Friday, April 25, 2014

The Greatest Treasure

"As a culture, present-day Christianity has redefined spiritual maturity. The reformers knew we were saved to glorify God. We moderns live to be blessed...We're so committed to discovering and applying God's principles for making life work that we no longer value intimacy with God as our greatest blessing. We're more attracted to sermons, books, and conferences that reveal the secrets to fulfillment in everything we do than to spiritual direction that leads us through affliction into the presence of the Father." | Larry Crabb -- The Pressure's Off

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Walk Through Holy Week - Post #5

After readying himself through prayer and receiving the blessing of spiritual strength from the LORD, Jesus hears muffled sounds in the distance and looks to see the dim light of the torches. As expected, the arrest party has secretly come in the cover of darkness. Peter, James, and John awake just in time to see their Rabbi betrayed with Judas' kiss. Startled and afraid, Peter quickly grabs his sword and strikes Malchus, the high priest’s servant, and cuts off his right ear. But Jesus says to Peter, “Put your sword [away]; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” And thus begins the most unjust and unmerited arrest and trial in the history of the world.

The trial has been assembled hastily and witnesses haven’t been screened well. Testimonies don't line up. Council members look disconcerted. Jesus is silent as a lamb. Irritated and impatient, Caiaphas cuts to the quick: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63).
The hour has come. Charged in the name of his Father to answer, Jesus speaks the words that seal the doom for which he had come to endure (John 12:27): “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
Then in an act of both manipulative dramatics and law-breaking (Leviticus 21:10), Caiaphas tears his robes and with those gathered at the Sanhedrin declares, “what further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” (Luke 22:71). And with that statement, the Council had the verdict and sentence they had been waiting for. They declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to death, but they would need the help of Rome because they didn't have the authority to carry out capital punishment.

What happened next was "a game of political chess" between Pilate, Herod, and the Council. All of them acting as authorities, yet none of them realizing that they were merely pawns in the plan God had established before the foundation of the world. Pilate tried to appease the Council's thirst for blood and justice by having Christ flogged and humiliated...but humiliation wasn't enough. They wanted him dead and nothing would keep them from achieving this end. Pilot even tried to offer Jesus's release as the year’s annual Passover pardoned prisoner, but the Council refused his effort by saying, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (John 18:40). Their hearts were so hardened by their hatred for Jesus, that they were willing to free a murderous thief instead of Jesus.
[But] the triune God has the Council, Pilate, and Satan where he wants them. They would have no authority over the Son at all unless it had been given [to] them from above (John 19:11).
Unknowingly, they were all carrying out the plan God had already set in place. They were helping Jesus drink the cup he came down from heaven to drink. It was for this very purpose that Christ became flesh. The Son of God was die. By the Council's unjust and shameful actions and Pilot's cowardly efforts to wash his hands of it all...God's will was being carried out. Once again, God was turning what men meant for evil into good, as they "unwittingly collaborated in executing the only innocent [man] who could possibly grant sinners life."

The rest of the story is one we're well familiar with. Christ's cross was strapped to his already lacerated back and he was forced to carry it to the top of Golgotha. Unable to physically handle the task, a man from the crowd was chosen to help him make the trek. Hung between two thieves, Christ endured more ridicule from the crowd as they mocked him while the centurions cast lots for his garments. In the ultimate act of humility and unconditional love, Christ looked down from the cross at those who mocked him. His heart continued to break for them as he pleaded with his father to have mercy. His words equally sad as they were true, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Suffering both from physical pain and thirst, Christ asked for a drink. Physically he was exhausted, but his deeper pain was spiritual. Carrying the sin of the world on his shoulders he was separated from his Father for the first time and last time of eternity. Christ mustered just enough strength to say..."It is finished." And indeed it was. Christ successfully drank the cup his father had set before him, and God received his son's death as payment for the sins of the world.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. | Rom. 3:23-35

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Walk Through Holy Week - Post #4

"And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." | Luke 22:44
Matthew's and Mark's gospels say that Jesus went off three separate times to pray alone. Before he left, he asked his disciples to pray that they might not fall into temptation. Each time when Jesus returned he found Peter, James, and John asleep. Isn't that amazing? I believe we can gather two things from the disciples choice to sleep instead of pray. First, they must not have understood the reality of what was about to happen to Jesus. While he foretold of his death, their choice to sleep instead of pray reveals that they more than likely didn't understand what was about to happen to their LORD.  Secondly, the disciples inability to stay awake reveals that they were were living in the flesh. When Jesus returned to his disciples after praying alone he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41). It was the disciple's flesh that was weak and Jesus knew that only by the Spirit could they find the strength and endurance they would need to resist temptation. And as we will later see, their lack of preparation would lead them to fall to all sorts of temptations (i.e. fear, deceit, doubt etc).

We all grow weary, both physically and spiritually, but just as he did for Jesus...the Holy Spirit is able to provide us the strength to endure even when our bodies physically can't do it on their own. Christ, found himself at a point of extreme agony. So what did he do? He prayed. Luke's gospel tells us that his sweat became like "drops of blood" falling to the ground. If anyone needed rest, it Jesus. And yet he knew better. He knew what he needed most could not be found in the comforts of physical rest. The strength Christ needed to endure "the cup" set before him could only be found in God he prayed.

And what can we take from Jesus' prayers? According to Matthew, the first time he prayed he said, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mark 26:39). His desire was for God to provide another way. Jesus knew what he was about to endure. It was for this purpose that "Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Christ came to die, but it was not death which caused Christ such agony. It was something far worse than death. Something Christ had never endured for all of eternity. Separation from his Father. Christ knew he would be taking on the wrath of God, that the sins of the world would be placed upon him. He also knew that because of sin, he would be separated and the loneliness and anguish of that separation would be far more than Jesus' physical body could handle. But the cup couldn't pass from Christ. This was the only way sin and death could be defeated and God's justice satisfied. So, instead of removing the cup from Christ...God sent an angel to come alongside Jesus to strengthen him (Luke 22:43).

Realizing that "drinking the cup" was the only way to reconcile a relationship between God's and man, Christ's second prayer took a very different tone. The second time he prayed he said, “My Father, if this [cup] cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Mark 26:42). The prayer was no longer relief from the agony, but instead that God's will be done. Christ's situation didn't change, but his perspective did. No longer was he left with simply agony. The angel of the LORD had given him strength to endure, and to see and embrace the future grace and glory. This was God's will, and Christ desired to live and die for his Father's glory.
"Jesus did not go on praying for the cup to pass. He went on praying for success in drinking it." | John Piper

Evidently, by the time Jesus was done praying in Gethsemane, the Father had not only made clear that there is no other way than the cross, but also that this way would succeed. The Lamb would have the reward of his suffering. He will “see his offspring; he will prolong his days; the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he will see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10–11).

Surely this is why Hebrews 12:2 could say, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” Beneath the terrors of present agony was the taste of future joy. The angel had come, “strengthening him” — clarifying, confirming, connecting the coming joy. -- source:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Walk Through Holy Week - Post #3

Today is "Holy Wednesday" also knows as "Spy Wednesday" by many, because the dark and secret plot to kill Jesus is starting to take shape. Yesterday, the chief priests, scribes, and elders were humiliated by Jesus, who compared them to wicked tenants in the parable he told in the temple (Matt. 12:1-12). The hatred in their hearts towards Jesus was growing stronger and stronger as they sought ways to defame him and minimize his influence over the people. However, their efforts continued to fall short, and because they feared an uprising among the people Jesus continued to gain favor and converts. Something had to happen to stop Jesus. These men needed a different way to get to Jesus that could be done secretly. They needed a closer connection to him. They needed a spy.

Enter Judas Iscariot. Judas was one of Christ's twelve disciples. He traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry and was very close to him. But he was also caught up in a grave sin, one which would eventually lead to his own demise. He was the treasurer and "keeper of the moneybag." But the Bible also said that he was a greedy man who was dishonest and a thief. One piece of evidence occurred when Jesus was reclining at a table in the house of Lazareth, Mary, and Martha. Mary approached Jesus, and began to wash Christ's feet with expensive perfume and dry it off with her hair. It is in this story that we get a clearer picture of Judas' heart and motives:
Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” | John 12:1-8
In John's gospel we are told that Judas' concern was not for the poor (as he claimed), but was instead concern that he wasn't able to embezzle money from the sale of the expensive ointment which was being "wasted" on the feet of Jesus. John surmised that Judas' heart was hardened by the sin of greed and the evidence we have in scripture, shows that Judas was willing to do anything to fulfil his desire. Even betraying the Messiah. And in the gospel according to Mark, there is no subtle transition between the exchange Judas had with Jesus while Mary was washing his feet and his effort to fulfill his greedy passions.
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. | Mark 14:10-11

And just like that, the evil plotters had their spy. One of Jesus' inside men was willing to betray him for the small price of (30) pieces of silver, the going price of a slave in Jesus day. Game. Set. Match. Or so they thought. Little did they know that their actions were simply a small piece of a much greater story God had begun to tell before the foundations of the world. Christ came to earth to die for the sins of the world. Those plotting against Jesus needed someone (like Judas) to turn Jesus over to them and for it to be done in secrecy so it wouldn't start an uprising. However, God knew the evil in their hearts and the evil in Judas' heart as well, and he used the sinful desires of these men to accomplish his plan of redemption. And once again we see, what men mean for evil, God will use for accomplish his holy purposes.

Why the Insult of Betrayal? (David Mathis -

Why would God have it go down like this? If Jesus truly is being “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and his enemies are doing just as God’s hand and plan “had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28), why design it like this, with one of his own disciples betraying him? Why add the insult of betrayal to the injury of the cross?

We find a clue when Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 in forecasting Judas’s defection: “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (John 13:18). King David knew the pain not just of being conspired against by his enemies, but betrayed by his friend. So now the Son of David walks the same path in his agony. Here Judas turns on him. Soon Peter will deny him, and then the remaining ten will scatter.

From the beginning of his public ministry, the disciples have been at his side. They have learned from him, traveled with him, ministered with him, been his earthly companions, and comforted him as he walked this otherwise lonely road to Jerusalem.

But now, as Jesus’s hour comes, this burden he must bear alone. The definitive work will be no team effort. The Anointed must go forward unaccompanied, as even his friends betray him, deny him, and disperse. As Donald Macleod observes, “Had the redemption of the world depended on the diligence of the disciples (or even their staying awake) it would never have been accomplished” (The Person of Christ, 173).

As he lifts “loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7) in the garden, the heartbreak of David is added to his near emotional breakdown: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). He is forsaken by his closest earthly associates, one of them even becoming a spy against him. But even this is not the bottom of his anguish. The depth comes in the cry of dereliction, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

But more remarkable than this depth of forsakenness is the height of love he will show. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends, even when they have forsaken him.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Walk Through Holy Week - Post #2

As Jesus and his disciples made their way back to the temple in Jerusalem on Holy Tuesday, they passed the fig tree he had cursed the day before. Peter noticed that this fig tree was withered and mentioned it to Jesus. Jesus took the opportunity to share a truth about faith, forgiveness, and prayer. Pressing on towards the temple, Jesus and his disciples were met by the chief priests, scribes, and elders and asked Jesus by what authority he was doing these things. Knowing the purpose of their questions Jesus said to them,

Mark 11:29-30
“I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. [30] Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”
After careful deliberation, knowing that Jesus' question had placed them in a conundrum, the chief priests, scribes, and elders decided to avoid giving an answer to Jesus' question. Because of their avoidance of his question, Jesus refused to answer the question they had raised.

Mark 11:31-33
[31] And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ [32] But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. [33] So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Jesus then proceeded to teach through a very pointed parable (Mark 12:1-10) about a man who planted a vineyard, invested into it, and then leased it to tenants and left for another country. The vineyard flourished and when harvest time came the land owner sent a servant to the vineyard to gather some fruits. Instead of giving the servant fruit from the vineyard, the tenants beat him and sent him away empty handed. The land owner then sent another servant and he too was mistreated. This continued, with the landowner sending servants...and each time the tenants either beat or killed the servant. Finally, the land owner sent his son, saying to himself...‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So the tenants killed his son and threw him out of the vineyard.

Then Jesus asked and answered the following question (Mark 12:9-11) of those whom he was teaching (including the chief priests, scribes, and elders):
What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture: 
“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
Jesus' question, from Psalm 118:22-23, was already known to be a messianic passage. Therefore those listening knew what Jesus was saying in his parable. The stone refers to the Messiah (i.e. Jesus) and the builders are the leaders of Israel. The word, rejected, echoes the theme of the persecution of the prophets of God (Neh. 9:9–35; Acts 7:1–53) by Israel and it's leaders. What Jesus is saying is that the "faithful" in Israel will accept the Son as the rightful messenger, heir, and cornerstone of the messianic kingdom (Jer. 31:26; Zech. 4:7) while the others will reject him. He is also saying that the vineyard, which is the inheritance of Christ, will now be given to others (i.e. Gentiles) because Israel (the tenants) has rejected their God (the land owner) seeking only his blessings (the vineyard) instead of a relationship with him.

Upon hearing these words, the anger and hatred of the chief priests, scribes, and elders towards Jesus grew. They wanted to arrest him (and more than likely kill him) but they were fearful because he was growing in popularity and influence among the faithful in Israel. So, instead of arresting him...they sent Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians to try and trap Jesus in an intellectual debate with questions about taxes, marriage, and the greatest commandment. But Jesus answered each question with wisdom, truth, and grace...gaining favor among the people and gaining hatred from those who sought to destroy him.

With another tension-filled day behind them, Jesus and the disciples begin to head back to Bethany. They stop on the Mount of Olives to rest, giving them a wonderful view of Jerusalem as the sun begins to set behind it in the west. The disciples marvel at the size and the grandeur of these impressive buildings, but Jesus tells them that a day is soon coming when not a single stone will be left upon another. He goes on to explain that his followers will experience increasing persecution and tribulation, leading up to the final Day of Judgment. But their task is to remain vigilant and persist in faith.

Tuesday is now done. But Friday is coming. This is not the flannel-board Jesus some of us learned as children. This is the real, historical Jesus: fully in control as he responds with grace and truth to traps on all sides. He knows what he is doing. And he knows what is coming. Every word and every step is for the fame of his Father’s name and the salvation of those willing to pick up their cross and die with him.

 [1] The Escalating Conflict -

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Walk Through Holy Week - Post #1

Reflecting on Palm Sunday and today (Holy Monday) I can't help but think about how quickly shouts of praise turned to shouts of "crucify him!". But why the change of heart? How can a people rejoice at the coming of their King on Sunday, and within days turn on him to the point of calling for his execution? I think scripture makes it fairly clear. The people didn't understand who Jesus was or what he truly came to do for them. The Jews looked at their oppression as one mainly of physical bondage. However, Jesus knew the real issue was mainly one of spiritual oppression. The crowds welcomed Jesus on Sunday, because in their minds he was going to liberate them from the oppression of the Roman's (much like Moses did from the Egyptians) but Christ didn't come to save them from men, but instead from the wrath of God because of their sin.

On Monday, the day after the streets were filled with people shouting, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"Christ entered the temple and made efforts to cleanse it by turning over tables of the money changers and running the wicked people out of the doors. This was the first step Jesus took towards his own crucifixion. He knew full well that his efforts to "purify worship" would not be received well by the Pharisees or those who were looking for God's favor because of their efforts and righteousness. While just the day before these people were rejoicing in the "coming of the LORD," the reality is that their hearts were not open enough to see that God cares far more about the inward (condition of the heart) than he does the outward appearance of obedience. Jesus took intentional steps towards cleaning his Father's house, which had been turned into a den of robbers who were filled with greed and vein worship. Christ warned people to "wake up" and see that they were nowhere near where God desired them to be. He didn't want their sacrifices...he wanted them! He wanted their unadulterated affection not ritualistic practices of purification.

While more often than not, today's church celebrates Palm Sunday as a joyful my heart is filled with sadness, because I see the truth. In many ways, the Church today still struggles with the same sin as the people so long ago. The reality for many of us is that if we would have been there, back on March 29th 33AD, we would have welcomed Christ to the city with shouts of praise...because of our selfish hopes and desires...and without the Holy Spirit, our passion for Christ's triumphant entry would just as quickly turned to shouts for his crucifixion, as his efforts to purify for himself a people began by telling us that we are sinners who need to turn away from our evil towards repentance.

Jesus knew the hearts of the people. He knew that they weren't truly seeking to honor God, but were instead looking to honor themselves. They didn't want Jesus...they wanted his blessings. But Jesus knew that the true blessing is and always was God, not the gifts that he gives. The people weren't satisfied with God, they wanted the gifts and not the giver. How quickly did they turn on the one they so eagerly praised on Palm Sunday? How quickly do people still turn from Jesus today, when they realize that he requires repentance and a contrite heart. When they figure out that Jesus didn't come to give us what we want, but instead what we need...namely himself. And sadly, for far too many people, this gift simply doesn't meet their expectations.

Jesus Knows What Is in Man (John 2:23-25)

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.