Resurrection Sunday

Very early the next morning, as the sun was just beginning to peek over the Jerusalem horizon, the women set out to properly anoint Jesus’ body for burial. Having been the Sabbath, they were not able to do this when his body had first been laid in the tomb. And they had spent much time in their mourning preparing spices and ointments with which to prepare their Lord’s body.

I imagine them being eager to see him one last time. The events of the day he was sentenced to die moved so quickly, they had barely had a chance to say “good bye”.

Imagine their dismay as they approached the tomb and saw the guards passed out on the ground. Imagine their surprise as they saw that the massive boulder blocking the entrance had been rolled away. Imagine their shock when they peered inside and saw that the tomb was empty. And imagine their fear when an angel appeared before them and proclaimed. “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead just as he said would happen!” (Matthew 28:5-6)

The Bible says they were “filled with great joy” as they rushed away from the empty tomb to tell the others. Filled with great joy! They had spent the last couple of days trying to come to grips with everything. Trying to replace the images seared on their minds of Jesus, bloody and beaten with the images of his smiling, loving and compassionate face. Trying to forget the awful mockery and contempt crowds of people had thrown at him and instead remember all the amazing things he had spoken of. Trying to understand why it had all ended like it did.

But now he wasn’t lying in the tomb! The tomb was empty! Could it really be?!? Could he really be risen?!?

Fortunately for them – and for us – Jesus did not leave that question unanswered. He did not just mysteriously ascend to his rightful place in heaven. He appeared in his resurrected body to many. He spoke with them. He ate with them. They reached out and touched the wounds left from his crucifixion. And he ascended into heaven in front of them all.

Hope was reignited in the disciples. All of the hopes they had placed in their Lord when he walked the earth with them had come true in a bigger and better way than they could’ve ever imagined. The forgiveness of sins for all was real because Jesus suffered and died. The promise of eternal life was real because Jesus’ had won the victory over sin and death with his resurrection.

This is where my hope comes from! All of my hope. And this is where your hope and everyone’s hope comes from.

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NLT)

Jesus is alive!!!!!!

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Somber Saturday

It was the morning after an unimaginable tragedy. It was probably eerily quiet. The voices of the crowds demanding “crucify him” were gone. The jeers of the onlookers insisting that Jesus “save himself” were silenced. The shouting of the Pharisees screaming “blasphemer” had disappeared. The wails of the women that loved him had moved within the walls of their homes. At the “Place of the Skull” stood three empty crosses, the middle one with a sign that said “King of the Jews”. But this king had been killed. His body removed and buried in a tomb.

Many awoke the next morning like they always did, not impacted at all by the events of the day before. But many others awoke to emotions fresh and raw. Those who had grown to love Jesus felt the anguish of losing someone close to them and the overwhelming emptiness left by his sudden departure. Others felt the guilt of realizing that they had taken part in the conviction and execution of an innocent man. And still others had come to the painful realization that the man whose blood they had cried out for truly was the Son of God.

The religious leaders, though, likely awoke with a sense of victory. They had finally silenced this Jesus and it would only be a matter of time before his disciples scattered and this whole mess would be behind then. They just had one more order of business to take care of. They remembered that Jesus had proclaimed that he would rise again. Of course, that could never really happen – but they intended to ensure that his friends couldn’t steal his body to make it look that way. So they insisted that Pilate have the tomb securely sealed. Guards were placed at the tomb as added security to prevent the great body heist.

It’s hard to imagine in their anguish that his disciples would have had any desire to steal the dead body of their friend and hide him somewhere to make some promise of resurrection appear true. What good would it be to them if Jesus didn’t really rise? If the promise didn’t truly come true? If they had to make it look like it did?

And I’d imagine that these men felt totally lost now that Jesus had left them. They had given up everything to follow him and for three years they had hung on his every word. And even though they knew he was their Lord – they hadn’t even begun to process where to go from here.

It was no doubt a very somber Saturday.

Good Friday

The day of Jesus’ crucifixion. The day he paid the price for my sins. The day my savior was tried, convicted and sentenced. Tortured, mocked and killed. Only in hindsight does the name “Good Friday” make sense.

Mark 15, NLT:

Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council —met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “You have said it.” Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual. “Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus.

Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!” So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.

He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it. Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. A sign announced the charge against him. It read, “The King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!” The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. “Wait!” he said. “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to take him down!”

Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph ), and Salome. They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come with him to Jerusalem were also there. This all happened on Friday, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. As evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.)

Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.

Holy Thursday

By now the leading priests had heard and seen enough and they began to secretly devise a plan to have Jesus arrested and killed. Surely this would put an end to all of this — or so they thought. One of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, had apparently not allowed Jesus to truly change his heart and thirty pieces of silver was all it took for him to agree to betray Jesus. Now he waited and watched for the right opportunity.

As was customary, Jesus and his disciples would be sharing in the Passover meal together. And although the disciples had no idea, Jesus knew it would be their last meal together. Of course, Jesus, being fully God, was prepared for what was to come…but being also fully man, he was “anguished and distressed”. (Matthew 26:37)He was going to be betrayed by his friend. He was going to suffer and die. His friends whom he had spent every day with for three years were going to be sad and confused. But he also knew that the despair would be temporary and that he would be back for them in a big way!

So as they gathered around the table Jesus did a couple of things that wouldn’t fully make sense to his disciples until after his resurrection.

First – he washed their feet. And whether you still didn’t understand who he truly was and saw him as a man that was about to be anointed as your earthly king, and certainly if you did realize that he was your Savior, the Son of God, – having him kneel before you to wash your feet would’ve likely made you uncomfortable. But even as Peter protested, Jesus explained.

I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them. (John 13:15-17 NLT)

That night Jesus also gave the first Communion. And before he offered up the bread and wine as his body and blood, he told his friends this would be his last Passover meal here on earth.

Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15, 16 NLT)

Then he exclaimed that a new covenant between God and his people was coming and that the sacrificial blood to be poured out to confirm this covenant would be his.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 NIV)

The rest of the evening must have been a blur to the disciples. Judas had disappeared only to show up later with a crowd of armed men. Jesus was seized and arrested like a common criminal. Peter attempted to defend him with the sword and Jesus told him to put it away. The disciples took off, deserting their Lord and friend. Even Peter denied knowing him. All through the night and into the next day, Jesus was interrogated, mocked and assaulted. The suffering was underway.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7 NIV)

Warning to the hypocrites

Jesus remained busy during his last days on earth. He continued to teach and rebuke, to heal and make waves. The religious leaders were getting more and more uncomfortable with his message. He was in their face, using parable after parable to warn them and rebuke them.

Finally after going back and forth with the Pharisees and the Sadducees (the religious leaders of the day) he addressed his disciples and the crowds that had gathered. He proceeded to warn them not to follow the examples of the hypocritical religious leaders. And whether we find ourselves in the position of teacher of the Word or student of the Word, we should heed these warnings still today.

• Don’t let God’s law be packaged in bundles of rules that weigh people down. It is meant to be a life-giving, redeeming gift.

• Real faith is not meant to impress anyone. Real faith should be drawing you to Jesus, not to flashy, arrogant people.

• God created us all equally. We shouldn’t put someone else on a pedestal (even if they’re standing on one). We all have the same teacher, the same Savior, Jesus Christ.

• Nobody on earth should take the place of God in our life. Save that authority for him.

• As Christians, we should never become a roadblock to God’s kingdom to someone else. Don’t let anybody convince you that they’ve got a better shot than you do. The door is open to anyone that accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

• Don’t be confused or corrupted by someone that tries to put their own spin on the gospel. It is not confusing. All people are sinful and need a Savior. God had that figured out since before time began. Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose again. And he is the only way to eternity with God.

7. Don’t get caught up in all the little details that distract from the main point. Accept Christ and live. Deny Christ and die.

9. A “holy”and pure appearance does not always equal a righteous heart. God is more concerned that we get our heart right.

The Message paraphrase
(Matthew 23:1-28)

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them.

“The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.

“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help.

Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’

“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.

“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds!

Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in.

…You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.

…You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands?…A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.

…You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.

Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semi-colons?

…You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony…Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

…You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

Lamb of God

So Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem – greeted by much excitement and fanfare. Jerusalem was a busy place this time of year as the Jewish people celebrated in remembrance of the first Passover in Egypt generations ago. That had been the night The Lord had released them from the captivity and oppression they had experienced under the Egyptians. Now as they witnessed the arrival of this Jesus, they anticipated the same physical freedom from Roman rule.

Would there be blood involved again? Should they prepare to sacrifice a lamb in order to use its blood to mark their homes as a sign that they were God’s chosen people? Would he once again pass through their midst – sparing only those whose homes were marked with the blood of the lamb?

It is amazing to me to see this in hindsight. To see that they had no idea that this Jesus was about to become the sacrificial lamb. That his blood was not going to be used to mark their homes, but rather their hearts. And that his blood was going to accomplish the ultimate freedom and the ultimate Passover. From sin and death. From eternal judgement.

And now the question is presented to each of us…this week and every day. Are our hearts marked with the blood of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”? (John 1:29)

Moses had announced to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: At midnight tonight I will pass through the heart of Egypt. All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die. Then a loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again. But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark. Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites. (Exodus 11:4-7 NLT)

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel together and said to them, “Go, pick out a lamb or young goat for each of your families, and slaughter the Passover animal. Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of hyssop branches and dip it into the blood. Brush the hyssop across the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. And no one may go out through the door until morning. For the Lord will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the Lord will pass over your home. He will not permit his death angel to enter your house and strike you down. “Remember, these instructions are a permanent law that you and your descendants must observe forever. When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’” (Exodus 12:21-27 NLT)

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days. (1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT)

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday. The “kick-off” of Holy Week. My favorite time of the year. This week marks the culmination of Jesus’ time on earth spent teaching, healing and building relationships. This week we celebrate the gracious gift of reconciliation God provided to the lost world. This week we are reminded of Jesus Christ’s intercession between fallen man and Holy God. This week we rejoice in the blessed assurance that if we admit we’re sinners, accept that Jesus is the only way, and repent we will have VICTORY!!!

The Triumphant Entry

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.’” (Matthew 21:4, 5 NLT)

Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord ! Praise God in highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9 NLT)

Many of them were sure he had come to be their literal earthly king. They didn’t realize what he had actually come to accomplish for all the generations to come. But as he rode into Jerusalem on what is now called Palm Sunday, Jesus knew all that would occur in the next seven days. Hallelujah! Our king has come!