BLOG
Check here weekly for new blogs, and peruse our archives for dozens of great resources.

A Devotion for the Wednesday of Holy Week: The Waiting Day

black cross statue

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.’” Mark 14:1-2

There are empty days in my calendar. I keep a paper day planner calendar and most days have something written on them. But I see that Wednesday, February 19 is empty. I know I rode to work, I taught class, and I must have met people. But there’s nothing written down for that day. But still it mattered because it brought me to Thursday and Friday on which there’s a lot written.
 
That’s the Wednesday of Holy Week also. Other than the short verses from Mark 14, we have a blank day in the middle of the most important week in the world. What did Jesus do on Wednesday? Perhaps the answer is in what his enemies did. This Wednesday of Holy Week was the day they absolutely determined to kill Jesus and to seek someone to betray him. From here on, their plans were set and the cross was coming.
What is striking is that, even knowing this, Jesus has a day that is blank. He knows of their plot and he knows that they’ll find Judas to betray him. We might have asked Jesus, “Aren’t you going to do something about this?” His answer would be, “Yes. I’m going to let it happen. This is really my plan, though they think it’s theirs.” And so, this Wednesday, he knew what was coming and readied himself for it. Perhaps it was a day of prayer with his Father. Perhaps it was a day to enjoy the familiar company of his disciples and others like Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Perhaps it was a day to rest quietly, knowing the ordeal that was coming.
Maybe those are the same things we can do today. This quiet Wednesday can be a day to pray, a day to cherish our families and those close to us, and a day to rest. It is certainly a day to be in awe of Jesus who could have filled this Wednesday with miracles that would have left his enemies powerless. But no, he knew the cross had to come and he prepared for it today. So, we have a day of thanks that he filled this empty day with the determination to go forward to the cross and, beyond that, to the empty tomb.

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, thank you that you sent your Son to fill every day with his plan to live among us, teach, heal, and serve. But most of all, thank you that he came to fill our empty days with his love and forgiveness. Help us to focus today on his willingness to face the cross for us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen


Read more...

What He Said Week 7

Study Seven: THE PARADOX OF JESUS

TAKING IT IN

 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”     Mark 12:35-44

 

GETTING AT IT

A paradox is a seeming contradiction that is nonetheless true.  Two statements that seem to contradict each other are actually both true.  Here’s an example from Albert Einstein: “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.”

There are many such paradoxes in Scripture.  Christian doctrine includes this paradox: there is but one God, yet that God exists in three persons.  Another example is that Christians are at the same time saints and sinners. One more: if one is damned eternally it is his own fault; and if he is saved eternally it is solely because of the grace of God.

The Bible presents paradoxes about the Christian life.  Jesus says that a person must lose his life to save it in Luke 9:24-25.  He teaches that the last shall be first and the first last in Matthew 20:16. St. Paul wrote that when he is weak he is strong in 2 Corinthians 12:10.

Human logic is inadequate to explain divine truth.  Through Isaiah (55:8) God said: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . .  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Perhaps the most central paradox in Christianity is that Jesus is both true man and true God.  The Savior challenged the people in Jerusalem for the Passover with that paradox in Mark 12.  He followed that challenge with two more paradoxes, that the most visibly religious may be the least worthy and that the biggest gift may be the smallest amount of money.

DIGGING INTO IT

 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.

Asking a question and making people think is usually more effective than just stating something.  Jesus used this approach often.  Every Jew understood that the Messiah was to be a descendant of David – David’s son.  2 Samuel 7:16 is a passage that led the people of Israel to anticipate a Messianic king who would occupy David’s throne. The politicizing of their Messianic hopes kept them from seeing the full picture of the Messiah that the Old Testament painted; and their self-righteous pride kept them from appreciating how much more they needed a deliverer from their sins than from the occupying forces of Rome. 

That Jesus is true man and true God is foretold in the verse from Psalm 110 that Jesus quoted.  (This verse is the most frequently referenced Old Testament passage in the New Testament.)  It foretells Jesus’ ascension to rule not merely a nation but the world.  (Conquerors demonstrated their victory by stepping on the neck of a vanquished king.)  Jesus had declared himself the Son of God multiple times; and it was for this that the Sanhedrin condemned him to death.  This time he does so by asking the paradoxical question, how can the Messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord?  That the name LORD is used of both God the Father and God the Son in Psalm 110 is just one of many ways in which Scripture teaches what the Nicene Creed confesses, that Jesus is true God and one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Notice that Jesus mentions the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, also in verse 36.  In Romans 1:2-4 the apostle Paul makes the case clearly: “The gospel God promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Notice how Jesus testifies to the inspiration of Scripture when he names the Holy Spirit as the source of David’s words in Psalm 110.  Because the Bible is God’s Word, no passage is unimportant; and every passage is worth studying.  Jesus often revealed more in Old Testament prophecy than one might understand in an initial reading.

Notice also that just a few days before shouts of “crucify him,” Jesus still enjoyed popularity with the crowds.

 

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

This is not the first time that Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.  Maybe he exposes some hypocrisy in us as well.  The desire for recognition, respect and privilege can make our “image” more important to us than our heart.  It’s easy to quote the proverb “Pride goes before a fall” and fail to apply it to ourselves.  The paradox here is that sometimes those who appear to be the most religious are in reality the least devout. Jesus points to long, florid prayers in public and eye-catching religious garb as examples of outward piety that can mask compassionless greed.  There have been enough stories in our time of the moral failing of priests and pastors to take Jesus’ warning to heart.  Making too much of religious leaders can set up both them and us for a fall. 

Once again, Jesus warns that there is greater accountability and guilt for those who claim to represent him as religious leaders but distort his truth and his moral will.

 

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”    

On the temple mount there were courtyards outside the temple, for the Gentiles, for women and for men.  Jesus was positioned to notice one or more of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles for offerings.  The paradox he points out is that the widow’s “mite” was a greater gift than the large offerings of the wealthy.  What is remarkable is that the widow trusted God enough to give to him the last money she had.

Jesus frequently used object lessons like this widow and her offering to teach his followers.  The lesson is that offerings are given freely, not out of compulsion, and quietly instead of with show.  The lesson is that the giver’s heart is more significant to God than the amount of the gift.  The lesson is that a gift to God is better measured as a proportion of one’s means than by how much is given.  The lesson is that a great gift is the response of a grateful faith, which trusts God’s promise to provide for our needs.  Jesus was not disparaging the large gifts of the wealthy.  God blesses some with the ability to provide magnanimous support for his work.  Jesus did not criticize extravagance.  In chapter 14 of Mark’s Gospel Jesus commended Mary of Bethany for anointing his feet with expensive perfume.

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

In John 7:24 Jesus said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”  Are there people and situations that we may have misjudged?  In an era of social media and so-called “fake news,” it may be important to withhold judgment until facts are clear.  Keeping an open mind is conditioned by God’s truth, however.  We cannot be open-minded about what God calls sin or error.  Still, are there issues or acquaintances about which you need to be more open-minded?

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

Here’s another paradox.  In 1 Corinthians 15:25-26, like Psalm 110, we’re told that the ascended Lord Jesus “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  Ephesians 1:19-22 says that God “raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at this right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all authority, power and dominion. . . And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”  So, are all things “under his feet” now or is that still to come?  Or, paradoxically, how are both statements true?

The paradox addresses the reality that the ascended Lord Jesus controls our world, and yet evil continues to raise its ugly head.  How do we “walk by faith” within that paradox?

    

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

Ask God to make you truly humble in your piety and your giving, confident that he knows what you don’t need others to notice.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

Be bold and trust God enough to give more generously.  Ask him to lay on your heart the ministries and charities to which you will direct your giving.

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Philippians 2:1-16 contains a summary of Jesus’ coming to earth to save us and ascending to heaven to intercede for us.  It reads like a creed or a hymn.  Based on Jesus’ humble willingness to take our place, St. Paul directs Christians to a life of selfless humility.  Based on the salvation we have because of Jesus, the apostle directs us to a life of purpose, living out and sharing God’s grace.


Read more...

A Devotion for the Tuesday of Holy Week

silhouette of cross

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”  24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these thingsMatthew 21:23-27

On Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus went to the temple compound to teach.  That was provocative.  We see no “Gentle Jesus.”  A day earlier he had disrupted the exchange of market money for temple money and the sale of animals for sacrifice right here at the temple mount.  There might as well have been “Wanted” posters everywhere.  And then it got worse.

From parables that clearly painted the Jewish religious leaders as the enemies of God (E.g. the rebel tenant vintners in Matthew 21:33-46) to verbal sparring with those religious leaders that exposed their cynical intentions (E.g. whether to pay taxes to Caesar in Matthew 22:15-22), Jesus’ teaching that day was combative.  It culminated in the screed recorded in Matthew 23, with its recurring invective: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.”

That this day would ramp up the hatred of the religious leaders for Jesus was apparent from the outset – the verses cited above in Matthew 21.  Jesus’ words pushed them into a defensive corner, and they were incensed.

Why did Jesus take this approach?  He was forcing the hand of the Sanhedrin that wanted to kill him.  It would happen as God’s timing intended, at the Passover – where the Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world with his shed blood.

There may be two further answers for Jesus’ bellicose teaching that Tuesday.  By confronting the error and hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, Jesus was issuing a call to repentance.  Perhaps looking into the mirror with which Jesus challenged them would cut through their self-righteous veneer and lead them to see the need for a Savior.  Publicly excoriating these religious leaders served also as a wake-up call for the people gathering in Jerusalem for the Passover.  Jesus exposed the damning falsehood of religion based on human effort to keep religious laws, so they could rejoice in what God would shortly do with the sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners.

There may be times when, like Jesus, we are called upon to challenge error and confront people we care about with their sin and hypocrisy.  The Bible doesn’t ask Christians to be merely “nice.”  But there is a much greater message we have to share, the gospel rooted in the death of Jesus, the death he hastened with his Tuesday teaching.  “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

PRAYER: Thank you, Jesus, for willingly accepting the suffering and death that frees us from the consequences of our sins.  Give us sobered and repentant hearts as we this week follow the way of sorrows which leads to your crucifixion.  When courageous testimony is called for, confirm our faith and provide us words.  When hope and consolation are needed, give us the love you have for the world that we may share your gospel.  In Jesus’ name we ask.  Amen.


Read more...

A Devotion for the Monday of Holy Week

palm leaf
 
The sights and sounds of Palm Sunday must have been a moving experience for all.  For the followers of Jesus—those who looked to Him as the Savior and King of Israel—it must have been a parade of success—their anticipation about to be fulfilled.  Watching Jesus ride into the City of Jerusalem in such a triumphant manner was the culmination of years and generations of waiting.

But for others, this parade moved them in a much different way.  Filled with jealousy over Jesus’ reputation and reception.  Filled with fear that His popularity would override their authority, the Pharisees were furious.  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd asked that Jesus—no, demanded that Jesus rebuke His cheering followers.  “If they keep quiet,” replied Jesus, “even the stones will cry out.”  There was no stopping this parade of pomp and circumstance.

When Jesus entered the Holy City of Jerusalem, He went where all good worshippers would go.  Mark tells us, “And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple….And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”  So what did Jesus see when He looked around?  He saw those who were exchanging the currency of people from faraway places, who had come to make their sacrifice to the Lord.  The money changers were charging exorbitant fees, taking advantage of the faithful.  Jesus looked around and saw those selling animals for sacrifice—selling them, of course, way above normal prices, taking advantage of weary travelers who simply wanted to find peace through their sacrifice.  I guess “price gouging” is nothing new.  Something needed to be done.  But, this was not the time.  It was late.  Jesus would come back Monday morning.  And He did.

Mark explains, “On the following day…they came to Jerusalem. And (Jesus) entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”
 
Jesus comes to clean house.  The Temple was God’s house.  It was to be kept holy—set apart to honor the Lord, not to be used for personal gain in such sacrilegious ways. 

Jesus came to clean house, indeed.  He came to clean my house and your house.  St. Paul asked the Corinthians and us an important question:  “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

A quick examination of my thoughts and my words and my actions indicate that my temple needs cleaning.  I, like those sacrilegious scoundrels of the first century, so easily rob God of His glory and cheat the people around me out of the love they need.  I definitely need cleaning. 

Thank God—literally, thank God that Jesus came to clean house—my house—my mind, my soul, my body.  Your house—your mind, your soul, your body.  Thank the Lord that He took our place on the cross, paying the penalty for our uncleanliness.  Thank Him.  Worship Him, for He is faithful and just, cleansing us from all unrighteousness and restoring us to be His temple, so that all we say and do and think would worshipfully give Him the honor and glory which is rightly His.

PRAYER:  Lord Jesus, thank You for cleaning my house.  Thank You for taking away the guilt that clutters my conscience, the arrogance that obstructs the door to my mind and the obstinate attitude that covers the welcome mat to my heart.  Forgive me when I fail and lift me, again, to new life that loves You with all my heart, soul and mind, and loves those around me.  In Your name I pray.  Amen.

Read more...

Gone. Really. Gone.

close-up of brown wooden cross

God does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. [Psalm 103:10-12]

When I was younger, I bashed my shin really bad, and it split open. Blood poured out, and I had to go to the Emergency Room to get some stitches. Eventually the wound healed, but it left a big scar. And that scar is not going to disappear. Ever. It will always be there, on my shin.

We can think about our sin in the same way. We do something wrong, we mess up, we break a promise or say things we later regret. And maybe the “I forgive you” brings about some healing, but it leaves a scar. It leaves our soul with pock marks, scratches, and holes that will never fully disappear. Our relationships continue to bear the mark of iniquity, even if the wound is decades old.

But we have missed God’s message to us. As high as the heavens are from the earth. As far as the east is from the west. That’s how far gone our sins are. They are not meant to leave scars on us. God has forgiven us in Jesus, and he has done away with the wounds and is making us new!

That might be part of the reason that Jesus’s body still bears the scars of the cross. To show that the only scars that will remain are his. The scars that brought us peace, forgiveness, and healing. The holes that we can put our perfectly-forgiven fingers into. The gash in which we can, along with Thomas, place our hand. The scars which will be the only mark in eternity of the slates that have been wiped clean, the transgressions that have been washed away. The iniquities that have been forgiven. The sins that are gone. Really. Gone.

Dear God, we give you thanks that your love has truly worked healing in the depths of our being. It will take us a lifetime to realize the fullness of your work on the cross, and eternity will finally reveal the magnitude of your love. Remind us, now and forever, to live in the forgiveness that Jesus has won for us. In his name we pray, AMEN.


Read more...