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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.


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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.

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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.


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Peace

shallow focus photography of open book beside blue ceramic cup

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 5:1

Peace.  Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and think of what peace would look like in your life.  Is it hard to imagine?  No stress, no chaos. Sleep…plenty of restful, uninterrupted sleep.  Relationships with family and friends that are healthy and whole.  A calendar that has plenty of time for relaxation and fun.  A checkbook with a cushion for life’s surprises.

Ok, back to reality!  Peace seems so elusive doesn’t it?  Anxiety – that I can picture.  Craziness – that I can point you to in my life.  But peace?

Then again, maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way.  And maybe, just maybe, the kind of peace that we need happens in the middle of the stress and the chaos, the anxiety and the craziness.

Paul wants us to know that we have peace with God.  Because we’ve been justified by grace through faith, we are no longer enemies of God.  By His death and resurrection, Jesus has made us right with God!  The Creator of the Universe is on our side; the Lord of all calls us “friend.”

Does that mean the chaos and stress disappear?  Nope.  “In this world you will have trouble” says Jesus, “but behold I have overcome the world!”

Peace in the midst of chaos.  That’s what we have.  And that peace with God puts the chaos in perspective:  it can’t separate me from God’s love. So, at the end of the day, I can rest my head on my pillow knowing that God and me are all good.  It is well with my soul.  And that is all I need.

Merciful Father, sometimes I’d like for you to take all of the chaos and stress out of my life.  And yet I know that it’s that chaos and stress that you often use to draw me closer to You.  Give me strength to endure whatever troubles I face, and in the midst of those troubles, give me the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes from knowing Jesus my Savior.  And in this world of trouble, point my heart always to that Place where troubles will be no more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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The Power to Set Free (or enslave)

brown cross on mountain
 
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:34-36]
 
Forgiveness sets us free. Even if we are locked up, imprisoned, quarantined, exiled, in chains, we are set free. We live freely when we live in Jesus’ forgiveness. Regardless of earthly circumstance. That is what Jesus is saying here in John 8- “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”
 
So, what happens when people freed by the gospel choose not to forgive? In keeping with the metaphor, we leave people in prison. We keep people enslaved when we refuse to forgive. If forgiveness has the power to set us free, then unforgiveness has the power to enslave.
 
Isn’t that scary? If we choose not to forgive others their trespasses, we are choosing to keep them imprisoned by guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, or worse. Why would we want to do that? It is against the very nature of God, and living against God’s nature is bound to get you outside of God’s Kingdom.
 
When we refuse to forgive, we ourselves are in danger of becoming enslaved once more- to bitterness, anger, malice, greed, envy. We are in danger of giving up the joy we have in Jesus. We are in danger of reaching back and putting the yoke of slavery on our backs once again.

Let’s stay away from slavery. Let’s live in freedom. Let’s live our lives in a way that demonstrates the love of Jesus- the freedom of Jesus- to everyone we meet.
 
Prayer: Dear Jesus, you have set us free. Empower us to live as freed people, freeing other people from the dangerous and deadly weight of sin and despair. We trust in you for all things, by the grace of God we live and move and have our being in you. AMEN.

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