Week 53 – We continue reading thru the Bible in the new year…

Events so startling that the world will never, ever be the same again! 

DAY ONE – Matthew 26:36-75, Mark 14:32-72, Luke 22:39-71, John 18:1-27

What a night! It began after Jesus’ regular, full day of ministry–teaching, healing, loving people. He sat down in the evening to the annual Passover meal prepared by His disciples, and there He lovingly prayed for them as He washed their feet. After dinner they retired to their usual place in the Garden of Gethsemane. Taking with Him Peter, James and John, Jesus withdrew to pray. In agony, His soul overwhelmed with grief and the shadow of death, Jesus made His final pleas to the Father in heaven, was fully surrendered to God’s loving plan to save the world through the loss of His own life. Jesus prepared to die, while His disciples kept falling asleep. They were ill-equipped to handle the dread thought of Jesus leaving them the way He said. Their weary souls succumbed to welcome rest, while their Master struggled with the powers of darkness on His own. Then as night deepened, the peace of the Garden was disturbed by the boisterous rustle of an approaching mob, sent by the high priest to arrest Jesus. With a flourish and a kiss, the traitor Judas sealed His fate by turning His Master over to the mob. Now Jesus found Himself in the spacious home of the high priest, who with his minions had waited up for the fateful beginnings of history’s most infamous religious and legal proceedings. The Son of God, the “I AM” of creation, the spotless lamb who takes away the sin of the world, stood before a crowd of hate-filled murder-mongers, the foremost Jewish religious leaders. With help from the dark powers, they unleashed their vitriol against Him until He stood condemned, humiliated and physically attacked, after which they led Him away to be civilly tried. As morning dawned, the worst was yet to come. Meanwhile, Peter waited in dread in the courtyard of the high priest, paralyzed with fear. All the others had scattered and fled for their lives. Vowing to stand by Jesus, Peter couldn’t do it. His denials rent the night air until he had totally lost his self-respect and personal dignity. The deed was done, and he broke into bitter weeping and anguish of soul. It was a night of infamy. All hope was lost.

There is a verse that says, “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NLT) Generally this is true. But on this day, the frenzied, dark forces that bring out the worst of mankind were still at work and would not rest until Jesus was gone.

DAY TWO – Matthew 27:1-31, Mark 15:1-20, Luke 23:1-25, John 18:29-19:16

Unbelief will take us farther than we intended to go; keep us longer than we planned to stay; and do ultimately more harm to us than we could ever have dreamed. Unbelief is sin. During His time with Pilate, Jesus remarked, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” John 18:37 (NLT) Previously Jesus had told the religious leaders that He was not there to judge them but to speak the Truth given Him by His father. They would one day be judged by the truth He had spoken to them. And because the crowds were beginning to see the Truth in Jesus and follow Him, the envy-filled leaders despised Him all the more and were intent on killing Him. Does anybody believe that the Jewish religious leaders started out to be killers? Was it in their job description to kill those who disagreed with them? Yet when we go down the road of unbelief until it threatens our whole way of life, we may not realize that sin has compromised us to the point of no return. The crowds and their leaders were in such mob frenzy that their powers of reasoning completely departed in their zeal to be rid of Jesus! And so the Roman rulers such as Pilate and Herod were no match for the forces of darkness that had enveloped the city and were driving the excited mob. Though He was found innocent, Jesus was condemned to be crucified through a process of religious and political collusion. Their unbelieving refusal to even tolerate Jesus in their midst was terminally catastrophic. When Pilate said he wanted no part of it,  All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Matthew 27:25 (NIV) “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. John 19:15 (NLT). And so with their words the Jewish leaders condemned their nation to destruction as they rejected the Son of God sent to them. UNBELIEF ran its course, and Jesus was led away to be horribly crucified, after He had been shamefully tortured by the Roman soldiers.

In a recent discussion, our group wondered why some are eternally saved while others are not. Even in the same family some believe while others don’t. Perhaps Jesus’ statement “All who love the truth…” is insightful. Do you have a love for the truth? Is Jesus Truth to you; do His words beckon you and call you to eternal life?

DAY THREE – Matthew 27:32-66, Mark 15:21-47, Luke 23:26-56, John 19:17-42, Psalm 22

How is it that a shepherd writes a song almost a thousand years before Jesus ever lived; hundreds of years before the brutal form of crucifixion was conceived, and describes in accurate detail, Jesus’ death on the cross? How is it that the song opens with the plaintive cry of abandonment and bereavement, echoed by Jesus to His Father from the cross? Their failure to love the Truth Jesus brought from the Father in heaven to them, allowed the people to whom Jesus was sent, to reject Him and kill Him. Was this the end of a beautiful life? The Jewish leaders thought so. The crowds thought so, and the soldiers believed it as well. But all of the godly ones looking on–Jesus’ mother and her friends, the disciples who were trying to blend in, other secret admirers–could only watch and hope. Was hope gone as well? For sure Jesus was dead. He was dead. He died on that cross. No one knew of anyone who had ever come back from the dead…unless you count Lazarus and a couple of others raised by Jesus. Would He? No one knew. Jesus’ body was wrapped and bound head to foot and laid in the unused tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It was over. How could they explain Jesus’ outcries from the cross? How could they explain why He died so quickly? How could they explain the darkness that hung over the land from noon until 3:00? How could they explain the earthquake that severely shook the land when He died? And how could they explain the tearing from top to bottom of a 30-foot-high, 12 inch-thick woven veil in the temple? They couldn’t, and neither can we. We can only wonder with the Roman soldier who said, “Surely this was the Son of God.” This was His only Son the Father sent from heaven to earth, connected spirit to spirit with His Father in heaven. This was the Jesus of all of the Bible, fulfilling scores of major prophetic announcements in His lifetime. This was the Jesus full of grace and Truth who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” This was He who taught, lived and loved, working the most and greatest miracles the world had ever seen. And this was He who stood mute before His accusers, choosing rather to die as a criminal (though He was not) rather than save Himself from such ignominious and brutal death. This was God loving the world and giving up His most precious Son to bring forgiveness of sin to the world with the promise of eternal life. And so it was.

DAY FOUR – Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, 21

Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20 (NLT) This is John’s eye-witness account of Jesus’ life on earth. Imagine–four thousand years of human history, to be punctuated by a single life of thirty-three years–the life of Jesus. Then history marches on for another two thousand years, and we are sitting here reading His story again. Imagine Jesus rising from the stone slab on which His body lay. Imagine Him smiling at the angels in attendance and greeting them as their resurrected LORD of earth and heaven. And imagine Him laying aside His neatly folded grave wrappings before He walked out into the world again. BECAUSE IT HAPPENED! Within a matter of days Jesus appeared on three separate occasions to His disciples, plus the women who had served His cause, and many others. And always, His Presence brought the familiar greeting, “Peace to you.” And according to the four written accounts of His life and death and resurrection, each visit included more information and instruction. “Do you not yet believe?” was the question that always stopped them in their tracks. How could they not? Here is overwhelming evidence that all of what the books of Moses and the prophets had said was true; that their predictions were now standing in front of the disciples in the Person of Jesus. Yes, He was crucified; yes, He lay in a tomb for three days; and yes, He was NOW ALIVE and real–in the flesh! And what had changed…really? For one thing, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Instantly there was new life and awareness inside of them all. This was REAL CHANGE. But it wasn’t finished. There was still a period of adjustment and breakout for these followers of Jesus–these who were to lead love’s revolution into the coming years and into the rest of the world. So He gave them a commission–literally, a community mission–to go into all the world to declare the Good News and make disciples. Finally, He asked them to return to Jerusalem to await the promised Holy Spirit. And here we are, on the other side of the world from these earth-shaking events, living out the resurrection life of Jesus, knowing that His Good News has gone entirely around the world and back again; and that we will continue this mission until we SEE HIM again.

DAY FIVE – CHRISTIAN and CHURCH — the evolution of words in common use…

In western society and culture, the Christian Church has been recognized for hundreds of years. Yet the meanings of these words, used separately or together, have gradually changed and may mean something entirely different.

  • Christian: this term was first applied by pagans to a large band of Jesus followers in Antioch of Syria, and it generally meant ‘little Christ,’ to identify them with Jesus, their Leader (Acts 11:26). In the fourth century, Constantine, the Roman Emperor, declared Christianity to be the state religion and in so doing identified all Roman citizens as ‘Christians.’ During the Reformation period of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Protestant Christianity became distinct from Roman Catholicism and has been generally accepted as one of the major ‘religions’ of modern faith, along with Judaism and Islam. In western culture a ‘Christian’ may be a follower of Christ, or someone who is culturally ‘Christian-ized,’ without a personal faith in Jesus. So I have mainly avoided use of this word, preferring terms such as ‘believer’ or ‘follower of Jesus’ etc.
  • Church: this is not actually a biblical word. It has evolved from the Scottish word ‘kirk,’ translated church in English. The word in the Bible that applies to the followers of Christ in community is ekklesia–‘called out ones.’ From the Greek ek (out) and kaleo (call), the word means those called by the Holy Spirit to exit the world system (kingdom) to follow Jesus and be included in God’s heavenly kingdom. This is what Christians mean by being ‘saved.’ When a band of Jesus believers/followers come together, they are identified in scripture as an ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’ or ‘gathering’ (church). So I mostly use that terminology when I refer to Christian or Church. I call them an assembly of believers in Jesus, or something close to that. Is it important? Some might not think so, but words do communicate ideas, and my intention is to identify a ‘Christian’ as someone who has radically accepted Jesus Christ as Lord of all; and a band of Christians as an assembly, or gathering of His followers. With that in mind, we move on into the story of the ‘Christian Church,’ the true community of Christ on earth.

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