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.

Week 52 – Our Father in Heaven has brought our reading from creation to the new creation..

Jesus had to come to our rescue, or all of God’s plans would have been lost forever.. and HE DID!

DAY ONE – Matthew 22:15-23:39, Mark 12:13-44, Luke 20:20-21:4, 13:31-35

Good drama has intrigue, extreme challenge, and an ironic twist. These scriptures have some of the best the Bible has to offer! Jesus’ enemies had ramped up their game to trap Jesus and get Him arrested by the Romans, which in order to do, they had to get Him to say something controversial. Taxes… ah, yes, that will do nicely. Whoops… we slipped up somewhere; He embarrassed us! How about resurrection, which we Sadducees don’t believe in? Nope… He got us there, too. Let’s get Him confused on the Ten Commandments. Well… it sounded good at the time. He’s just too good; we’d better leave well enough alone! And then Jesus turned on them with scathing rebukes that left them shamed and angry and barely able to breathe. Surely there must be some way to get to Him without raising the ire of the people. And so it went; and so Jesus used the public forum to denounce godless religion and prophesy the complete destruction of the nation within a generation. The world cannot go around killing God’s prophets, denouncing God’s truth and reviling His Son without storing up a fiery judgment to be released in its own time. Such was the confrontation in Jesus’ world, and such is the growing confrontation within our own culture even as we speak.

Going forward, we will learn much about the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, about things happening now and things yet to come. Yet the timeless TRUTH God revealed in the days of Moses and ever thereafter, culminating in the Living, Breathing TRUTH in Jesus, goes straight to the heart with pinpoint accuracy. Religion cannot be an exercise in pious living or bold claims, without a concomitant demonstration of the Holy Spirit in our life and behavior. Jesus earlier said, John 7:38-39 (NLT)  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. NO WAY can we fake the Holy Spirit! He is God; He lights the true way and exposes the false. Trying to come to Jesus in their haughty arrogance, the religious leaders only brought condemnation on themselves. The proper way to come to Jesus is to humble ourselves and receive the grace and mercy only He can give. Then the Holy Spirit takes up our cause and teaches us how to truly follow Christ our Lord.

DAY TWO – Matthew 24, 25, Mark 13, Luke 21:5-38

This shadow world cannot hold together forever! It has seen the best and the worst of its inhabitants. Since the days of Adam and Eve and the Garden, every possible human scenario has been enacted again and again, clearly demonstrating earth’s failure to produce God’s intended outcomes. JESUS HAD TO COME to our rescue, or all of the Lord’s plans would have been forever lost. And He did. He rescued us from sin, bondage and destruction. He revealed a greater, forever kingdom that is filled with the JOY OF ETERNAL LIFE. And He asks us all TO FOLLOW HIM to the eternal home He has prepared. That said, that nagging question the disciples asked Him hangs around us as well. When will all these things happen? The picture Jesus painted had a lot of darkness and conflict in it. He spoke of a degraded world suffering the woes of its own surfeited life. Shortened days would be the only way of survival. But He promised that those who endured would be saved. Is this what we want to hear? Is this how we thought things would turn out? I mean, if I take Jesus’ message literally, things could get worse! How do we go on? How do we live with the specter of world chaos breaking around us? First answer – ONE DAY AT A TIME…following Jesus.

Matthew 25:34-40 (The Message)  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. 35 And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? 38-39 And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ 40 Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.’  Second answer – ONE PERSON AT A TIME…those right in our path as we go through each day. This doesn’t require an elaborate plan or crowded calendar. It requires a cleansed heart and open spirit so we can be guided by Holy Spirit to share the love of Christ with those nearby. To know when Jesus will come again is none of my business; but to see those in need and to love them is all of my business. We can trust God with the rest!

DAY THREE – Matthew 26:1-5, Mark 14:1-2, 10-31, Luke 22:1-38, John 13

Perspective is the way we see things, and the way we imagine they will turn out. Jesus clearly predicted His death several times to His disciples, but they failed to understand how it could happen or how it would turn out. Their perspective was severely skewed. To them it seemed dark and dismal and without redeeming grace; it was the worst of all possible scenarios to lose their Master. But to Jesus it looked entirely different. Listen… John 13:1 (NLT) Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. John 13:31-32 (NLT) As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. To the disciples it was a finale of despair. To Jesus it was a finale of hope and redemption, an opportunity to put the Father’s great salvation plan into high gear! The horror of death was upon Him, yet He ignored the awful reality, instead contemplating the glory that was to follow (Hebrews 12:1-3). THAT IS PERSPECTIVE.

As we trek through daily life, we all get the same general facts and information. TV and Internet feed us video and commentary at a voluminous rate and speed, so that we barely have time to process it while the next video is loading! News, social media, fake news–this is the stuff from which most folks are confirming their worldview. And most of it is SUPERFICIAL! In order to maintain a godly perspective of current events, we MUST REMAIN IN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. That’s what Godly means. What we see, hear and feel may not be the real truth, according to God’s real word. What God SAYS about life and reality give us the perspective of hope and a future. The disciples saw to the end of their nose! Jesus saw into the future reality, written into His heart by God’s Spirit and His Words. His perspective on the next great events would become their beacon light in the darkness of real time events. It would keep them and guide them into the blaze of glory that was yet to come. Check your perspective against the Spirit guiding your life.

DAY FOUR – John 14:1-14 (Part 1 of 2)

Yesterday we heard Jesus say, John 13:31-32 (NLT) “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. He said this as the shock of His soon departure still held the hapless disciples in its grip. They were reeling under a reality that was setting in, while still trying to understand who He really was and what would happen next. And in our brief reading today Jesus was incredulous that His closest followers were still struggling with His identity. John 14:6-7 (NLT) “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”  John 14:9-10 (NLT) …you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? John 14:12-14 (NLT)  “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! In this manner Jesus clearly said that the Father was bringing Him back home to His glory, so that He could in turn glorify the Father. And how would He do that? By empowering His followers to carry on the finished work of the cross and resurrection in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ah, wait! The Holy Spirit. “Lord, we are finally getting used to you, and now you are leaving to be replaced by a Holy Spirit?” Not A Holy Spirit, but “The Holy Spirit.” Father. Son. Holy Spirit. Yes, as Jesus had revealed and made real the invisible Father in heaven, the Holy Spirit would now come to reveal and make Jesus real to all who would believe in Him–His followers. We can conclude from this that Jesus wants His works to continue on earth; that we His followers are the conduit of heaven’s blessings; and that Holy Spirit is our heavenly Helper to make sure Jesus’ name and fame are kept alive until He comes again. In this manner, the Father has glorified the Son, and the Son is bringing glory to the Father in heaven continuously throughout His earthly kingdom. Can God still rule people from heaven? Jesus said He can. He said to ask in His name if we want to see His kingdom at work here among us. So ask!

DAY FIVE – John 14:15-31, 15-17 (Part 2 of 2)

The whole of these chapters is often called the Upper Room Message. It is transitional. It is Before-the-Cross and After-the-Resurrection. A period of three days will elapse during the transition, followed by a period of forty days when Jesus appears again, followed by ten more days after Jesus goes into heaven. Jesus reveals what is going to happen to Him, to them, and to the world. He explains why the world has rejected Him and how that will affect His followers. He teaches them and comforts them, talking to them as his friends. But let’s get back to the Holy Spirit, because He is the focus of the message. The Holy Spirit will come, Jesus said, when I go. He will be in you to fulfill all of heaven’s work on earth, because I am going to the Father. He will be your Advocate, Helper, Teacher, Coach and Guide. It will be as if I have come back to you. Your relationship with Me will progress immediately to include our Father in heaven, and you will be able to relate to Him directly, in my Name. Everything that I have done and said will become clear, and your understanding will grow by leaps and bounds! No, it doesn’t all make sense at the moment, but it will, when the Holy Spirit takes over.

Then Jesus took the disciples from the upper room out to the garden across the valley, and along the way He prayed openly to the Father, discussing with the Father all that He had done and interceding for all of His followers who will be left behind. What should we take from all of this? To begin with, Jesus is to be trusted and obeyed; that’s HOW we love Him. His commandments will be a thermometer, a gauge to our spiritual health. And as we love Him, He will love us back by disclosing Himself to us. The Father will love us because we are loving Jesus. And the Holy Spirit…well, the Holy Spirit is enormously vital to our faith and our life of following Jesus. I cannot say enough about this. Whether this is all new to you or you are a longtime follower of Jesus, contemplate deeply the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Apply yourself to getting to know Him better and ‘hearing’ His voice within you. Pray for fresh insight and understanding, and remember that the Holy Spirit was in Jesus from birth to death, maintaining the earth-to-heaven and heaven-to-earth connection. Jesus could do what He did because the Holy Spirit helped and guided Him all the time. Make THAT your goal as well; keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.