It is not hard to imagine how the disciples felt the morning after Jesus’ death: afraid, stunned, confused, immeasurably sad. Maybe angry, too.
Afraid because Jesus had been crucified by Rome, and Rome always dealt harshly with rebellions. Would the disciples and their families be sought out next? Stunned because the overwhelming acclaim Jesus received at the beginning of the week did him no apparent good by the end of the week. Confused because Jesus had no backup plan in case the Jewish leaders came to arrest him. Immeasurably sad because the best person anyone had ever known died a humiliating death before their eyes. Angry? Political intrigue and power-mongering among the Jewish leaders led to the death of an innocent man. Besides, being angry is easier than being sad.
That is how I imagine they felt, but what did they do?
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (Luke 23:55–56)
What they did was observe the Sabbath from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset. They observed it by praying together, eating a Sabbath meal (if they could eat at all), and refraining from work.
Their habits of faith shaped their lives even in their worst moments. We need a faith like theirs based not only on emotion, not only on good or right ideas, but based on habits that reinforce our intention to honor God. Habits that can keep us on the right track (or nearly so) even when chaos and sorrow overwhelm us.
What habits would you like to have in place to sustain you? Study, prayer, fellowship, worship, making music, walking while talking with God are some examples.
What’s your next step toward one of those habits?
And hang on until tomorrow. He said he would rise on the third day….
As we follow the events that led to Jesus’ death, we have to be dismayed by the dramatic change in circumstances from Sunday to Friday. Sunday Jesus was hailed as Savior and heir apparent to the throne of David. Overnight Thursday into Friday he has been betrayed, arrested, abandoned, lied about, beaten, whipped, and mocked. Friday he was nailed to a cross for public humiliation and execution.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
Why did Jesus allow all this to happen to him? These events came as no surprise. He foresaw them, and warned his disciples four times that these things would happen to him when they went up to Jerusalem.
Cyril of Alexandria, a theologian and bishop who died in 444 AD, give us some insight.
Christ’s Human Nature Had to Feel What We Feel
Only the death of the Savior could bring an end to death, and it is the same for each of the other sufferings of the flesh too. Unless he had felt dread, human nature could not have become free from dread. Unless he had experienced grief, there could have never been any deliverance from grief. Unless he had been troubled and alarmed, there would have been no escape from these feelings.
Every one of the emotions to which human nature is liable can be found in Christ. The emotions of his flesh were aroused, not that they might gain the upper hand, as indeed they do in us, but in order that when aroused they might be thoroughly subdued by the power of the Word dwelling in the flesh, human nature as a whole thus undergoing a change for the better. Commentary on the Gospel of John 8.
These things happened because of God’s love and plan to deal not just with our sin, but with every aspect of what it means to be human.
Thank you, Jesus, for your courage and love. Change us from the inside out by the power of your love for us. Amen.
The events of Thursday of Holy Week start quietly, but are part of a series of events that changed world history.
Jesus gathered his disciples, and gave them an object lesson, a multi-sensory learning exercise. He washed their feet!
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:1–5,12-17)
There is no question about the point that Jesus is making about the priority of sacrificial love among his followers. He pronounced, "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them “ not from the elevated pulpit of a cathedral but in a room where all sat together. There is no position among those who follow Jesus that exempts us from serving. There is no other priority that excuses us from loving each other.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35)
Our lives, families, congregations, and communities are all better off because we attempt to live in response to this gracious command. "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:18–19)
Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us so completely! Help us to love like you love. Amen.
The Gospels do not record exactly what Jesus was doing on Wednesday of that last week of his life — the life before his death before his resurrection. Luke 19, however, reports that every day he was teaching in the temple. Another excerpt, then:
Keeping a close watch on him, [the teachers of the law and the chief priests] sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20–26)
They fell silent because they tried to fool Jesus but could not. He sensed their duplicity and called them on it, and neatly avoided their intended dilemma. There was nothing left to say. They should have kept silent to begin with!
Earlier in Jesus ministry he had compassion and healed many in a large crowd. Matthew recorded this in his chapter 12, and cited Isaiah:
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory. (Matthew 12:20)
Jesus had compassion, but he was not soft. As we see in the episode of Caesar’s coin above, Jesus had no compassion on those who sought to be deceitful, and so here are our lessons:
Do not be afraid to come to Jesus when you are in need, whether that need is to be healed, or to be freed from your own sin, or from the effect of someone else’s sin. A bruised reed he will not break.
Do be afraid of trying to deceive Jesus. Do not whitewash, manipulate, or lie to him. He will see through it, and leave you behind. You will find yourself on the wrong end of justice. Jesus is the truth.
Lord, silence my lying tongue, quiet my foolish mind, and let me feel the depth of my need for you. Be merciful to me, a sinner. Then by the mercy of your life and death and life again set me free to follow you. Amen.
While in Jerusalem that final week Jesus taught against the chief priests and the elders, both of whom had vested interests in maintaining the status quo in the Temple. Jesus opposed them in public in the Temple courts. Here is one example:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (Matthew 21:28–32)
Jesus’ pointed story shows up the hypocrisy of the chief priests and the elders. Apparently they were content to resist what God was clearly doing through Jesus even though they should have been among the first to recognize it. John the Baptist pointed out their spiritual idolatry, and they should have responded with humility and contrition when he did.
This of course does not mean that “tax collectors and prostitutes” were given a pass by John the Baptist or Jesus. Not at all. Both obvious sinners and subtle sinners alike must repent. The way to life and love and peace is through repentance — admitting our self-centeredness and turning to follow Jesus.
Good thing your sins are not obvious, right? Or your would need to repent, too.
Lord, save us from self-centeredness and sin. Free us from the self-deception that allows us to rationalize away our need to repent and turn to you daily. Amen.
Many of us know that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” But do you know that this is not the only time the Bible records Jesus weeping?
Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing that he would die within a few days, and he wept over the city and its inhabitants.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:41–42)
The inhabitants of Jerusalem had had many opportunities to respond to what God was doing in Jesus during the course of his ministry. He clearly demonstrated that God was at work through him in a way no one had ever seen. His reputation spread throughout the countryside and within the city itself. Most chose to marvel, but few followed.
When Jesus’ arrived in the city, he was heralded as Messiah from the kingly family of David. The crowds hoped he would begin to put things right politically and economically. Jesus knew that his arrival was not the beginning of a new era of political peace, but the inauguration of a new way to be reconciled to God. He came to win the hearts of Israel back to his Father. He wept because most wanted something far less than God was offering.
Jesus wept over the inhabitants of Jerusalem because they missed what God was doing among them.
What is God doing among us? What would it take for us to see what he’s up to?
Lord, help us to see what the Israelites did not. Remove our blindness, whatever it might be. Amen.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD. (Psalms 27:14)
Waiting is difficult! We wait for water to boil, for the traffic light to turn green, for the line at the Drive Up window to clear out so we can get our fries. All those are easy, however, compared to the long “wait" involved in developing any aspect of Christian character.
That water takes a certain amount of time to boil is a matter the physical properties of the universe. That patience (a virtue) takes time to learn is a matter of the properties of the nonphysical universe. More intense heat boils the water faster, but intensity does not produce patience. Patience comes through applying our effort in a more effective way.
Our primary task in learning patience is not in gritting our teeth, but in shaping our emotions. Our emotions are dependent on what and how we think. Over time we can change our emotions by changing what we are thinking about. If we are impatient as a listener, it may be because we do not respect the person speaking, or think that what we have to do is more important than this particular conversation. Patience in this instance comes from changing how we think about this person or situation — for example, by deciding to treat them with respect, not waiting for them to earn your respect.
There’s another level to patience deeper than our current conversation or circumstance: our part in The Story. It makes all the difference if we understand and put our hope in what God says he is doing with this world.
The Story? God began the world by creating a garden in which he could be with Adam and Eve; Jesus lived among us full of grace and truth; God sent the Spirit to be in us and among us; and, God will one day remake the world so that those who trust him can be with him in a beautiful New Heaven and New Earth. That’s The Story God is writing, the story into which he has written us.
Having The Story as the context for our conversations changes how we think about other players in The Story. We must assume that there are no bit players, even and including the slightly irritating person you are valiantly trying to listen to. Valuing the person allows better listening, and better listening means better loving. The second commandment from Jesus is, of course, "love your neighbor as yourself”.
But all this takes time — this developing character and becoming mature. Again, no one becomes a saint overnight.
There are many things that have not yet been put right by our Lord, and so we must wait on his timing, trusting he will not only improve you and me, but one day make all things right.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD. (Psalms 27:14)
It will be worth it!
During Lent we spend time talking about sin, and examining its effect on our lives. Sin brings pleasure, true, but also bondage.
Jesus [said], “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (John 8:34)
No one wants to be enslaved, yet we find our hearts betraying us. How?
Tim Keller observes:
the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy daydreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement? Or material goods such as a dream home? Or a relationship with a particular person? One or two daydreams are not an indication of idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart? — Counterfeit Gods, p.168
Choosing what we think about is one of the most basic and powerful things we can do. If our hearts are to be fully set free from the burdensome entanglements of our self-centeredness, we must choose carefully, relentlessly what we allow our minds to dwell upon.
But the habits of our hearts and minds are turned only slowly, and only through the power of the Holy Spirit. It has been rightly said no one becomes a saint in a day!
Try this today: Notice where your thoughts drift when you have a few moments alone. Don’t fix, just notice. Notice what you drift to repeatedly. This may take several days of being aware of your thoughts for you to be able to discern a pattern.
As you begin to notice where you drift, ask the Holy Spirit, “So what’s going on here? Why do I love this? Why do I feel like I this?”
After you notice and ask, listen. The Spirit loves to teach our hearts.
For weeks now, we have been giving Psalm 23 a close reading. We find similar themes of security and peace in Philippians 4:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7)
Peace and rejoicing! Rejoicing can come as a response to positive circumstances, and it can come as a response to a command.
Really? We are commanded (exhorted) to be joyful? Really. And we can do it. Here’s how.
Paul gives us reason enough to rejoice: God is near. Think: The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
God himself is enough. When we don’t feel like God is enough, there is simple action we can take: "present our requests to God.” He is near, he hears, he invites our prayers, he can handle our anxiety.
We pray, and God guards our hearts and minds. He guards our emotions, our hopes, and our habits of thinking.
The Message paraphrase:
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6–7)
Letting God in our anxieties shapes not only our emotions, but our thinking. When we let him guard our heart, we become able to think more clearly and — importantly — more kindly. God’s care puts us on firm ground, making it possible to love of neighbor, coworker, and family member. Even the difficult ones. Kindness to the unloveable.
Anxiety begins to drain away; love begins to flow.
Peace within; peace without.
Lord, I give you my anxious thoughts today. Calm my anxious heart, that I may love like you love. Amen.
As we look at the final verse of Psalm 23 it becomes clear that as we follow Jesus anxiety and complaining are to give way to confidence and gratitude.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalms 23:6)
David’s confidence in God’s care dissipates the anxiety that arises from the real troubles in his life.
Similarly, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus commands his followers not to worry.
"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them." (Matthew 6:31–32)
Eating, drinking, and staying clothed are pretty basic needs, yet Jesus says not to worry even about these.
Scholar and pastor N. T. Wright comments:
"When Jesus told his followers not to worry about tomorrow, we must assume he led them by example. He seems to have had the skill of living totally in the present, giving attention totally to the present task, celebrating the goodness of God here and now. If that’s not a recipe for happiness, I don’t know what is.” — N. T. Wright, For Everyone: Bible Study Guides: Matthew
Celebrating the goodness of God — that is Psalm 23 through and through. It is as if Jesus internalized Psalm 23, and drew strength from it in his life and ministry.
Jesus’ strength can become our strength. Spend some time in Psalm 23 again today!
Lord Jesus, help me to accept your shepherding again today, that I may more and more have confidence in you. Amen.
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee, chocolate chip cookies, Apple products, small video projects, and the New England Patriots.