A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Matthew 28:1-10 "Risen...Just As He Said"

          Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.
          Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it.  His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow.  The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.
           Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”
           The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message.  And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

 They came looking for a dead body -the body of a friend whom they had personally witnessed being brutally tortured and publicly executed.  He was dead.  No doubt about it.  Whipped until the brink of death, hung a cross, nails through wrists and ankles, spear thrust into His side.  He was dead.  Dead and, in fact, buried.  Their primary concern on this sad Sunday morning was who would roll away the giant stone sealing the tomb.  The body had not yet been properly prepared for burial.  There was no time for that before the Sabbath.  This was the soonest it could be done and it was unthinkable that their friend could not even receive a proper burial.  He was dead, He was their friend, and they wanted to give Him a kosher burial.

They arrived at the tomb to find that the stone was not going to be a problem as it had already been moved -by angel -to let the Living Lord out.  The angel was there.  It spoke to them. "He isn't here.  He is risen from the dead, just as He said would happen."

It's true that Jesus had said that he would die and come back to life.  Once He was so publicly dead, however, it seemed unreasonable to assume that it could actually happen.  It was relatively easy to make true the part about dying; a different story altogether to keep the promise of returning to life.  

In retrospect, we might wonder at the disciples' and friends' skepticism.  I mean, if they actually believed Jesus was the Messiah, shouldn't they have expected His prophecy to come true?   Of course, given the 2000 years of church history and generations of theological understanding concerning the who, what, where, when and why of Jesus' death and resurrection, we have some insight and revelation that they did not have in the moment.  Still, if Jesus said it, shouldn't they have just accepted it at face value?  Shouldn't they have been eagerly anticipating His resurrection?

Now, as I'm thinking, though, I wonder about some of the other things Jesus said that even with 2000 years of understanding we still don't fully believe today.  After He rose from the dead, for instance, Jesus said that His followers would do all of the things He had done and even more because He was sending the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers.  In fact Jesus said it was actually better for us that He leave so that we could enjoy and learn and live in the benefit of the Holy Spirit in us.  But we don't really believe that.  The vast majority of Believers experience with the Holy Spirit is so nominal that it cannot possibly be true that it is better to have the Holy Spirit in us than Jesus beside us.  Either Jesus was lying (or mistaken) or we are missing something profoundly important.

And Jesus said that He was coming again.  In fact, He warned us, seriously warned us, to be ready and to live our lives expectantly.  But we don't.  We might believe (kind of) that He will return some day, but not soon.  This has got to be true because the vast majority of us live just like unbelievers.  We have the same hopes and dreams and buy the same kinds of houses and drive the same kinds of cars and continue to sock away money into the same retirement accounts and basically live exactly like those who never expect Jesus to return.  We can know for sure what we believe by what we do.

So, I think the words of the angel at the tomb have serious significance for we who follow Jesus today.  We should hear them clearly.  "He is risen from the dead,  just as he said would happen."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Matthew 27:45-50 "Who Killed Jesus?"

           From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
          When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
          Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
         And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 

In light of what the Bible tells us concerning Jesus' death, the debate over who killed Jesus seems trivial and somewhat ridiculous.  Yes, Pilate has guilt.  Yes the temple leaders have guilt.  Yes the Roman culture that enslaved the Jews and others has guilt.  Yes the weak-minded crowd has guilt.  Clearly, however,  Jesus gave His life as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin.  This was God's plan. This is God's love. 

This is love -not that we love God, but that He loved us and gave His Son....  Father sent His Son.  The Son gave His own life.  Neither the Jews nor the Romans violated Jesus' will to redeem mankind.  Max Lucado said it something like this: nails can't hold God to a tree -love held Jesus to the cross.

There is a sense, of course, in which your sin and my sin held Jesus to the tree.  You and I are responsible for His death.  He died for us.  But He did it willingly.  This is love.  He loves us.  He did not have to die.  He chose to die in order to redeem and restore and bring us from spiritual death into life.  His love compelled Him to give His own life.

The question is not who killed Jesus.  The question is not even why did Jesus die.  In fact, the question is not even whether God loves us.  The only legitimate question is why would God love us this much?  And for that I have no answer.

I do not know why God loves me so much, but I am convinced that He does.  And I am grateful.  I choose to love Him in return, and to learn to walk in light of His love.

Lord, I love You; help me love You more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Matthew 27:38-44 "Like Master, Like Student"

Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.  Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads  and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”  In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. 

Be prepared Christian.  Haters are going to hate.  Mockers are going to mock.  Jesus experienced the full brunt of this reality, and we will occasionally  experience it as well.  In fact, if you remember back in Matthew chapter five at the conclusion of the Beatitudes, Jesus said as much.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven..."  Again in chapter ten He said, "You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And also in chapter twenty-four, "You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me."

In the book of John (chapter 15), Jesus was even more direct: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also."

Haters are going to hate.  Mockers are going to mock.  But according to Luke's telling of the crucifixion, on the cross as He died, Jesus said,  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  If Jesus is our example, when faced with hatred and mockery Christians are going to love and forgive.  Always.  In every circumstance.

Paul helps us understand why.  In Ephesians chapter six, he reminds us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

People are not our enemy.  Ever.  We have an enemy, but our enemy is not flesh and blood.  It is important that we grasp this.  When we allow flesh and blood to become the enemy, the enemy wins.  So, when people hate, when people abuse, when people insult, when people mock, we choose to love and we choose to forgive.  This is genius.  This is the Kingdom at its finest.  This is the reality of God among us.  Anyone can hate and return hurt for hurt, insult for insult and evil for evil.  That is normal.  But there is no answer for the undeserved, unrestrained, undiluted, outrageous love of Jesus.  Lord, teach me to love.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Matthew 27:27-37 "This Is Our King"

          Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,  and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
          As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.  They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull).  There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.  When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.  Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 

          Whenever I read the story of Christ's death, I get a kind of knot in my stomach.  Then I actually begin to numb out emotionally.  This is difficult for me to read and accept.

         Jesus is my Savior and my friend.  I believe in Him.  I pray, and He hears -and He answers.  We talk.  We commune.  I love Him.  He loves me.  I know that He loves others, of course, but I sometimes think that I am His favorite.  Is that arrogant?  Maybe, but I still feel that way.  He is also my Master and my King -I gladly and willingly submit to Him.  I place my life and will and hopes and dreams and all that I am under His authority.  He is not a concept or an ideal or simply an historical figure.  I love Him.  Apart from Him I have no life -and just as importantly, apart from Him I want no life.  I am glad and content to be His friend and servant.  All of this is why it is hard for me to accept the brutality and disrespect He endured.

         After two thousand years of church history to put this into a correct theological perspective that it had to happen like this -that ultimately, Father was glorified and we have been redeemed and sin and death were conquered forever and Satan was stripped of all authority -even understanding all of that, it still seems inconceivable that Jesus my Friend, my Savior, my King was so mistreated and so disrespected and so brutalized.  I must force myself to read the words, to contemplate on what actually happened, to realize the the truth of the situation.

          And even as I contemplate this, I can't stay here.  My mind not only races ahead to that moment when Jesus arose from the dead, but it also races even further ahead.  Jesus told us clearly that He was coming again.  And the description He gives is glorious.  He will return, not brutalized, disrespected, and silent.  He will return glorified in Kingly splendor for all the world to see -and everyone will bow down and worship Him.  Those who doubt will cease to doubt.  Those who mock will cease to mock.  My Savior, my Friend, my Master, my King will be worshiped.  Come King Jesus!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Matthew 27:15-25 "Sucked In By The Crowd""

     Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.  At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”  For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him....But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
     “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
     “Barabbas,” they answered.
     “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.  They all answered, “Crucify him!” 

 It is not by accident that in Scripture we (humans) are so often likened to sheep.  Sheep aren't particularly smart; they are easily led -or led astray.  We are like sheep, although unlike sheep who don't think about it at all, we actually think we are smart and often even take great pride in our wrong thinking.

Less than a week previous, the crowds of people -some of the same people no doubt who were gathered here before Pilate demanding Jesus' execution had lined the street entering into Jerusalem from Bethany and waved palm fronds and sang songs and demanded that Jesus be made King.  Some of these folks in the course of a week shouted with adoration and praise and then cursed Him to a cruel death.  How could this be?

I think that the crowds were neither evil nor good exactly -they were just kind of stupid -led along and stirred up by the cultural trends and group dynamics -sucked in by what everyone else was thinking and doing.  When everyone else was adoring and celebrating and running and shouting and cheering, it seemed obvious that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah.  When the temple leaders were angry and hateful and shouting and cursing, it seemed obvious that Jesus was an imposter.  The leaders were evil; they had an evil agenda.  The mass of people, however, were simply stupid and made the stupidest choice in all of history.

I wonder how often we make really bad choices and draw really flawed conclusions and hold really wrong beliefs simply because the culture informs us what is wrong or right.  We get sucked in.   We are sheep.  We are easily led.  We want to be comfortable.  We want to be normal. We want to fit in.  We go along with the crowd.  We pretend that we are deep thinkers and arrived at our own conclusions...and all the while the devil smirks and grins.

Lord Jesus, I am easily impressed and easily distracted and easily led.  I want to be led by You, distracted by Your glory, impressed by Your goodness.  Help me to hear Your voice and follow You.  I no longer want to follow the crowds and trends.  I admit that I am not wise enough or smart enough to figure out all of the issues -so, I am choosing to simply walk where You walk and go where You go and do what You do.  I am trusting that You will lead me on right paths.  I don't care what the crowds think.  I care what You think.  Amen.