Easter Week: Resurrection

IMG_3913 edit.jpg“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards trembled in fear of him and became like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said! Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ See, I have told you.”

So they hurried away from the tomb in fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came to Him, grasped His feet, and worshiped Him. “Do not be afraid,” said Jesus. “Go, tell My brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see Me.” (Matthew 28: 1-10)

And all I have to say is: Hallelujah!

Easter Week: Garden Tomb

IMG_9697 editDown in a garden in a rich man’s tomb,

Lies a man condemned to die;

Wrapped hurriedly in linen cloth

As the Sabbath eve drew nigh.

 

Most friends had long forsaken him,

But a devoted few stayed true,

Risking their reputations,

To bury a despised King of Jews.

 

Their tears fell bitter in the shadowed crypt,

On the newly hewed out stone,

For the beloved friend they’d lost.

For cherished hopes now gone.

 

Darkness falls across the land,

As grief-stricken they leave,

The haunting scent of aloe and myrrh,

Wafts through the olive trees.

 

Up in the city, along the streets,

Quiet rest of Sabbath reigns,

As still as His body, bruised and pierced,

Bound by death’s dark chains.

 

But the fans of palm are whispering,

Along the garden path that winds,

Echoes of hosannas sung,

More than memories on their minds.

 

“Wait and see,” they seem to say,

“The story’s not complete,

This One they begged to save now,

Does not lie here in defeat.”

 

Just as a kernel cannot grow,

‘Til it’s buried in the ground,

The requirement is death,

Before new life will be found.”

 

“But Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)

Easter Week: Last Words from the Cross

IMG_3787.JPGThese are the His last words, spoken from the cross.  Meditate on them as you remember the pain and agony He endured that day…not because He had to, but because He loved YOU.

“When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on His right and the other on His left.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

“One of the criminals who hung there heaped abuse on Him. “Are You not the Christ?” he said. “Save Yourself and us!”

But the other one rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same judgment? We are punished justly, for we are receiving what our actions deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

“Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother and her sister, as well as Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” So from that hour, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)

“At the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice… “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)

“After this, knowing that everything had now been accomplished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there. So they soaked a sponge in the wine, put it on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished.” (John 19:28-30)

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.

Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” And when He had said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-46)

 

Something to beautiful to listen to: “What Wondrous Love is This”

Easter Week: The Last Supper

IMG_2683 edit“It was now just before the Passover Feast, and Jesus knew that His hour had come to leave this world and return to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the very end….Jesus knew that the Father had delivered all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. (John 13:1, 3)

“When evening came, Jesus was reclining with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating, He said to them, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray Me.”

They were deeply grieved and began to ask Him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Jesus answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed. It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, who would betray Him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said it yourself.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, spoke a blessing and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is My body.”

Then He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:20-30)

IMG_2684 edit.jpgI can only begin to imagine the range and depth of emotion coursing through Jesus on this night.

Urgency?  This was His very last chance to teach and instruct His disciples, and prepare them for what lay ahead.

Love?  He tenderly washed their feet.  He comforted them.  He prayed for them, and for all who would believe in Him thereafter.

Dread?  He knew that by morning, He would be arrested, betrayed by one of His own inner circle, turned on by the fickle crowds of Jesusalem, sentenced to cruel death.

Anxiety?  Later in the night, we know that He shed His first drops of blood not on the cross, but in Gethsemane as He agonized over what was coming.

Sorrow?  He told Peter, “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38)

Fear?  In His humanity, He asked His Father that He might be spared the agony that He knew awaited Him.

Abandonment?  He watched one of his inner circle walk out the door intent upon betrayal.  He asked his remaining eleven friends to pray with him; he found them sleeping.  Later, they would all run away or claim they never knew Him.

And yet, determination?  He told His Father, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name!” (John 12:27-28)

Easter Week: Anointing

IMG_4528 edit.jpg“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, the hometown of Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. So they hosted a dinner for Jesus there. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took about a pint of expensive perfume, made of pure spikenard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:1-3)

“When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and asked, “Why this waste?  This perfume could have been sold at a high price, and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus asked, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful deed to Me.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me. By pouring this perfume on Me, she has prepared My body for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached in all the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:8-13)

It was a tradition in the time of Jesus to anoint the heads of the rabbis who attended marriage feasts with fragrant oil, and very honored guests in your home were sometimes given the same honor.  What Mary did was not strange to the onlookers.  What really got their attention was the kind of perfume she used.

This was no bottle of artificially scented body spray from Bath and Body Works.  This was pure spikenard, a product of the far-away, remote Himalayas, literally the costliest anointing oil of that day.  It could be afforded by only the very wealthy, and as a gift was generally reserved for royalty.  To put it into perspective, the quantity that the Bible states Mary used would have cost about 300 denarii, which was equivalent at that time to an average year’s wage.  In modern-day USA, according to statistics, this would be around $50,000.

Just like that, $50,000 dollars, poured out, gone.  This was the incredible depth of Mary’s devotion.

This is the same Mary who lay aside household chores to sit at Jesus’ feet, drinking His every word.  This is the same Mary who, distraught with grief for her dead brother, still clung faithfully to her belief in who Jesus was.  Where others struggled, Mary seemed to have always comprehended the significance of who Jesus was—and this last recorded act of her devotion was perhaps the most telling of all.

Did she know that she was pouring perfume considered fit for a king upon the feet of the King of kings?  Did she know, when He spoke of His burial that day, that it would occur in less than a week?  Did she have some premonition that this was likely the last thing she would ever do for Him before His death?  Even if she had some inkling, she could not have fully understood.

What she did understand was that no gift was too costly a sign of love for Jesus, and that nothing given to Jesus is ever wasted.  

We do not always know, either, the significance or long-reaching impact of things we give sacrificially to Jesus, but this is not the important thing.  What is important is that we give freely, like Mary, simply because we love Him.  He is worthy!

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12)

 

Easter Week: House of Prayer

IMG_2799 edit.jpg“Then Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. 

And He declared to them, “It is written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

It is no coincidence, of course, that one of the only displays of Jesus’ anger ever recorded has to do with corruption in the house of God.  It is also worth noting that the corruption that so angered him was not outright heresy or idol worship, as one might expect.

What was so evil about providing a little convenience for the throngs of temple worshipers streaming into the temple on a daily basis?  Why not make it easy to pick up a pair of doves on your way in to offer a sacrifice or get just the right change for your weekly tithe?

It’s likely that some, if not all, of these sellers and money changers were misusing their prime location, taking advantage of people’s religiosity to over-charge and cheat.  When He called it “a den of robbers”, no doubt He was referring to literal dishonesty, underhanded marketing practices, and the deliberate misuse of religion for personal gain.

But He was also referring to something else.  These merchants were creating a major distraction.  If you know anything of a Middle Eastern marketplace, you know that it is not a quiet place.  It is loud and boisterous, full of the sounds of merchants calling you to look at their wares, of customers chattering and asking questions, of all voices raised in animated bartering.  Add to that the sound of live animals braying, bleating and squawking, and you have a highly stimulating cacophony of sound, let alone sights and smells.  All this had crept right into the house of God.  Colorful and exciting for a shopping trip perhaps, but worshipful?  Reverent?  Peaceful?  Conducive to actual earnest, focused prayer?  Not so much.  In our modern day world, I would compare this to trying to hold a worship service in the electronics department of a store, surrounded by multiple screens flashing and blaring helpful commercials about the newest, glow-in-the-dark Bible cover or portable personal reclining pew you need right now.

Jesus’ passion, instead, was an atmosphere of pure, God-centered worship, free of man-centered worldly distractions.  Jesus Himself went on, that very day even, to model the atmosphere He so desired.  He taught and discussed the Scriptures, performed acts of healing, blessed the innocent shouted praise of children and honored those who gave offerings from a heart of love.  

The sad thing is that a mere forty years later, this magnificent house of God that Jesus so zealously cleansed would be a pile of rubble, “not one stone left upon another”.  Israel had disregarded the words of their own Messiah, persisted in their empty religious ways and reaped the consequence.  That temple has never been rebuilt.

The good news, though, is that because of Jesus’ work on the cross, the temple of God still lives on, in actually a much bigger and more beautiful way.

Jesus once told the Samaritan woman, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him.” (John 4:21,23)

Later, Paul states it even more to the point:  “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:  “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people.” (2 Cor. 6:16)

IMG_2814 editHis temple lives on, not in buildings made by man, but in the very hearts of men.  And so, with this in mind, consider this question:

If Jesus walked into your heart today, what would He find and how would He respond?  Would He find a lot of noisy distractions and pressing to-do lists robbing you of your focus on Him?  Would He find a lot of self-centered preoccupation in sad need of being overturned and thrown out?  If so, lay it wide open to Him and ask Him to cleanse it with all the zeal of that long ago day in the Jerusalem temple.

Or would He find a carefully maintained atmosphere of peace, with wide-open spaces and time for worship and prayer?  Would He walk into your heart, the heart upon which He has written His name, and find that it is indeed characterized as a habitation of prayer? 

May this be so, or become so, for each one of us.

Easter Week: Let the Rocks Cry Out

IMG_3031 edit.jpgAs Jesus rode down from the Mount of Olives, through an eastern gate into Jerusalem, it was the closest He would ever come to being recognized by the masses as Messiah.  The significance of the moment was not lost on them.  Astride a donkey, He was fulfilling prophesy and purposefully declaring His kingship.  Their only mistake was that they dreamed too small.

They imagined a crown of gold upon his head.

He saw a crown of thorns.

They imagined him lifted high on a kingly throne.

He saw himself lifted high on a cruel cross.

They imagined Him in kingly robes.

He saw Himself stripped and beaten.

They imagined him valiantly leading them to victory amidst the clash of human-wielded swords.

He saw Himself descending into Hades and conquering death itself.

They imagined freedom from their immediate oppression, life under vexing Roman rule.

He visualized their future freedom from the eternal oppression of sin and curse that had shadowed the earth for centuries.

They imagined Him as king until the day of His death.

He knew that His reign would begin on the day of His death.

They imagined Him as King of the Jews.

He knew His destiny was to be King of all mankind.

He looked tenderly across that massive shouting throng of followers, that sea of jubilantly waving branches, the carpet of their wildly flung cloaks in the dusty road, and knew that they were welcoming a kingdom far grander than their wildest imaginations.  While this crowd would prove fickle, shouting just as loudly for His death in less than a week, their role that day was not wasted because the truth of their words remained. 

He was the son of David. 

He was coming in the name of the Lord. 

He was coming to “save now” (literal meaning of “hosanna”).

This news was so remarkably glorious, that if they hadn’t declared it, Jesus later said that the rocks themselves would have cried out the news for joy.  Why the rocks?  Because rocks are mute.  Animals have voices; plants of earth bend and whisper; water and sky speak in light, color and wind.  But as earth’s very foundation, rock is the epitome of stolid silence, resistance, and expressionless immovability.  This makes it all the more significant that, of all the natural world, the very rocks would not have been able to contain themselves in the face of silence.

Don’t you almost wish the crowds would have been silent for a minute or two, just so we could have heard what rock voices sounded like?  It gives me chills just to imagine it.IMG_3143 edit.jpg“A massive crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed were shouting: “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

When Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds replied, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:8-11)

“But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40)