campaign and flew to New York to apologize to Daphne. He also renewed his relationship with Libby. They remarried and lived happily ever after. It might seem as though Daphne did not really resemble her father expect for her eyes, but in reality Henry had become something that he was not. Daphne certainly matured after her experiences in London, but it was Henry that was transformed the most by it. Instead of being a puppet for someone else’s ambitions, Henry discovered love and peace.
The story begins with us believing that Daphne must resemble Henry, but we see that the reality is that she already does, but he’d lost his way. Who do we resemble? Do we resemble the world in which we live, or do we resemble the God who created and elected us to be holy like Him? We do live in this world, which is filled with expectations, but in Christ we are no longer part of the world. We are called to be light in the darkness and we can’t do that if our behavior resembles the darkness. We are called to a life that is different, a life in which His love is reflected.
“Servants, obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord: whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:22-24, ASV
I’m not Roman Catholic, but the more I hear about Pope Francis, the more I like him. The more I hear, the more I see in him an example of someone who is truly following in the footsteps of Christ. While I might not hold him in the same regard as my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, I am praising God for raising such a man to this important position.
In the reports that followed his election, we’ve heard that Pope Francis paid his own hotel bill, took the bus with the rest of the cardinals, visited a small church for prayer and worship, walked among the crowds and asked the world to pray for him. He will learn that some of the perks of being pope are more than just luxuries for the man; some of the perks, like the bulletproof car are designed with his safety in mind. He may need to concede some points based on the reality of life in our modern world, but so far he has remained true to his humility and faith.
The latest story made me laugh because it was such an ordinary, mundane act that it is even hard to believe that he thought of it with the weight of the faith of more than a billion people on his shoulders. Even with such a heavy responsibility, he remembered his commitment to one man in Argentina. He made a phone call on Monday to Daniel Del Regno, whose father owns a newspaper kiosk that delivered his morning paper when he was cardinal. “Hi, Daniel, it’s Cardinal Jorge.” The guy on the other end of the phone thought it was a joke. “Seriously, it’s Jorge Bergoglio, I’m calling you from Rome.” He convinced the man that he was who he said he was and told him that he was thankful that they delivered his papers, asked them to cancel his subscription and sent best wishes to his family.
Can’t you just see Jesus doing something like this? This type of encounter is not reported in the scriptures, and yet I can imagine that Jesus did go the extra mile to thank those who served Him. I doubt that this incident will be written into the biographies of Pope Francis, either. It is too ordinary, too mundane. He’ll be remembered as humble, but we won’t know the name of his paperboy in a hundred years. The thing that we see is that Pope Francis does know the name of his paperboy, and is thankful for his service.
Jesus knows our name. We might think that everything we do is unnoticed in this world, especially if our work is too ordinary or mundane. But the reality is that Jesus does see. He knows. And yes, He’s thankful to us for our service. He cares about the work we do and the impact we have on the lives of others. We might not hear from the people we serve on earth the way Daniel heard from Pope Francis, but it doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that we do what we do in fear of God and for His glory. He’ll honor our work serving Christ Jesus in this world, and we might even receive a “Thank you” from someone who has benefitted from our work. And let us never forget that we are called to be Christ-like, too. Is there someone who might like to hear how you’ve touched their life? Is there someone who has served you that deserves a “Thank you?” Is there some way you can let others know that they are appreciated, not only on earth, but also in heaven?
“And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple. And he taught, and said unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:15-17, ASV
Holy Week. The most important week on the Christian calendar began yesterday with the procession of palms as we celebrated the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It was a joyous moment for the crowds, as they welcomed their conquering hero. Well, He hadn’t really conquered anything at that point, but they waved palm branches and threw their cloaks in His path in expectation that He would restore Jerusalem and the Jewish people as a powerful and independent nation. They thought Jesus was the second coming of David, and they were excited.
The jubilation didn’t last very long. By Friday we’ll find Jesus on a cross, and by that night He will be dead. What could possibly have happened in just a few days to turn the people away from Him so completely? Many of us heard the passion story in church yesterday, and while it is a very powerful experience to hear it all read in one sitting, we don’t have much time to ponder what was happening to the people, to the leaders, to the disciples, and to Jesus. So, this week we’ll walk in His footsteps this and try to experience the emotions that accompanied His journey to the cross.
For three years Jesus ministered to God’s people, teaching them how to live according to the promises of God. The Gospels are filled with stories of His healing, teaching and loving. He was loved by many, but not by all. The Word He spoke was difficult to understand and accept by those who were set in their thoughts and ways. They people thought they knew God and were living a godly live. Jesus shared a much different message, and during Holy Week we see Jesus telling them the whole truth: they were not honoring God with their lives.
Jesus spent Sunday night in Bethany with the disciples. As they were making their way into Jerusalem Monday morning, Jesus noticed a fig tree in leaf and was hungry, so He went to pluck a piece of fruit from its branches. But the tree had no fruit, which was not surprising because it was not the season for fruit. But Jesus cursed it, saying that it would never produce fruit for men anymore. What did the disciples think of this? Why would Jesus curse a tree that was not in season just because He couldn’t get a piece of fruit? This seems almost out of character for Jesus. But we are reminded that everything points to a lesson. Jesus was concerned because the people of Israel were not producing fruit and the disciples will quickly learn that those who have lost touch with God will wither and die.
They entered Jerusalem and went to the Temple, where Jesus acted out of character again. Jerusalem was packed with people. It was a holy week for the Jews, too, and pilgrims from all over the world were in the city for the Passover. They were there to celebrate and do their duty. They were there to offer sacrifices. Now, it was difficult to travel so many miles with the necessary animals to present for sacrifice, so the courtyard of the Temple had become a marketplace. Only certain types of coins were welcome, so there were money changers available so that their offerings would be acceptable.
It might seem like a good idea, after all, it is a service to the pilgrims. But there were two things wrong with this scene. First of all, vendors never do anything out of the goodness of their hearts. They were there to make a few dollars, and the Temple priests most likely profited from it, too. The money changers did not exchange the currency penny for penny; they took a cut for themselves. They took advantage of the pilgrims who had no choice.
Jesus was probably upset by the fact that they were taking advantage of the pilgrims, but there was something even more disturbing to Him. The courtyard where they were selling animals and changing money was the one place in the Temple where the Gentiles were allowed to pray. They could not enter into the Inner Court like the Jews. This was important because Jesus constantly taught that God was available to all people, that He loved all people and wanted all people to come to Him. But how can anyone find God in a courtyard filled with the noise of a marketplace? How do you come to faith surrounded by the smells of animals and the press of the crowd? How do you hear God’s voice over the calls of the vendors and the clinking of coins?
So, Jesus got angry. He turned over tables and He chased out the animals. He cried, “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers.” The leaders already despised Jesus, and this didn’t help win Him any friends among them. But this also disturbed some of the crowd. After all, the market was their salvation. Without those animals and those coins, they could not do their duty. It is no wonder that the tide began to turn on Jesus.
And then, at the end of the day, Jesus and the disciples returned to Bethany.
“Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; even so ye also, when ye see these things coming to pass, know ye that he is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, until all these things be accomplished. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Mark 13:28-37, ASV
Ultimately everything Jesus does has a purpose beyond the surface. His stories have a deeper meaning. His healings point to transformation in spirit as well as body. His miracles point to the work of God in the lives of His people. When Jesus talks about farms and weeds, birds and fish, we can understand them from an earthly point of view, but we can also see the Kingdom of God.
On this day, Jesus and the disciples began the journey to Jerusalem in Bethany once again. Along the way, they discovered that the fig tree had withered. They were shocked that it withered and died so quickly and questioned Jesus about it. I live in Texas and in our current drought situation we have been watching trees wither and die. It never happens overnight. Sometimes the trees die branch by branch. Sometimes they produce smaller leaves and fruit until there’s nothing left. It can take years. Many trees are destroyed by fire because they are dry long before they can wither altogether. It must have been strange to see a tree that had been in full leaf one day and the gone the next.
Jesus told the disciples that faith can do anything. It can move mountains and with faith our sins will be forgiven. That tree might have been dead, but Jesus told the disciples that there is hope.
Throughout the day, Jesus taught in the Temple; the day was filled with conversations and controversies. The leaders sent spies among Jesus’ disciples, trying to find a way to stop Him. They wanted to catch Him in saying something against the state and their religion. They asked questions about taxes and about resurrection, twisting the reality in a way that guaranteed Jesus would say something wrong. However, Jesus was always a step ahead of them; He spoke the truth and foiled their plan. In the end, they knew they were going to have to falsify the witness against Jesus to destroy Him.
The Synoptic Gospels record more about this day of Holy Week than any other day. (Matthew 21:20-25:46, Mark 11:20-13:37, Luke 20:1-21:36) During the day Jesus told many parables, including the Two Sons, the Tenants, and the Wedding Feast. In these parables, Jesus talked about taking away from those who say yes to God but are unfaithful. He talked about the Great Commandment and about His identity. He pointed fingers at the religious leaders, reminding them that they are the ones who live like those in the parables. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. It made Him sad that they were losing what was rightly theirs. They were God’s chosen people, but they lost touch with the God who loved them. Other parables Jesus told on this day were the Ten Virgins and the Talents. These parables focus on good stewardship. And then He told the parable of the goats and sheep: if you are good stewards of what God gives, you will be among the sheep. But be warned, if you don’t use His resources wisely, you’ll be set among the goats.
As they left the Temple, the disciples were amazed at the grandeur of it. Jesus warned them that the day would come when everything would be gone. The Olivet Discourse is an apocryphal discussion between Jesus and the disciples on the Mount of Olives. Also called the Little Apocalypse, Jesus spoke about the end times. He told them about the signs that would precede the end and warned them to beware of false prophets. He told them that the faithful would face persecution but that His Kingdom would persevere.
Along the way, Jesus talked once again about the fig tree, today’s passage. Jesus promised that “this generation” will not pass away until everything is accomplished. What did He mean by this? In light of the fig tree along the path, we might think that it will all happen immediately, but Jesus warned them that it won’t be that fast. It will take time; it won’t happen when they expect. They have to be ready at any moment and be watchful. We do not know when it will happen; not even Jesus knew the day or the hour. But we need not fear even if the world around us is falling apart, because Jesus’ Word would never die. He is forever faithful.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 31, 2013, Easter Sunrise or Easter Day: Job 19:23-27, Psalm 118:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, John 20:1-18 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.” Isaiah 65:25, ASV
I think that the Easter Sunday Midweek Oasis is one of the most difficult to write, especially when I’ve been following the footsteps of Jesus on the other days of this week. How can we talk about the resurrection when we haven’t yet seen Jesus die on the cross?
So, before I share a few thoughts about Sunday, let’s look at what happened today in the life of Jesus. Luke tells us that Jesus spent time everyday teaching in the Temple, but other than that all the Gospels are strangely quiet about what Jesus was doing on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Although, I wonder, is it really that strange? After all, Jesus never did anything of importance without spending time beforehand in prayer. Yesterday must have been physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting, and the next two will be even more so. Could it be that Jesus simply took this day to rest? To pray? To spend quality time with those He loved?
The Bible is not silent about what was happening with the Jewish leaders, however. (Matthew 26:3-5, Mark 14:1-2, Luke 22:1-2.) Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that the leaders were plotting how they might stop Jesus. They were afraid because the people loved Him. They knew that if they took Him while He was in the Temple, the crowds would riot against them. They needed to control the situation, to find a time and a place where they could take Him, try Him and find Him guilty before the people could impact the decision.
In the end, Judas gave them a way. (Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:3-6.) Luke tells us that Satan entered Judas and guided him to do the unimaginable: he betrayed his Lord. He went to the chief priests and schemed with them. They offered him money, and he accepted. Aside from the work of Satan in his heart, it is hard to imagine why Judas would do such a thing. It is possible that he thought that he could force Jesus’ hand, get Him to stand up for Himself or do something dramatic to accomplish the will of the people, which was to take His place as king. Judas was hungry for power and he never really understood the power of Jesus.
In the texts for Holy week it seems as if the world is in control. But all through this week, the journey happens only according to God’s good and perfect will. Jesus is in control, as Max Lucado says, “He chose the nails.” The chief priests may seem to be acting on their own, but God knew from the beginning how this would come to an end. Judas was chosen to be the betrayer. This wasn’t an accident; it didn’t happen by human will, but by the hand of God.
So, too, was the resurrection. Look at the Old Testament scriptures that are used on Easter. Job says, “But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand up upon the earth.” The psalmist says, “Jehovah is my strength and song; And he is become my salvation.” And “For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.” Isaiah says, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” These are all promises that point to the work of Jesus on the cross. He is our Redeemer. He is our Salvation. He gives us life. His new covenant will bring new things to the world. It was planned, and the promises were fulfilled on the cross and then the empty tomb.
Think about the life given to us by faith. Isaiah talks about that promised world. Jerusalem will rejoice and God’s people will sing. God will rejoice because His city and people are happy. There will be no more grief. Children will not die, and people will live long and accomplish everything for which they had been created. They will benefit from their own hard work, and not pass their blessings to others without enjoying them. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.” The world as we know it will be turned upside down. Or should I say, it will be restored to that which God created it to be.
I think on this Wednesday of Holy Week, the emotions of those around Jesus, as well as our own, are confused. The joy of Palm Sunday is still fresh in our mind. The people were in Jerusalem for a festival, the Passover. They were eating and spending time with family, some who they had not seen. Yet, I think there may have been a sense of foreboding. Jesus was not acting like a conquering king and the anger of the chief priests was probably beginning to show in the way they dealt with the crowds. Imagine the damage that can be done with whispers of accusation in the streets? If Jesus was missing, there was nothing to stop the rumors and gossip that can turn a hero into a villain.
But the news on Sunday will be good news. It will be beyond anyone’s expectation. Despite the words of Jesus, even the disciples didn’t know He would be raised. We see these stories from this side of the empty tomb, so even with our purposeful and prayerful journey with Jesus to the cross we do so with a hope that can’t be squelched. We know what they didn’t know. We know that Friday is not the end of the story. The confusion of today, the pain of tomorrow will be overcome with the joy of Easter.
The Lectionary offers two different versions of the story, one for sunrise from Luke the physician and the other for the day from John the Evangelist. There are differences between these encounters, enough to make people question the validity of both, but John and Luke have different purposes and points of view for telling their stories. John’s Gospel was written to prove that Jesus is the embodiment of everything in the Temple: He is the light, the bread, the priest and the sacrifice.
John described the scene as it was witnessed by Mary. “But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” The Ark of the Covenant—which was the mercy seat of God where the blood of the sacrifice was poured—had two angels, one at each end. It is as if Mary was peeking into the Holy of Holies, where the very presence of God dwelt among men. The stone where Jesus lay was the mercy seat of God. In that scene, we see that God’s forgiveness was complete and the promise that “the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” was fulfilled.
Luke shows us the same scene as a miraculous moment, unexplainable by human experience. It made sense when the angels reminded them of Jesus’ words, but it was still incredible. How could this be? What did it mean? Why has this happened? T he angels asked a simple question, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” But the disciples had no way of answering. Where was Jesus? He is alive?
The witnesses in both stories shared what they saw with their friends, but we are left with the question of whether or not they believed. John, ‘the other disciple,’ seems to have believed what he saw, but did he believe that Jesus had been raised? Or did he simply believe what the women told him? The disciples didn’t believe the women, but Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb anyway in Luke’s story. Then he went back to where they were staying, scratching his head.
We know what happens because we have seen the whole story; we know that eventually they go out and tell the world that Jesus is alive. But isn’t it funny that on this Easter Sunday we are still left with so many questions? We usually think that Easter is the end of the story, but it really is just another beginning. In the coming weeks we will see them as they are transformed into more than disciples. They will become apostles. They will be filled with the Holy Spirit, believe and understand everything. We, too, are transformed by the knowledge that the Spirit gives us, about Jesus and God, about how to live in this world and what God is calling us to do. Easter is the beginning of our new life in a new covenant.
And while there is a great deal of work to be done, Easter is a reminder that it all stands on the promise of the empty tomb. The empty tomb means that our tombs will also be empty, that we will be raised with Christ and that we will rejoice in His presence for eternity. God makes so many promises—to the poor, to the lame, to the deaf, to the possessed, to the imprisoned, to the lonely, to the outcast, to the ill and more—but the promise of Easter is the foundation of it all. Founded on the hope of eternity, God’s people can then go out and face the reality of the world in which we live. That means we might face suffering and pain.
This doesn’t make sense to the people of this world. They see our celebration on Easter and think it is foolishness. What good is an empty tomb when people are suffering? What good is eternity when there is physical or emotional pain in this world? They tell us that if our God is real, then there should be no suffering. They tell us that if our God really loves us, then we should be filled with good things and satisfied in our flesh. They think that real promise and blessing is in the fulfillment of every desire. Quite frankly, there are many Christians who think that faith is a guarantee for good feelings, self-satisfaction and happiness. But Jesus never promised that our life in His Kingdom would be easy. The joy of Easter is often followed by persecution by those who do not believe.
There comes a time when our faith necessarily leads us to confront the world, but we do so with the promise of Easter. The Christians in Paul's day were persecuted because they did not conform to the world in which they lived. They refused to accept what was acceptable in their culture and society. They were pitied because they the promise of faith seemed so distant and unattainable. Why reject the pleasure of this life for something that seems so unreal? Especially since life in Christ was often such a hardship.
But Paul reminds us that whatever happens in this world is nothing compared to what we will receive. Paul writes, “If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.” Christian faith does not guarantee a charmed life. What it does guarantee is that we will join our Lord Jesus in eternity. He was the first of many, raised to new life to live forever in a world that will be transformed. It is a world we see promised in those Old Testament texts, where the wolf and the lamb will lie together and God’s people will enjoy the work of their hands for eternity in the presence of their Father in heaven and their Lord Savior, Jesus Christ.
“These things spake Jesus; and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that the son may glorify thee: even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life. And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ. I glorified thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do. And now, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I manifested thy name unto the men whom thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word. Now they know that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are from thee: for the words which thou gavest me I have given unto them; and they received them, and knew of a truth that I came forth from thee, and they believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine: and all things that are mine are thine, and thine are mine: and I am glorified in them. And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name which thou hast given me: and I guarded them, and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me. Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world knew thee not, but I knew thee; and these knew that thou didst send me; and I made known unto them thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17, ASV
Jesus traveled with His friends for three years. They did everything together during those days. They walked for miles, talked for hours, ate together and gathered for worship. They prayed with one another, studied the scriptures and sang hymns. They experienced the horror of demon possession and the sadness of illness as they ministered to the people who came to them. They grieved and they most certainly laughed. They knew each other very well; they were like family, but even more than family.
We know about their experiences from the scriptures, though we only get a glimpse. We don’t see their every day moments. We don’t see the thousands of meals they ate together. We don’t see the crowded floors of strangers filled with tired bodies. We don’t see them bandaging each others’ wounds, which most certainly must have happened along the long, dusty highways. They were human and they had very human experiences. They didn’t have McDonald’s drive-thru or grocery stores to shop in, but they did have to go to the market and buy food once in awhile. They had to find a private place to urinate. They had to sleep. We see those personal moments only when they had meaning in the story. But we know it must have happened.
I think that Holy Thursday is one of my favorite days of the Church year because in the stories we see the intimacy that must have existed between Jesus and His disciples. The scene with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is beautiful and touching. It is one of the rare occasions that we see Jesus touching them, although as best friends and ‘family’ they certainly touched. They hugged. They patted one another on the back. They reached out to help each other get up or stop one another from stumbling. They touched fingertips when food was passed. They probably jostled each other’s hair, especially the older disciples with little John. And yet, we don’t see that in the scriptures until this moment. Then, Jesus speaks to them in and through prayer. The words are heartbreaking and yet so touching. Judas was revealed as a betrayer. They were given a new command to love one another. Jesus told them that He had to go, but that they should always remain faithfully connected to Him. The world would hate them, but God would send the Comforter who would help them. Then He prayed for them and for us and for the world. John 13:1-17:26
This took place in the Upper Room. It was time for Passover, and the disciples wanted to know where Jesus would celebrate the feast. I wonder if He had invitations. Families were gathered in the city for the celebrations, and it would have been an awesome coup if they could get a figure like Jesus to join their table. But Jesus wanted to have this meal with His disciples, to eat with them one last time. He knew the end was near. This was His final chance to give them what they would need to get through the long three days.
As with the rest of this week, the preparation was in the hands of God, and Jesus gave them instructions about where to go and who to see. I think it is interesting to note that the room was probably owned by Mary, the mother of John Mark (the evangelist, writer of the Gospel, friend of Peter and companion to Barnabus and Paul.) This is probably also where they gathered after the crucifixion and resurrection. It is probably where they first saw Jesus. It is also the place where Peter returned after being released from prison in Jerusalem. Mark was a young man on this day of Passover, and probably helped to serve the disciples. He probably overheard their conversations, Jesus’ commands and prayers.
One tradition holds that it was John Mark who carried the water into the room for Jesus to wash the feet of the disciples. Another tradition claims it was John Mark who ran from the garden naked when Jesus was arrested. John Mark heard the stories from the disciples themselves, from Peter and the others, so his witness is probably among the most credible in the scriptures. Think about it… on this special night, and over the next few weeks in the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, the disciples probably reminisced. They probably laughed over the funny moments and cried over their loss. You know how it is when we lose someone we love. So Mark was there. He heard and experienced their love and their grief and he told their story in words we can truly believe.
The disciples were probably expecting a very different meal when they gathered in that upper room, but Jesus spoke of being a servant. He spoke of death, betrayal and denial. Peter, as usual, made great clams of his love for Jesus and his willingness to even die. Jesus told him that during the night he would deny Him three times. Jesus knew Judas was the betrayer, and was clearly in control as He told Judas to do the task quickly. The disciples were confused by His words, and became agitated as the vision they had of a kingdom began to fall apart before their eyes. Even though they would betray and deny Him, Jesus comforted His disciples. He gave them instructions in how to live. He promised the Spirit and established the New Covenant.
They followed the usual pattern for the meal, except that during the meal Jesus instituted a new sacrament. He blessed the bread and wine and gave it to them as a promise of new life in Him. He told them that whenever they eat and drink the bread and wine they should remember Him. They sang hymns, probably psalms 113-118, and worshipped together. Then they went to the Mount of Olives to pray.
In the Garden of Gethsemane we see Jesus at His most human. He prayed with such intensity that His sweat was like blood. He cried out to God. He wondered if there might be another way, but accepted the Father’s will. “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Meanwhile, the disciples who were left to watch fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Do you remember how Jesus told them on Tuesday to watch? Here it was, just two days later and they weren’t paying attention.
We are just like those disciples. No matter how often we hear the words about this holy day and experience the loving grace of God in His words, in prayer and in the sacraments, we quickly forget the warnings and commands. We end up falling asleep, not paying attention to what is going on in the world around us. On Easter Sunday we will have a wonderful experience of worship. We’ll eat the Lord’s Supper, sing hymns and pray. Lent will be over and everything is right with the world again. But is it? Should we stop watching and waiting? Can we fall asleep in the garden? Jesus’ prayer for us is that we’ll always stay connected to Him, that we’ll love one another and know God intimately.
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30, ASV
Why do we call it Good Friday?
After all, this is the day of crucifixion. How can this be good? While yesterday was a beautiful day with the intimate companionship of friends who are like family, today is a day of suffering, pain and death. It began late in the night in the Garden of Gethsemane with friend Judas leading the Temple leaders and guards to the place where Jesus prayed. Judas pointed to Jesus, not with fingers or words of accusation, but with a kiss. Jesus was taken before the authorities and questioned, both Jewish and Roman.
By the early morning hours, Jesus was mocked, beaten and humiliated. His opponents manipulated the crowds and the leaders. Witnesses lied. The men closest to Jesus stood by in shock and did nothing to help. It was not a trial, it was a travesty and it seemed as though the world was in control. Though the crimes against Jesus were not legally punishable in Roman law with death, they were in Jewish law, so the Jewish leaders had to find a way to convince Pontius Pilate that Jesus’ death would be best for the Roman Empire.
Pilate knew that Jesus was popular, but he did not view Jesus as a threat. He was afraid to do anything because his wife had a dream and warned him to wash his hands of the situation. He even offered to let Jesus go free, but the crowds cried out for a murderer named Barabbas. Isn’t it interesting that they chose a man whose name meant “son of the father” but they rejected the real Son of the Father. Jesus was sent to die a horrible and painful death on a Roman cross, along with common criminals while the real dangerous man was set free. Yes, it seems like the world was in control and that Satan finally won the battle. Jesus would die and nothing would change.
We often talk about whose fault it was that Jesus went to the cross. Was it Pilate? Was it the Jews? Each answer has been used for two thousand years to justify the sins of the others. The blame on the Jews has been used over and over again as a way of oppressing Jewish people. Some have even suggested that the scripture witness about Pilate was written to place the blame on the Jews. According to the text, we see Pilate washing his hands of the matter, but ultimately Jesus would not have died without his word. We can blame the crowds who allowed themselves to be manipulated and even the disciples who were too afraid to stand up for Jesus. Of course, we also know that the blame rests on our own shoulders, that it was our sin that demanded the sacrifice.
Ultimately, though, Jesus was always in control. When the disciples wanted to fight the guards, Jesus stopped them. He healed the ear of one who was cut by a sword wielded by one of the disciples. With His words and His silence, Jesus guided the conversations at His trial. He submitted to every slash of the whip and stood firm under the weight of a crown of thorns and royal robe. He took every step to the cross with the confidence that He was being obedient to the Father and that His death would make a difference in the end.
Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard watching from the shadows, warming himself on a fire with others in the crowd. He was asked three times if he knew Jesus, and three times he said, “No.” They were sure they’d seen him with Jesus. They recognized his accent as being Galilean. But Peter denied Jesus, just as Jesus said he would. He ran away when he heard the cock crow because he realized what he had done. His emotional distress must have been incredible. How could he ever be forgiven?
Judas responded to the trial in a very different way. He was shocked to see Jesus accept the humiliation and violence. He tried to repent of his sin by returning the money to the priests, but they refused to accept it. He tried to confess his sin; he sought forgiveness from the ones who were charged with providing it, and they rejected him. They refused to forgive him, because if they did they would have to confess that they, too, were guilty. Judas did not know what to do when he could not find absolution, so he took his own life. Sadly, if he’d only waited for the three days, he would have received the forgiveness he needed from the only one who could give it to him: Jesus.
This day is often marked by a journey along the path of Jesus. The practice called “The Stations of the Cross” includes fourteen steps from condemnation to the tomb. 1) Jesus is condemned to death. 2) Jesus carries his cross. 3) Jesus falls the first time. 4) Jesus meets his mother. 5) Simon or Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross. 6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. 7) Jesus falls the second time. 8) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. 9) Jesus falls the third time. 10) Jesus' clothes are taken away. 11) Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross. 12) Jesus dies on the cross. 13) Jesus is taken down from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation). 14) Jesus is laid in the tomb.
The picture of Jesus’ death is frightening as the sky is covered with darkness and the earth shakes. The curtain in the Temple, which was two inches thick, was ripped from top to bottom as God broke free from the box where He was trapped by the Jewish understanding of Him. He cried out in prayer, pain and submission. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” “Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” “I am thirsty.” “It is... finished.” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
And then, when the time was right, Jesus breathed His last. It was unbelievable. A soldier who was sent to break Jesus’ legs saw that he was dead. They pierced Him with a spear. A centurion confessed that Jesus was truly the Son of God. All these things, and many more, were foretold in the scriptures. Every moment was a fulfillment of a promise. Every cruelty was ordained by God.
How can any of this be called good? It is good because it is as God intended. It is good because the events of this Holy Friday made us free. We are forgiven. We are washed with His blood. The world was changed because Jesus paid the debt for all of us. This is good.
Scripture for today: Matthew 26:47-27:54, Mark 14:43-15:39, Luke 22:47-23:25, John 18:2-19:37.
“And it was the day of the Preparation, and the sabbath drew on.” Luke 23:54
What do you think was happening on this quiet Saturday? The story ends too abruptly. Jesus died. It is finished. It is too late for anything to change. Or is it?
Jesus died at the ninth hour, 3:00 p.m. Even to that final moment, Jesus was in control. During the final moments on the cross Jesus took care of the last minute business. He forgave His enemies. He honored His mother and gave her a son to care for her future. He provided hope to a sinner in need. When all was complete, Jesus cried out for the last time and gave up His spirit. The world rocked with the anger of God.
Joseph of Arimathea, a very rich man, approached Pilate about Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in clean linen and placed Him in his own newly hewn tomb. There was no time to prepare the body because the Sabbath was drawing near. The women would have to take care of it later, so they watched where Jesus’ was placed and planned to go on Sunday morning. The cave was covered with a large stone.
The Jewish leaders remembered Jesus’ words that He would rise again in three days and they were concerned that the disciples would try to steal the body, and so they went to Pilate and asked for soldiers to guard the tomb. Pilate agreed and told them to make it as secure as possible. They took a guard and placed a seal over the stone.
The disciples probably spent that day in fear and confusion. They hid from the world and mourned the loss of their beloved teacher and companion. Can you imagine the things they must have thought about and talked about? Who was Jesus? Why did He die? Why did we spend these years following Him? What will happen to us? Had we wasted three years of our lives chasing after a false prophet? Is this really the end?
Isn’t it funny that now, two thousand years later, there are those who still have the same concerns and who still ask the same questions? There are those who still think that His body was not raised, but that it was taken away under the cover of night despite the seal and the guard. There are those who think it was, and is, pointless to follow a prophet who could be destroyed so easily. There are those who worry that they are following a false god and wonder if they are wasting their time.
It is hard for us to ask the question “Is it really over” when we know what will happen tomorrow. The disciples couldn’t do anything, and neither can we. This is a day of waiting and mourning for us too. It is a day of confusion and fear. We might not ask the same questions, but we all go through times of sorrow and distress. Why me? Why now? Why this? Is this really the end?
Scriptures for today: Matthew 27:57-66, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42
“And he saith unto them, Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him!” Mark 16:6
A boulder blocked the entrance to the tomb. It was sealed and Roman guards watched over it. There was no chance for tampering. The disciples were in hiding, afraid to show their faces to the world. They did not know what awaited them. If Jesus who was so good and truthful was dead, what must become of them?
As morning approached, the women awakened to the sad task of preparing Jesus’ body for permanent burial. They were surprised by what they saw.
The scriptures tell the story better than I ever could. Matthew 28: 1-15, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18
The tomb is empty. He is alive.
How will you respond to this good news? Will you be like the women who were too afraid to tell anyone? Or will you go out and tell the story? Will you be like the disciples who did not believe the story? Or will you be like Peter who might have had doubts but went to the tomb to see for himself? Will you be like Mary who wept because the body of her Lord was missing? Will you hear His voice call your name and believe?
Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, is a joyous time and we think that everyone should be singing Allelujah. But in our world there are still some who are afraid, some who do not believe, and some who weep over the tragedy of it all. It is up to us to help them see so that they will believe.
Join me today in sharing the Good News! Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Allelujah!