Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Prayer requests

This is our regularly scheduled day for prayers of thanksgiving and of concern. It's been a while since I asked y'all to check out our prayer request page on this blog. We have many requests listed there, and also many reports of answered prayers.

Take a moment to leave a comment here if you would like for us to pray with you for something that is of concern to you. Let us know, too, if you've been blessed with an answer to your prayers and let us praise God with you.

Please feel free to leave your request on the prayer page, too, if you would like to. I'd like to ask for continued prayers for my unspoken request. I appreciate all of you who have told me that you pray for me as I prepare these posts -- God has used all of you to bless my heart and encourage me, and I'm so very grateful.

Let's get together on our knees. God will hear, and He will shower us with His peace.

Monday, March 30, 2015

John 20:1-18, I have seen the Lord!

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

We've reached the climax of John's gospel! What an awesome passage to read. We will begin our study by bringing in some verses from the other gospels, too, as we set the scene . . .

Early in the morning, there was a group of women who approached the tomb where Jesus' body had been laid. There hadn't been enough time after the crucifixion to prepare the body in the proper way for burial.  As they walked, a thought occurred to them:

                 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the
                 entrance of the tomb?" (Mark 16:3)

Even though they really had no answer, they walked on. Then when they arrived at the borrowed tomb, they saw a startling sight: the soldiers who had been tasked with watching over the tomb (the religious leaders wanted to make certain that the disciples could not steal away with the body and then claim He had risen) were lying on the ground . . . they looked as if they were dead! (Matthew 28:4)
But here is the amazing part -- they found that the stone had already been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb! The question that had troubled them had already been answered.

                  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came
                  down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone
                  and sat on it. (Matthew 28:2)

So the women walked past the guards, and entered the tomb.

His body was gone.

Can you imagine the shock of that moment? Of all the possibilities revolving in your head, as you look at the slab, with graveclothes neatly folded there?

Suddenly, two angels appeared and told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead!  The women were terrified, and the angels spoke gently:

                  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly
                  stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified
                  and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do
                  you seek the living One among the dead? “He is not here, but He has risen.
                  Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that
                  the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be
                  crucified, and the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:4-7) 

Somehow, some way, they gathered up all of their courage and made a mad dash for the place where they knew the disciples were gathered that morning. I can just imagine how they had to try and calm themselves and catch their breath, and then tell all they had seen, and what they had heard.

But the disciples did not believe them.

                 ...and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven
                 and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary
                 the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these
                 things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and
                 they would not believe them. (Luke 24:9-11)
I find myself wanting to chastise the men for their lack of faith in these women. But to tell the truth, I guess it did seem a little far fetched . . . well-trained, disciplined, strong guards that appeared to be dead; the huge, heavy stone rolled away; men in bright clothing that talked to them of Jesus being alive!
None of it seemed to make any sense to these men who had been through so much pain and anguish and had lost their Master.
But it was an intriguing message. So intriguing that two of the disciples started off for the tomb, to see for themselves. Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene all want to figure out this mystery.
No one doubted that the tomb was empty. They never questioned that part of the women's story. But they needed to decide for themselves why it was empty, and what it all meant.

That is what each of us must decide. We can all agree that there is an empty tomb. But the question is how are we going to respond to it? How is it going to affect our lives?

Three different people came to the tomb that day, and each one responded in a different way. Join us next time, won't you?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday slowdown

This week we closed our study with Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus laying the body of our Savior in a tomb. Next week we'll celebrate with John as he writes of the risen Lord!

This song seemed just right for this moment in our studies:

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
United Methodist Hymnal, 1989

Thursday, March 26, 2015

John 19:31-42 Coming out, conclusion

Think about what a hard decision this must have been, for these two men. To follow Jesus when He was alive would have been difficult enough for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, but to declare their allegiance to a crucified Messiah would have been more difficult still. But they could keep silent no longer!
What was it that changed them from secret followers to out-right disciples, bold enough to ask Pilate for His body?
Perhaps it was the calmness with which Jesus confronted the chief priests, and then also met Pilate's questions. Perhaps it was Jesus' warning that they would see Him at the right hand of the Father and coming in the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64).
Perhaps it was the way that He endured the cross.
It may have been all of those.
But ultimately, it was the grace of God that worked in their hearts.

                No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,
                    and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:44)

Even today, it's a temptation to be a silent follower. As soon as we say we are followers of Jesus, that we are born again, that we are Bible believing Christians, we can see the attitudes of people around us change. But most of us who read this study blog are in free countries -- imagine declaring our allegiance to Christ in Iran, or in North Korea!  Here's something to think about . . . Joseph and Nicodemus were not just declaring this with their words, but with their actions. They were going to do something really radical. They were preparing to do something that said they were rejecting their own spiritual leaders. And they were going to lose the privilege of participating in the rest of the feast, because touching Jesus body would mean that they were unclean.

               Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean for seven days.
                   (Numbers 19:11)

They were placing Jesus' body in a new, unused tomb. The Jewish people never mixed things, for example, materials in their clothing, etc. It was a reminder from the Father to remain "unmixed" with the pagan practices of the world. So, a tomb was only for one family, and Joseph was giving it to the family of Jesus. He would have to build another for his own family. Tombs were very expensive, since they needed to be hewn by hand from the limestone. It's an extravagant gift that we see Joseph giving.
This gift also fulfilled Scripture:

                    They intended to bury him with criminals, but he ended up in a
                       rich man’s tomb, because he had committed no violent deeds, nor
                       had he spoken deceitfully. (Isaiah 53:9)

In the midst of their sorrow and the loss that overwhelmed them, these two men came out and became open followers of Jesus. They gave financially, and they gave practically; they knew that this decision would separate them from the religious establishment that they'd been a part of. They were certainly going to lose authority and power and prestige in that community. But they had found a relationship with their Savior and that changed them totally.
Christians need to come out and be honest about their faith in spite of the costs. How else will others hear of Him? Many unbelievers will not "darken the door" of a church -- but they can see the actions of our lives, and in our conversations.

Most people today that "come out" about some secret or change in their lives are forgotten quickly. Joseph and Nicodemus show us that if we are honest about our faith in Jesus, we can accomplish so very much -- and we can change the world. They took a stand two thousand years ago, and we still remember them today!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

John 19:31-42 Coming out

Here's our Scripture for this week:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Nowadays, when someone reveals a secret about themselves, they are said to be "coming out" and telling the world their secret. It sometimes involves a celebrity or a sports star, and there is a big splash about them . . . and then it goes away, and is mostly forgotten.

We'll see today and tomorrow that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus "came out" in this passage, and that in contrast to today, this would never, ever be forgotten.
This passage begins with the battered, bloody body of our Savior hanging on the cross. He had surrendered His spirit into the hands of His Father. John, Mary, and the disciples were, I'm sure, still not quite believing. Looking into His now-quiet face, they probably were trying to wish Him back to consciousness, pleading in their hearts, wanting to hear Him speak.
How could they go on without Him? How could this had happened? Did it mean that evil had triumphed? Had God lost the battle with Lucifer after all?
If you and I had been there, would we be any different? Would we dare to believe that His promise to rise again would actually happen?

In the Law, bodies of criminals that were left on a tree during the Sabbath were said to defile the land:

                      If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a
                    tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him
                    that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse.
                    You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an
                    inheritance. (Deut 21:22-23)

In addition to that, if there were cries of anguish from suffering Jews dying on the crosses, that would put a real damper on their special Sabbath. According to the commentaries and the historians, breaking the legs of the crucified would cause them to quickly suffocate (they would no longer be able to push up with their legs and alleviate the crushing pressure of their own bodies' weights, and death would come quickly). The historians also add that they would probably be thrown on "Gehenna," Jerusalem's trash heap. What a horrible ending for any life -- but especially horrible for the Son of God.

Here is the irony of the situation: they want to finish off the Son of God so that they can worship the Father. They want to celebrate the feast, which is a picture story of the redemption Jesus brings to us, so they have got to get Him off the cross; they will get the Redeemer out of sight and out of mind, so that they can remember that the Father will send them a Redeemer. They wanted to be free and unencumbered to celebrate a feast which parallels examining our hearts and rooting out sins, so they finished up the sin of the ages. Oh, how similar this is, to when "religious" people reject a personal relationship with our Savior!

                 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites;
                 as it is written:  "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts
                 are far from me.   (Mark 7:6)
They do not want to be quiet and listen to His Spirit speak to them. They "zone out" while sitting in the pew or taking Bible in hand; they are worried that His word might speak to their hearts and convict them of not doing something about their faith. This is what was bothering the Jewish leaders. And it is not too different from many people today -- they'd rather have Him out of sight, and out of mind.

Now that we've looked at the "why" and the "how" of the process, let's go back to our verses: they broke the legs of the other two who were hanging there, but found that Jesus had already died. He had already surrendered His Spirit (compare Luke 23:46 if you have time to turn there). But the soldiers could not take a chance on it -- if they allowed any to escape their custody, they would suffer for their dereliction of duty. They decided to thrust a spear into His side to be certain. Now, the Roman spear was over six feet long, so they thrust it up into His chest and water and blood were released.  That's not a coincidence, nor is it unimportant! Here is why . . . John was standing there and saw this, and he wanted us to know that Jesus had truly died. There was no chance of His having fainted. There was no chance that they'd administered a drug in the sponge, that made it seem like He was dead, but really was still alive. No one can survive what happened there. And the blood and water (and the unbroken legs) are really noteworthy. John says these happened so that scripture would be fulfilled:
                he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. 
               (Psalm 34:20)  

The Passover lamb was not to have any of its legs broken --

                "It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the
               Do not break any of the bones.  (Ex 12:46)
And Jesus had already been declared by John the Baptist to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

                The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look,
                  the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  (John 1:29)

And here is the significance of the water and blood:

                  And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of
                  Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me,
                  the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one
                  mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one
                  grieves for a firstborn son. (Zech 12:10)

                This is the one who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ. He did not
                come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who
                testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify:
                the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 
                (1 John 5:6-8)                

Moving on now, to where Joseph and Nicodemus "came out" . . . To avoid the body of Jesus being taken to the trash heap, Joseph of Arimathea came to ask Pilate permission to remove the body. Wow. What a surprise that must have been to Pilate, after all he'd been through with the chief priests and the Sanhedrin. Pilate must have wondered why Joseph wanted to honor the body of a man that his peers thought was a blasphemer!

And another surprise -- Joseph was accompanied by Nicodemus! He had come to Jesus in the dark of night . . . remember the story in John, chapter three? Jesus had told him that he needed to be born again, and that the Son of Man would be lifted up just like the serpent in the wilderness. It may have been that Nicodemus watched as Jesus' words were fulfilled, and it may have been at that moment he was indeed born again.

Nicodemus had spent a great deal of money on those spices. It was obvious that the two of them had gotten together and compared notes. They had seen the contrast between Jesus and Caiaphas, and they knew (Mark 15:10) that the murder of Jesus was motivated by envy and power-lust. These two men had a lot to lose. Their positions were probably comparable to that of a Senator today -- but they were ready now to walk away from that power and prestige.
They'd decided to follow the crucified Man from Galilee. This was an important day for them; this was the day of their "coming out."  They felt compelled now to declare openly their allegiance . . .

                  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous
                and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him
                when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)

Just a word to the wise here -- their world will never be the same again, and their "coming out" will never be forgotten. We'll see more about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What are we listening to?

This week, let's share what hymns or songs have been a blessing to us. We are told to be
speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, (Ephesians 5:19)
and Paul also said,
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17)
The realities of God and Christ, and creation and salvation, and heaven and hell are simply too great for mere speaking; they must also be sung.

If we are in tune with Him, our hearts will overflow with words of praise and love. Also if we are in tune with Him, sometimes our hearts will cry out in songs that express our sadness and our deep desire for His peace.
Recently this hymn has meant a great deal to me:
The king of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine for ever.

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid,
And home rejoicing brought me.

In death's dark vale I fear no I'll
With thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread'st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never:
Good shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house for ever.

What are you listening to? And are you singing to Him?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lessons from a power outage

An alternate title for this post could be "Lessons from an oil lamp" as well.....recently the south experienced some icy and snowy weather. Many of us were impacted by it, and many lost power. No lights, no electric heat, no television (yippee!) and much more.

Of course, for us, it was a piece of cake. Living where we do, we have learned to be prepared with oil heaters and oil lamps, food that can easily be prepared, etc.  We learned this lesson years ago when we lost power with kiddos at home, and it took ten days for the power company to come all the way to the "last house on this line." (Grin)

So this time, as I readied our home for the coming storm, I began to think as I worked. There are some good lessons to be learned from an oil lamp, no?

First, the lamp requires fuel. Not just any fuel, either. We learned the hard way that you must make certain the fuel is the right type, and from a reputable company. Impurities, water, coloring .  . . all of these can make the lamp hard to light, and make the flame less bright. And of course, you need to make certain you fill it to a certain level, for optimum light.
As Christians, we need the right kind of fuel, too.

                    “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are
                     honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever
                     things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any
                     virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

We need to fill our minds with the right kind of things, in order to "shine" for Christ.
                     I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them
                     that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. Psalm 101:3

                     For as he thinks in his heart, so he is..... Proverbs 23:7a

                    All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for
                   doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
                   II Timothy 3:16

There's the recipe! The right kind of fuel for us is to focus on studying God's word, and then being able to listen to the Spirit -- He will apply it to our lives!

Another lesson from the oil lamp . . . I needed to trim the wicks of the lamps before we'd be ready for the  storm. If too much char builds up, the lamp will sputter and flicker and not burn steadily. The wick must be trimmed so that it is even all the way across. Then the lamp will shed a steady glow.

As Christians, sometimes we need some trimming, too. Sin builds a nest in our lives and must be cut away. We must be conformed to God's will and His plan, so that we can shine for Him.

                      Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every
                      branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You
                      are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide
                      in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides
                      in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. John 15:2-4

The last lesson from this old oil lamp is that I needed to clean the glass chimney. As it burns and gives light, the lamp builds up soot and dirt on the inside of the glass, and soon the light it gives is not making it out where it's needed.
We Christians need to make sure we are able to give light, too.

                       You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
                       Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand,
                       and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light
                       shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give
                       glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16

                        For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the
                        Lord. Walk as children of light.  Ephesians 5:8

Let's ask the Lord to help us take in the fuel we need, and study it; let's ask Him to trim us so that sin doesn't make our light sputter; and let's ask Him to clean us of the sins that would keep our light from shining for Him.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday slowdown

Savior I come, quiet my soul
Remember, redemption's hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost
Lead me to the cross where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees, Lord, I lay me down
Rid me of myself, I belong to You
Oh, lead me, lead me to the cross
You were as I, tempted and trialed
You are, the word became flesh
Bore my sin and death
Now You're risen
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost
Lead me to the cross where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees, Lord, I lay me down
Rid me of myself, I belong to You

Thursday, March 19, 2015

John 19:17-30 What Jesus finished, conclusion

Another thing that Jesus finished in this passage was the beginning of the family of God in the New Testament. Verses 26-27 say that even while He was suffering intense pain on the cross, Jesus was compassionate toward His mother and His youngest, "beloved" disciple. They had both depended upon Him so much -- His death was going to be devastating to them. So, Jesus gave them to each other for their mutual comfort and encouragement. The love and devotion that they had shown Him could now be channeled to each other, and it would help them through their grief.
Jesus still does that today, through His church, where each member has a responsibility to encourage the others.
So, Mary and John were among the first ones in the New Testament family of God. New relationships were made possible when Jesus died. These relationships are stronger and much longer lasting than the earthly ties we have here. Mary was no longer just the earthly mother of Jesus; she was His sister. John was no longer only His cousin and youngest disciple; he became a brother of Jesus. Both of them were now joint-heirs to the Kingdom of God, just as millions more would be, in the coming centuries.
The Jews didn't "get" that God was their heavenly Father. They revered Him as too high up, and too far removed from them, for them to be that familiar (and in their eyes, too casual) with Him. His name was so holy that they did not dare to pronounce it. They called Jesus a blasphemer because He referred to God as His Father.
In Romans, Paul tells us that Jesus is the first-born of a new family:

                       Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ
                       Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life
                       has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was
                       powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending
                       his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he
                       condemned sin in the flesh....(Romans 8:1-3)

                      The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear
                      again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.
                      And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." (Romans 8:15)

All of us who trust Jesus have that spirit of adoption, and can call God "Father."
Look at what He told Mary Magdalene in the next chapter we will study:

                      Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the
                      Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my
                      Father and your Father, to my God and your God." (John 20:17)

Today, we may take this for granted, but it was completely unknown and astonishing to them. Jesus had finished everything that was needed to begin the New Testament concept of the family of God.
The final thing that Jesus finished in this passage was making a way for us to the water -- the water of life. Look at verse 28:
                     Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that
                     Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."
The commentators tell us that crucifixion is an agonizing death by suffocation and dehydration. It's difficult to lift your chest and to breathe when you're hanging by your hands, but also when your blood is draining out of your body, you feel an intense thirst.  Jesus felt every sensation and every pain . . . He didn't take the easy way out. He was God, and He could have changed it in the twinkling of an eye. Physically, He was thirsty because of His physical needs in His body -- spiritually, He was thirsty because He was emptying Himself.
Look at Philippians 2:7:
                             rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of 
                             a servant, being made in human likeness.

One of the commentaries I read noted that the Greek literally says, "He emptied Himself." He was emptying Himself of the water of life, so that we might have it.
Remember in John 7:37:

                             On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said
                             in a loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink."

And He told the woman at the well:

                            but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed,
                            the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling
                            up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

In John 14:6, He tells us that He is "the way, the truth and the life."  On the cross, He finished opening the way to the water of life. The river of the water of life is mentioned in Revelation, too, and it is noted that the river flows through heaven. It originates with Jesus. He finished all that was needed to make that river possible.

His love for us will never be finished. Isn't that a comforting thought in these perilous times? He finished the groundwork, the pathway for us to have a robe of righteousness, to be a part of the family of God, and to drink from the river of life. Now, each day, He can work in our lives to finish making us the best disciples that we can be!                           

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

John 19:17-30 What Jesus finished, continued

We're studying this week this passage that ends with Jesus saying, "It is finished!" And we're noting the things that He finished.

When we look at verse 19, we remember that Jesus was crowned King of the Jews when He died on the cross. Not just the crown of thorns that they cruelly pressed onto his head . . .  When the Romans crucified someone, they posted his crimes to deter others from committing those same crimes. Pilate nailed a sign to Jesus' cross that He was the King of the Jews. Now, the chief priests didn't like the way that Pilate worded the sign -- they worried that strangers to the crossroads might think the Romans were actually crucifying a Jewish king. Worse still, they might think the chief priests were there at the foot of the cross because they believed He was King!
So, they told Pilate, "Don't write "King of the Jews" on the sign. Write that He SAID He was the King of the Jews."
Did Pilate listen?
Nope. He decided they were being nit-picky and left the sign as it was.
And it's a very good thing! Jesus didn't die because He claimed to be King of the Jews; He died because He is King of the Jews. All throughout the Old Testament prophecy, which these leaders were steeped in, God had told the Jews that they would recognize their Messiah by His death. They all learned in synagogue that Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, and then was shown by God that His Ram would one day die in our place. And that picture was repeated every time a priest made a sacrifice for a sin offering.

                             My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you 
                             so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My
                             God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but
                             I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)

Wouldn't you think that chills ran up and down the chief priests spines when they heard Him say that from the cross? It was describing the death of Messiah -- 1000 years before it happened.
Isaiah described it, too:                 
                              Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm
                              of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a
                             tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no
                             beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appear-
                             ance that we should desire him. He was despised and re-
                             jected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with
                             pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was
                             despised, and we held him in low esteem.  (Isaiah 53:1-3)            

Jesus was that Messiah. He was their King. Check out Daniel 9:26, too, where it says the "Annointed One will be put to death" and in Zachariah 12, we read "They shall look upon Him whom they pierced."
Jesus told the Jewish people that the only sign they would be given to prove His Messiahship would be the sign of Jonah -- which prophesied Jesus' death and resurrection.  Pilate was right on the money; he said the sign would read that Jesus was the King of the Jews.
His death on the cross finished crowning Him as King. Now, God could say to the people, "I told you in advance; my Son told you, and I even had Pilate put a sign on the cross that He was your King, but you still turned away and rejected me!"

Another thing that was finished was the robe of righteousness prepared for us. Remember in verses 23-24, where the soldiers divided Jesus' possessions and gambled for his robe? They not only took His life; they took everything on this earth that He owned . . . wouldn't even give His personal effects to His mother, standing there in grief. What the soldiers did not know was that they were in God's hands, fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 22, by dividing His garments among themselves.
Let's look at another passage, this one in Isaiah 61:

                         The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has
                         anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to
                         bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives
                         and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year

                         of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort
                         all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow
                         on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of
                         mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They
                         will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the
                         display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-4)

Did you see that we will receive a garment? Other passages tell us about a robe of righteousness. We receive it when we trust Him. All of our righteousness is as filthy rages compared to the purity and holiness that God requires to get into heaven -- we can't make it on our own. There is no way that we can clean up enough to get into heaven. Jesus' blood cleanses us and He gives us His robe of righteousness. So in God's sight, our sin debt is settled and we can stand righteous before Him!

Jesus finished what was needed for all of us to have our robe of righteousness. You and I need never try anything else to cover our sins. Jesus finished that when He stamped our debt "Paid in Full" when He died on the cross.

We'll finish this tomorrow. Join us?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Verses that inspire us

We've talked before about how the Lord is like a master refiner; He tempers us with the heat of life and lovingly watches until the debris and the dross floats up and can be removed. Just as it's demonstrated in the metal working craft, the impurities in our lives must be removed, and the point at which we will be finished is the time that the Master can look into the bowl and see His face.

Paul said that we will not be finished until we are with Him; but he noted that he would continue to strive for godliness until the day God took him home to heaven.

Sometimes in our personal studies, we find verses that inspire us to heights of joy. Some verses comfort us.

Other verses are downright disturbing -- they point fingers where we don't want to look; they show us the impurities and the sins in our lives, and we can't ignore them any longer.

Have you read a verse like that lately? This verse tugged at my heart recently, and I needed to do some soul-searching:

                   Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn
                   to me. For as soon as trouble comes, they will earnestly search for
                   me.  (Hosea 5:15)

How true this is, in all of our lives . . . as soon as trouble comes, we will seek Him. But do we seek just as earnestly when the waters are calm?

Just something to think about.

Please leave a comment if you will, and share a verse that has comforted, inspired, or convicted you recently. You never know who you may help with your insights.

Monday, March 16, 2015

John 19:17-30 What Jesus finished

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

When I was studying this passage, I read Dakes' commentary and he noted that the King James translators used three words to translate one Greek word . . . tetel'estai . . . in the Greek, that simply says, "Finished!"  The translators added the "it is," but that really makes it sound like only one thing was finished. Neither the one Greek word, nor the three English words can fully translate all of the work that Jesus completed on the cross. We can never completely comprehend all that He did for us. But we can see in our passage some things that He finished, and ask the Spirit to show us those and more.

First, Jesus finished showing us just how much God loves us. Look back up there at verses 17 and 18. Think about the fact that Jesus half-carried, half-dragged His cross through the streets of the crowded city, for everyone to see. He was flogged and mocked while soldiers watched and added their insults to His humiliation. When He was crucified, it was at a crossroads so heavily used, so congested with traffic, that they wrote the accusation in three languages and hung it over His head. His humiliation and His death were so, so public. He could have died quietly. He would still have paid for our sins. Here is the kernel of truth -- He was showing the whole world just how much He loved us!

Lately I've seen more cars with messages of love on their windows. "Judi loves Beau" or "You're the best!" decorate the back windows. I remember when foolish teens would go to a rock outcropping near our town and paint messages of eternal love on it. Some folks will rent a plane, or a billboard, and let someone know that they are loved.

God is in love with all of us, but He isn't acting on the spur of the moment, like these human lovers are. He took thousands of years to plan His message for us. When He came as Jesus to die for our sins, He finished the greatest display of love that the world will ever see.
We were on the auction block; we were slaves going to be sold to the highest bidder, and Satan was in the crowd, ready to win the auction. He was going to hand us over, as his slaves, to Sin, and then ultimately to Death.
The situation changed; Jesus made His bid. He took us down off the auction block and stepped up there in our place.

The One Who spoke this world into being; the One Who is so holy that we cannot look upon Him; the One in Whose presence even the angels cover their faces actually GAVE Himself to Satan for those thirty pieces of silver. Through our tears we can see that they ridiculed Him, tormented and beat Him, nailed Him to the cross and killed Him. Then they sealed Him in death's dark tomb. All of that was planned for us! And we deserve it! But He didn't.

He took our place and then broke free from the tomb so that He could come back and show us that we never have to be separated from Him again.

There was never before such a message of love, and if we ever doubt how much He loves us, we need only to look at Calvary. That's where He finished showing us His great love.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday slowdown

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, Who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atonement can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
"It is finished!" was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we'll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

John 19:1-16 conclusion

This week, we have studied in John 19, and seen the moral struggle and eventual defeat of Pilate, in dealing with Jesus and the Jewish leaders.

Where did he go wrong?

First of all, Pilate placed value in the wrong things. He was so wound up in his love of power and position, of comfort and luxury. He put them as higher priority than doing what was right. Even when he knew that what he was doing was very, very wrong. He chose the temporary things over the eternal things.

Secondly, Pilate feared the wrong things. Pilate was afraid of having his past behavior scrutinized by Caesar in Rome. He was already in hot water with the rumors of his past wrongdoings, and this would be just another log on the fire. He also was intimidated by the Jewish leaders -- they threatened to accuse him of disloyalty to Caesar.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Proverbs 9:10) Pilate had a conscience, and he had a fear of doing wrong -- but his fear of man was much stronger than his fear of God.

Pilate also failed to heed God's warning. God sent a dream to Pilate's wife, and she sent a message to him, pleading with him to leave Jesus alone; she wanted him to have nothing to do with Him. Even with a supernatural warning, Pilate didn't listen.

Then, Pilate failed to take a firm stand for what he knew was right. He was double-minded. Wishy-washy, Charlie Brown's friend Lucy would say. He was torn....on the one hand, he wanted to do the right thing. But he was unwilling to take any personal risk to do that. We must learn from Pilate that a little compromise leads to more and more compromise; small compromises lead to large ones! If we are half-hearted in our stand for what is right, we will probably crumble when pressed hard on our decision. We must make a firm decision to do the right thing and then trust God with the outcome. If we will remember the three Hebrew children and take a stand the way they did, we will find that God will take care of the results.

We may be facing moral struggles today in our own lives. Are we placing value in the right things? The eternal things?  Are we afraid of men, or are we showing a reverence for God?
We need to ask God to give us the courage to do the right thing, and then listen to His voice. Allow Him to use our consciences to guide us with His truth. We can listen to His warnings He may give from His word, or even in a dream. If we decide here and now that there will be no compromise, then we can keep our commitment to do the right thing. And we can trust God to take care of the rest.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

John 19:1-16 continued

We left Pilate in the midst of an awful moral struggle. And we are going to see that Pilate did what we are often tempted to do . . . he tried to avoid making a decision!

When the Jews brought Jesus to him, he tried to hand Him back to them. Check out verse 31 of chapter 18, from last week.

                         Pilate said, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own
                         law." "But we have no right to execute anyone," they objected.

See, that didn't work because they were pushing for the death penalty, and the Jews could not execute anyone unless they had Roman approval. They were forcing Pilate's hand by saying that Jesus had claimed to be a king -- a Roman governor who ignored a claim like that, and then later had to put down a rebellion, would be in hot water with Caesar.

Pilate's second attempt to avoid making a decision happened when he heard that Jesus was from Galilee. Luke 23:7 says:

                       When he learned that Jesus was under Herod's jurisdiction, he
                       sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem a that time.

We know that Herod was gleeful to see Jesus, since he had heard of Him, and he asked to see a miracle. He wanted to be entertained; he wanted Jesus to put on a show for him. Jesus, however, would not answer his questions, so after being abused by Herod's soldiers, Jesus was sent back to Pilate.
What did Pilate do then? He remembered that there was a custom during the Passover in which the Roman governor would allow the people to choose one prisoner to be released. Here was the solution! Surely the prisoner Barabbas was such a low life that they people would choose Jesus instead, and He would go free. But the Jewish leaders were so determined that they led the crowd to call for Barabbas' freedom. Then Pilate was told about his wife's dream.
So he ordered his soldiers to flog Jesus. Ancient documents tell us that the Romans' whips had pieces of bone and shards of metal tied to the ends of each strip of leather. Some people died from the lashings alone. The soldiers mocked and abused Jesus, and dressed Him in a purple robe, forcing the cruel crown of thorns onto His head.

"Finally Pilate handed Him over to them to be crucified." What a horrible defeat at the end of this moral struggle.
Pilate did something to try to appease his conscience, which by now was screaming at him. He took a bowl of water and washed his hands, telling the crowd that he was innocent of Jesus' blood. What an answer they gave....sends chills up our spines when we read it, "Let His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:25)
The hand-washing was not a Roman custom, but a Jewish ceremony. In Deuteronomy, the elders were told to do that in the case of an unsolved murder, and publicly declare their innocence. But Pilate was not innocent -- he not only flogged an innocent man, but he also authorized his crucifixion.

Pilate did one thing more to appease his conscience -- he had a sign fastened to the cross which said, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." When the chief priests complained and wanted it changed to simply say that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews, Pilate declined. Wouldn't we love to know what Pilate and Joseph of Armathaea talked about, when Joseph asked for the body of Jesus? Wouldn't we love to have heard the conversations between Pilate and his wife, once the stories of Jesus' resurrection began to fly about the city?

We don't know for sure what happened to Pilate after his moral struggle and defeat. The historian, Josephus, notes that Pilate lost the position of power that he so wanted to hang on to....and his governorship was ended.

In the end, what did Pilate's compromise purchase for him? A couple more years of luxury? I bet they were stress-filled ones, and he didn't rest easily in that luxury. It's been asked what will a man give in exchange for his soul . . . next time we study, we'll try to learn from the mistakes that Pilate made.