Lesson 176: The Last Supper: Washing Feet

Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16Luke 22:7-13; and John 13:1-17

VATICAN CITY - SEPTEMBER 21: The Washing of the Feet mosaic in the St. Peter's Basilica on September 21, 2013 in Vatican City, Italy. One of the world's most visited sacred sites with 7 Million annual visitors.

Thursday of the week-long Passover Celebration had come. It was the Day of Unleavened bread, one of the highest feast days on the Jewish calendar. The official Passover lamb would be slaughtered in memory of that epic event in Egypt when God waged judgment on the Pharaoh. Every first born in Egypt would die…except for the sons of the Hebrew people. The Hebrews had been told to put the blood of a spotless lamb on the doorposts of their homes. This act of faithful obedience would save their firstborn sons and open the door to their freedom from the Egyptians. For century upon century, the Hebrew people (who came to be called the Jews…a shortening of the name of the tribe of Judah) would celebrate that breathtaking time when God delivered them from slavery.

That first sacrifice of the lamb as a form of salvation for the people under Egyptian slavery was an image or a shadow of the one that Jesus was about to purchase with His own blood. The difference was that His death was not for the sake of one generation. His payment didn’t pay for merely one group of people. Jesus would offer His life as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the members of any generation who put their faith in Him.

The disciples asked Jesus where He wanted them to go to prepare the Passover meal. Jesus told John and Peter:

“‘Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. And you shall say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher says to you, ‘My time is at hand. Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” And he will show you a large, furnished upper room that is ready and prepared for us.’”

Imagine how random and strange it must have felt to simply follow a stranger into a house because he was carrying a pitcher of water. What if they followed the wrong man? How did Jesus know when the man would happen to walk down that road with a pitcher of water? It took faith for His disciples to obey such orders. It could have made them look like total fools.

They could have asked Jesus for more details. Jesus could have told them the man’s name. They could have talked to him before following the guy into the house. However, the disciples were getting used to the ways of Jesus. It seems like the Lord set the situation up in a way to make sure that the disciples knew that this arrangement was divine. They were nailing down the details, but God the Father was orchestrating the whole thing. Then Matthew, Mark, and Luke all made sure to record what happened. It must have been an important story. It tells us some interesting things about how God works with His beloved as He calls them to act in history.

The disciples went out just as Jesus told them and found everything happened just as He said it would. As the Lord obeyed his Father with utter perfection, the Divine plan unfolded. Every step was purposed by God, and at every stage, Jesus listened to His Father and obeyed.

In the evening, the disciples gathered at the place that they had prepared to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus was reclining as they sat on the floor together at the table. He said, “‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’”

Think about this for a second. Jesus was God and was infinitely loved by God. He also had the whole heavenly host of angels as His beloved servants. Yet as Jesus was faced with bearing the weight of human sin and the full force of God’s wrath against it, He tenderly longed to be with these bedraggled and confused disciples. His love had nothing to do with some special quality in the ones He was loving. The greatness of Christ’s love for them had to do with His tremendous ability to love. As we read the things He shared with His disciples, we can take His Words very, very personally. They belong to us, too.

It is also interesting to note that as Jesus ate, He was aware that this was His last feast before His suffering. Yet His vision did not stop at the cross. He was looking through the cross to the victory that would be gained on the other side. For you see, Jesus lived in the fullest fullness of faith. He knew that He had come to earth from God and that He was returning to His Father. He knew that His Father had already given everything into His hands. Yet with all of that epic hope in front of Him, Jesus still focused on the present moment of obedience. As John described it, even though Jesus knew the hour of His sacrifice had come, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1b).

Jesus rose from His place, took off His outer cloak and tied a towel around His waist. The disciples must have wondered what in the world He was doing. Then He went over and poured water into a bowl. One by one, He went to each of His disciples and began to wash their feet. Imagine how dirty and cracked those feet were after the miles they walked each day. Imagine their astonishment that their Master would do such a thing. It was a lowly job, the filthiest of all. In Israel, only non-Jewish slaves were supposed to do it. Yet there was Jesus, scrubbing and rinsing off the dirt and wiping each foot clean with His towel.

By the time He got to Simon Peter, Peter had decided. This was not going to happen. He declared, “‘You shall never wash my feet.’”

Jesus said, “‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’”

Peter replied, “‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’” Oh! How earnestly Peter took everything way too far! But listen to the Lord’s gentle reply, “‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’”

Why do you think Jesus chose this night to wash His disciples feet? These were His last hours with them on earth before His death. They would remember these moments with special clarity for the rest of their lives. What was so important that this activity trumped anything else He could have said or done that night?

Well, the first thing we know is that the foot washing was an image or symbol of what Christ was about to do for them in His death. He would break the power of the Curse. Just as Adam’s sin brought death, the death of Jesus would bring life to all who believe in Him (see Romans 4 and 5). He was breaking into the order of the Fallen World and bringing a New Age. In the New Order, anyone who put their faith in Jesus is completely cleansed and made right before God! They are given the righteousness of Jesus Himself! From that moment on, they are transformed into a new kind of creature. Their hearts have been utterly changed, and they no longer belong to this world. When they do sin, they do not go back to being lost and cursed and shamed before God. They simply need to confess. Jesus will wash those areas of filth clean, just as He was washing His disciples’ feet. Everyone who has put their faith in Jesus can trust that before God, they are made clean. Yet just as Christ told Peter, His disciples still need to come to Him every day. They need to be cleansed from the sin that will still trouble them while they live as strangers in a world that is Cursed. But this image was not only about being cleansed from sin. Jesus was modeling how He wanted His disciples to relate to one another.

When Jesus said that not all of His disciples were clean, who do you think He was talking about? Do you think Judas knew that Jesus knew? What would it have felt like to be Judas as Jesus was washing his feet? Wow. In that moment, and in all the moments of the week before, Judas had every chance to repent. But even as Jesus scrubbed the filth from his feet, Judas clung to the filth of his heart. Even as Jesus pointed out that Judas was not clean, Judas rejected his chance to confess. And so he became confirmed in his sin.

When Jesus finished washing all of their feet, He said:

“‘Do you understand what I have done for you? 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. I tell you the truth, 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 13:12b-17

Jesus explained to His disciples that now that they were cleansed from their sin, they had marching orders. Jesus would conquer sin and death, and a New Age would begin. It would be possible to have a whole New Covenant with God.

These men were to be the heralds of all that Christ had done, carrying His message to the world. The Kingdom of God would burst out into the Kingdom of Darkness like a brilliant flame as the people gave their lives in faith to Jesus. They would be cleansed, too, and the community of love that they built together would be like a fortress in His Kingdom on earth!

How would they treat each other? Would they become greedy and grasping like the Pharisees, who fought for the seats of honor? Or would they carry in their hearts the character of their Master? Would each choose to wash each other’s feet with humility, meekness, and a desire to be peacemakers? In these sacred moments when the Lord of the Universe knelt down and scrubbed the filth of the day off of His disciple’s feet, He gave a physical demonstration of how the citizens of His Kingdom were to turn their hearts towards one another. It is an image we can take into every relationship and every situation to measure whether our hearts are like the heart of God.

 

 

Story 175: The Plot Against Jesus

Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; Luke 21:37-22:6

silver coins - stacked

 

The Sanhedrin was seething with fury. For three years they had endured the arrogant blasphemies of the young pretender named Jesus. They watched how He manipulated the people with His declarations and demonic miracles, intentionally ridiculing the leadership that God Himself ordained to rule over His chosen nation. He encouraged the rebellion of the people, flaunted the breaking of sacred commands, and garnered the support of the people by catering to their weaknesses. The nation of Israel had come upon challenges before, but this false prophet trumped them all.

Once again, at the Passover no less, Jesus had the nerve to come to the Temple. He proclaimed His lies in the very courtyards of the holy palace of the Living God. The foolish crowds were mesmerized. There were even members of the leadership that tried to argue on His behalf, but now He had gone too far. His twisting of the Word of God, His disregard for the Sabbath, His disrespectful contempt for thousands of years of tradition, His preference for sinners over men of ritual holiness and doctrinal purity, His claims to speak for God Himself, His talk of a Kingdom…He was a threat to the nation! There were rumors that He wanted to be king! The Romans wouldn’t put up with it, and neither would the high Jewish court.

The man had to die.

It was the only way to save the nation.

The plotting and plans of the religious leaders had been going on for months. They put the word out across the land that Jesus had a target on Him. It was imperative that they find some way to accuse Him. They had to catch Him in His words. They had to find proof that He was heretic. But this Jesus was cunning. It was as if Satan himself inspired the slippery words of the Carpenter. He tripped up the most brilliant lawyers in the nation and left them baffled.

The other problem was that He was hard to find. He had no synagogue of His own, and He had the oddest preoccupation of wasting His time wandering out with the mob, sleeping in their hovels and preaching among their weeds. He trekked around Israel like a gypsy…what with His calloused feet and His bedraggled band of so called “disciples.” Every one of them was the typical, ignorant type whose lack of education made them easy to fool. What would they do when their beloved Master was gone? Not one of them had the charisma to pull off what this pretentious carpenter from Galilee could do. As soon as He was dead, they would go running, and everything would calm down again.

Now that the Passover Feast had come around again, they finally had Jesus right in their grasp. The only problem was that the crowds made it impossible to arrest Him. He was annoyingly popular. The mob actually believed the rumor that He had raised His friend from the dead in Judea. Other stories were floating around about ten lepers that were healed. It didn’t matter how outrageous His claims were, as long as the crowds thought the miracles might be true, they had to wait. If they tried to arrest Him, there was sure to be an uprising. When the Passover mob cleared away, they could make their move. They would take Him by stealth and force and kill Him. They weren’t quite sure how they would pull it off, but their obsession to do so made it all but certain.

The day of the Passover Feast was two days off. The streets of Jerusalem were crammed with people. Jesus and His disciples would spend the daylight hours among them. Early in the morning, the people would rise to find Jesus, eager to listen to Him at the Temple. He fed a hunger that they didn’t even know they had before. In the evenings, Jesus would journey across the little valley of Kidron and up to the Mount of Olives that overlooked the city. They would spend the nights there in rest, only to go back over to the people again in the morning.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, something quiet and sinister was going on in the mind of one of Jesus’ disciples. His thoughts had turned to darkness. Luke says Satan himself entered him.

The Bible never explains why Judas did the terrible thing he did. It doesn’t explain how Satan worked his evil upon the rebellion of his heart. It only tells us about the unimaginable betrayal. At some point in that week, he slipped off, away from the Lord and the disciples and the crowds. He slithered his way to the chief priests and asked, “‘What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?’” Imagine the evil glances as they weighed out thirty silver coins. That was about four month’s wages.

The ground should have rumbled. The earth should have cracked. The sun should have covered its brightness with mourning. Someone should have wailed, “THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE HAS BEEN BETRAYED!”

And perhaps in Heaven, they did.

Judas had seen the miracles. He had heard all the bright, clear lessons and walked with Him on the endless journeys. He spent nights in the cold with the hard earth for a bed. He followed the Lord everywhere and was invited into His inner circle! But when the time was ripe, he went scampering off to treachery. How could he? HOW COULD HE! How could he betray the Lord for a purse of coins? We don’t know why. It makes no sense. But he did.

Imagine the malicious delight of the religious leaders. Imagine how they sneered as they plotted with one of Jesus’ own men. Suddenly, the deed that seemed so complicated had become so simple. They had a scout on the inside. They wouldn’t have to arrest Him in public, where they would have to face the crowds. They could get Him in the night and outnumber Him. By the time the crowds learned about the arrest, it would already be too late. The leaders could issue a proclamation, and the crowds would have to accept it. They would humiliate and silence this troublemaker once and for all. Nobody would dare challenge their authority again.

In the midst of all their sin and rebellion, these men simply could not see how even their evil intentions were being used to bring about God’s unspeakably beautiful plan. He had ordained that Christ would offer up His life at the high point of the Passover Feast. This celebration honored the time when God brought salvation to Israel from the oppressive Egyptian Empire by the blood of a lamb and through the Red Sea. Now, God was making a new way, the fullest form of salvation, the final, ultimate victory. The blood of Jesus would make the way to salvation through the breaking of His Body. The religious leaders were prepared to wait until the crowds were gone. But Judas’ betrayal insured that it would happen on God’s exact appointed day.

Story 174: Christ on the Judgment Seat

Matthew 25:31-46

The sun sets over Jerusalem

The view of the sun setting over modern day Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives with His disciples. He had journeyed with them to Jerusalem for what would turn into the last week of His life on earth. Now they sat on the Mount, looking out over the City of David. The grounds of the great Temple lay before them with a small valley between. Somewhere in the distance was Golgotha…it was another hill, the one upon which Christ would be crucified.

As Christ sat with His men, He taught them new insights about the Kingdom of Heaven. They were learning all about the end of time and hearing parables of  how God wanted them to wait for Christ’s return. Part of this expectant waiting included using the gifts and talents God had given them to the best of their ability…trusting in God’s gracious reward.

The next parable Jesus would tell was also about the future. Jesus explained how He will be coming to judge the people of earth. He will know who truly belongs to Him by how they chose to live their lives. This is how He described it to His disciples:

“‘When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.’”

This is just the beginning of Jesus’ parable…but imagine it.

When Jesus uses the title “Son of Man” to describe Himself, He is referring to Daniel 7:13-14. The prophet Daniel describes a vision the Lord gave him of future events. He said, “‘…there was One before me like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of Heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His Kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.’” Wow.

This passage from Daniel was famous during the time of Christ. When Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, His disciples would have known exactly what He meant. This was the epic, mysterious figure of the Old Testament. He was no ordinary human. He would literally come on the clouds. In the Bible, the coming of clouds is a sign of the presence of God. Imagine the angels in their millions, surrounding Him with overwhelming, everlasting joy. Imagine the Lord of glory taking His throne. These ideas were not merely a story for the Jews…these were the images that filled their minds, were central in their discussions, and explained their future hope. When Jesus implied that He was the Son of Man, He was either telling a magnificent Truth or an outrageous lie. We cannot try to play a middle ground here. He is either a liar or the Lord of all.

If Jesus was telling the truth, and many multiple millions believe He was, then the beginning of this story is a cue that we are talking about a real event that will happen at the end of time. It is the time when Christ will judge humanity. This is how Jesus described it:

Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on His left.’”

We know, of course, that in the Bible, the things put at the right hand of God are things that have His love and favor. The things at His left hand are things He is not happy with at all. What had the goats done to be on the right side? What had the sheep done to be on the left? This is what Jesus said:

“‘Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Matthew 25:34-36

Wow. There is a lot of information in this paragraph. God has been preparing a Kingdom for His beloved followers, His sheep, since the foundation of the world. We can see by Jesus’ descriptions that the sheep had done a lot of beautiful, compassionate things. But in the story, the sheep were confused. They had done a lot of the things that Jesus described, but they had never done them for the King Himself. So they asked Him some questions:

“‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and visit you?’ The King will answer them, “Truly, I say to You, as You did it to one of the least of these My brothers, You did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:37-40

Wow. What a beautiful King! What a wonderful heart! This King so loved His people that He called them brothers. He loved them so much that He paid close attention to who was hurting or in prison or hungry, and rejoiced when one of His own helped them somehow. He remembered their kindness as if they had done it for Him, and He kept track so He could reward them. When we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is the same as doing it for the King of Heaven! Every act of kindness will bring us blessings at the end of time.

But not everyone who calls him or herself a follower of Christ will spend their lives for Him. In this story, they are the goats. This is what Jesus said about them:

“‘Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

The goats had made choices that were the exact opposite from those of the sheep. In their daily choices, they ignored the needs of the poor, neglected to help the hungry and the sick, and refused to visit those in prison. The activities that Jesus esteemed of greatest value were not on the “To Do” list of their lives…and it would say a great deal about their hearts. This is how they responded in the story:

Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” Then He will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’”

Matthew 25:41-46

These words should be very sobering for all of us. How do we spend our time? What are our priorities? These words do not need to be words of despair or condemnation. The reason Jesus told them was to offer all of us…His disciples and every follower that would come after them…a signpost for how to honor Him with our lives. It isn’t about achieving great power or prestige…though He may call some of His followers to such roles. The central thing…the activities that bless the heart of the Master…are the choices of compassion where we choose to show His kindness those who have been most burdened and broken by the wages of the Curse.

If you think about it, this should be obvious. When Jesus came to earth, what did He spend all of His time doing? He healed the sick, made the lame walk, and freed people from their demonic bondage. These beautiful miracles were a display of the world God wanted for us…a world where there was no suffering or shame…the world He plans to bring us to at the end of time. As we wait for Him, we are to join that beautiful work that Christ began.

These were Christ’s words to His disciples in His great lesson preparing them for what their lives were to be as they served Him on earth. The way they showed their love for those who were vulnerable and hurting was a direct way to show their love for Him. This is the business of God’s Kingdom. This is what the ten virgins and the men with the talents were supposed to be about (see Story 173)…and what we are all called to as we wait for His return.

 

Story 173: On Watching and Waiting Well

Matthew 25:1-30

Vintage retro effect filtered hipster style travel image of burning candles in Buddhist temple. Tsuglagkhang complex, McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Jesus and His disciples sat together on the Mount of Olives. After several years of hearing about the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus was giving them insight into the glorious things that lay ahead for the future of humanity. He was also giving them grave warnings for those who do make the purposes of the Most High God a high priority in their lives. He did this by telling two parables.

The first parable was a tale of ten virgins at a wedding. According to Jewish custom, young unmarried girls were an important part of the wedding ceremony. In their tradition, the wedding ceremony took place at the bride’s house, and it often happened at night. The groom and his friends would join together at the groom’s house and celebrate as they made their way to the home of the bride. It was the job of the young virgins to go out and welcome the bridegroom as he came with his procession. After the wedding ceremony, the whole party would go back to the groom’s house for a great feast.

These are important things to know in order to understand the story Jesus was about to tell His disciples:

“‘Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. [That means they poured oil into them so they would continue to burn.] And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’ Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’”

Matthew 25:1-13

Wow. In some ways, this story seems kind of harsh. Those poor young girls, left out of the great feast because of their forgetfulness. Yet when we think about what choices they had made leading up to this sad outcome, we see how serious their mistake was. When a person places a high value on something, they think about it. If it is an event, they might put hours into preparation, carefully considering what they will wear and how they wish to present themselves through their behavior. For an event like a wedding, the amount of value put on the event is an indicator of the value that is placed on the couple getting married.

The choice of the five virgins who carefully brought extra oil shows they had thought ahead. They had planned in case the groom was late in coming and invested their money to have extra oil on hand. By comparison, the five virgins who brought no extra oil were showing the lack of importance of this moment to them. They wanted to receive the honor of participating without giving the honor due to those who had invited them.

In the Bible, the Lord Jesus is often described as the bridegroom who will come to take His Bride up to eternal life. This “Bride” is a metaphor for the Church, or all those who genuinely put their faith in Him. In this story, the ten virgins are like the people of our time, the ones who are waiting for the Bridegroom to come. If we are wise, we will be like the virgins who planned ahead to make sure they would be ready. We will choose to place tremendous value on that great moment when the Bridegroom finally comes to take us home. We will live our lives as those who are in waiting, using our lives as a time to prepare for His return.

The Lord went on with another parable. It has many of the same ideas:

“‘For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded them, and he made talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents, here I have made two talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered not seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew 25:14-30

This story offers a great hope and a sharp rebuke. Each one of Jesus’ disciples throughout time has been given gifts that are meant to be used for the Kingdom of Heaven. How will we use them? If we use what we have faithfully, whether we have been given an abundance of gifts like the man with five talents, or less like the man with two talents, the Lord will be greatly pleased, and we will be called good and faithful servants. But for those who squander their time and do nothing with the gifts God gives them, it will be as if they did not know Jesus at all. They will be cast out with the nonbelievers as if they never knew Him. In truth, if someone chooses to believe that God is a harsh Master that takes more than He gives, then that person truly has not known Him or put his or her faith in Him.

Consider the epic promise this parable holds out for those who use their gifts for the Kingdom. They will be welcomed to enter into the joy of the Master. This is no ordinary approval by a human boss…this is the exuberant, unending, perfect joy of the Most High God. Imagine what it must mean to enter into that joy!

Consider the epic warning this story offers for those who fail to use their gifts for God’s Kingdom. Their resentment of God and their accusations against Him will seal their fate. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is the way Jesus described Hell.

This stark contrast is not meant to drive us to despair, but to give us a dramatic comparison that makes our choice clear. In this confused and convoluted world, it is often challenging to realize the inner workings of our own heart. What is our attitude towards God? Do we give to Him wholeheartedly, striving to advance His Kingdom with the gifts He gives? Do we use them only to get what we want for ourselves? Do we see His gifts and treasures as burdens? Are our hearts full of gratefulness and trust in the goodness of the Master…or are they tightened up into bitter, toxic little wads, assuming the worst about His intentions towards us? Jesus is making it clear that the choice is ours…we can move into a life of gratitude and service, or into resentful bitterness.

Many of us have allowed our hearts to become hardened and angry. Often this is because of pain and disappointment we have experienced in life. We need to know that our attitude is a choice. We can live in the misery of toxic negativity, or we can make the agonizing choice to let go of all that…to forgive those who must be forgiven, to do the hard work of taking our thoughts captive and choosing to trust God with the outcomes of our lives…even in the midst of painful circumstances.
We can see King David, the ancestor of Christ, doing just that in Psalm 31.   One way to turn our hearts to faith is to pray through these Psalms, asking the Lord to make the words true of our own hearts:

“In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;

Let me never be ashamed;

In Your righteousness deliver me…

“For You are my rock and my fortress;

For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me…

“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,

Because You have seen my affliction;

You have known the troubles of my soul…

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;

My eye has wasted away from grief,

My soul and my body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow,

And my years with sighing;

My strength has failed me because of my iniquity,

And my body has wasted away.

Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach…

“I am like a broken vessel…

“But as for me, I trust in You, LORD,

I say, ‘You are my God.’

My times are in Your hand;

Deliver me from the hand of my enemies

And from those who persecute me;

Make Your face shine upon Your servant;

Save me in Your lovingkindness.”

 

Psalm 31:1, 3, 7, 9-11a, 12b, 14-16

Story 172: Passion Week, Day 3: The Unknown Hour

Matthew 24:32-41; Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:28-33

Hourglass, Eternity, Time.

Jesus had given His disciples the lesson that all of Israel had longed to hear. As they sat together on the Mount of Olives, He laid out God’s plan for the end of human history. Times would continue to be hard in the world of sin, and the hardships would grow worse until the time of the Great Tribulation. But the horrors of life under the powers of evil would be cut short, and the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, would return in power in a mighty flash across the sky. The Lord told His disciples to be on the lookout. He said:

“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“‘Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.'”

Wow. What did He mean when He said that all of these amazing things would happen before this generation passes away? Well, sometimes we think of generation as a group of people who was born in a certain time period. Your mother and father were probably born in the same generation, and then you were born in the next generation. But sometimes generation can mean a group of people that have the something important in common. The disciples of Jesus were men who would receive the Holy Spirit and become new creatures in Christ. They were to pass that incredible message on through the proclamation of the Gospel, and many more would put their faith in Christ. God would strengthen them to pass on the faith as well, and Christianity would grow and grow for two thousand years (so far). In that case, everyone in each century who put their faith in Jesus Christ is a member of the generation that Jesus was speaking of. The Lord will keep the Body of Christ alive until the very end when He returns to make all things new. Is it possible for us to know when that will be? This is what Jesus said:

“‘No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.'”

Wow! Not even Jesus, the Son of God, knows when the end times will come. How can that be? Isn’t Jesus God? Doesn’t He know everything?

Well, yes, He is fully God, but as we learn in Philippians 2:1-11,when He came to earth as a human, “He emptied Himself, took on the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of a man.” He grew up and learned as any other human being does. He waited on His Father for all of His understanding and did nothing apart from His Father. The Spirit of God taught Him all the magnificent truths that He taught about the Kingdom of God as Jesus depended on Him completely. It is wonderful that Jesus lived exactly as we are called to live, only He did it perfectly! He was the perfect model for how to live a fully human life.

If not even the angels or God’s Son know when God the Father will bring all time to an end, what does Jesus want His disciples to do as they waited for His return? He told His men this:

“ ‘Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house knew in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’”

Matthew 24:42-44

Do you think Jesus really meant that His disciples had to stay awake forever? Weren’t they allowed to sleep? Of course they were. They had to. Jesus was describing to them how they had to stay awake to God’s plan throughout their lives. They had to pay attention to the things going on around them and watch for the birth pangs. The Lord Jesus wants His followers to live with sharp and ready loyalty, as if He could come back any day. He went on:

“‘Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.’”

Wow. There are high honors awaiting the faithful servant! Jesus gave us powerful reasons to strive hard to do all that He has called us to. But Jesus also knew there would be many servants who would be terribly unfaithful, and He had words to say to them, too:

“‘…if that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew 24:45-51

That is a graphic and horrific warning…all the more so because someday it will be true. Yet consider the reason that the person will face such punishment. God hates it when humans hurt and oppress others. He watches over every human and pays close attention to how they treat each other. Every person matters to God, and no one person has the right to abuse another, no matter who they are. There are severe penalties for every servant that dishonors the Lord. It shows that he or she never belonged to God in the first place. There is also tremendous, lavish grace for those who truly repent.

Story 171: Passion Week, Day 3: The Abomination of Desolation

Matthew 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23; Luke 21:20-24

Earth in fire

Earth in fire

Jesus was sitting with His disciples on the Mount of Olives.  It was evening.  As they looked out on the City of Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus described to what the last stages of human life on Earth would be like, and it was a devastating picture.

There would be wars between nations. There would be great famines where many people and animals would take the long, slow path of death from lack of food and water. False prophets would rise up and claim to be the Christ, and many would follow them. It would be a time of terror, confusion, and pain.

Even in the midst of these horrors, God would continue to pursue humanity with His love. As human society and the earth groaned under the intensified suffering and weight of the Curse, the followers of Christ would carry the Good News of salvation out into the world. They would declare that the Lord Jesus had already won the way to freedom and peace, and that the end of the story was filled with hope. But just as the religious leader of Jesus’ time  rejected Christ when they met Him face to face, many would reject the message of His Kingdom when His followers proclaimed it to the world. In fact, they would persecute and destroy them.

Even as the Lord explained this hard truth to His disciples, He promised that everyone who followed Him to the end would receive a gift that is worth far more than anything they could lose in this world. They would receive everlasting life in the presence of Christ Himself.   The eternity before them was a place of perfect, overflowing abundance, a feast of happiness that would never it.  It would be more than they could ever ask for or imagine.  It was worth standing with Christ in this world to gain the immeasurable blessings of the world to come.

Imagine what those moments were like for the disciples that evening on the Mount of Olives…the cooling air, the darkening sky, the breeze, the holy city laid out before them with the massive edifice of the Temple rising up and dominating the skyline.  The history of Israel’s past stood before them in physical form as God’s Son explained the how future  history of the whole world  would unfold.   He began to describe what was going to happen in the final days, often called the Great Tribulation.

“‘So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand–then let those who are in Judea fall to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–never to be equaled again.'”

What is this abomination of desolation? What could be so terrible that people will have to flee from their homes and fields to the mountains? Well, there is a prophesy about it in the Book of Daniel. It tells of an evil prince who will come and lead the people of earth into a time of terrible corruption. Here is how Daniel 9:27 describes him:

“And he will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he shall put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, even until complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

These verses are challenging to understand. The Lord used terms like “weeks” as symbols of time that we don’t fully understand. Many think that the week was a symbol for seven years. Each day as a year when this terrible ruler will work great evil on the earth. When he puts an end to the sacrifice and offering, that is a symbol for the worship of the Most High God in the Temple that went on every day in Jerusalem. This evil leader will try to force the end of worship of the living God.

Many scholars believe that this prophecy has already been partly fulfilled. Several hundred years before Jesus, a terrible enemy of Israel named King Antiocus IV Epiphanes had the image of a Greek god put up in God’s holy temple. He ordered his men to do everything they could to desecrate and dishonor the Jewish God. He oppressed the Jewish people and made the life of Israel miserable. Other scholars believe this prophesy points to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD, just forty years after the death and resurrection of Christ. But it is clear that the full and final fulfillment of this prophesy will happen at the very end of time, when the great enemy of God, the Anti Christ, comes in power in his service to Satan and brings the worst corruption and wickedness that the world has ever seen. There is more to this prophecy to come in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Thessalonians. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, also wrote about it in the Book of Revelation. This is the last book of the Bible and it describes how Christ is going to bring this world to an end and create a whole new Heaven and Earth. As that time comes near, the world will go through a Great Tribulation.

Jesus had more to say about it to His disciples:

“‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.'”

Jesus was being very careful to warn his followers. He wanted them to know, but He also wanted them to warn the generations of the future by writing this message down in the Bible. Someday, and it could be in our own time, believers will read these words and watch them happen right in front of them. We don’t know when it will happen, but the followers of Christ have clear directions about some things they can be sure of. The Lord went on:

“‘So if anyone tells you, “There he is, out in the desert,” do not go out, or “Here he is, in the inner rooms,” do not believe it. For as lightening that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man. Where ever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.'”

The Lord made it very, very clear. When He returns, He will not come back as a man walking around on the earth. He will come with a supernatural, glorious flash across the sky that everyone on earth will see.

A vulture is a bird that eats the remains of other animals. Before a flock of vultures descends on the dead body or a zebra or a cow, they will circle high, up in the sky. The people for miles around might not be able to see the dead animal on the ground, but they know that it is there because of the vultures flying way up in the air. In the same way, when Jesus returns to judge the death and destruction of sinful men on earth, He will come brightly flashing above. It will happen in a way that nobody will be able to mistake Him. The believers in Jesus through all the centuries of history can be sure that the men and women who claim to be Christ are false. We don’t have to pay any attention to them or give them our devotion. Our Lord and Savior is going to come again…but this time He’s coming across the sky! Jesus went on:

“‘Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.””

Wow! What a glorious time that will be! After all the years of suffering, of hatred and malice and war, the Lord Jesus will come on the clouds. Read the prophecies of Daniel 7:13-14 and Zechariah 12:10-14 to see how God foretold of this magnificent time through His servants. The stars of the universe will shake, and He will be revealed to all the world as the eternal King. He will send His angels to gather the elect, His faithful and chosen servants on the earth, and bring them to Himself. Wow! Can you imagine what it was like for the disciples that evening as they sat on the Mount of Olives? Picture the lights coming on in the city of Jerusalem as twilight set in and the quiet appearance of stars in the darkening night sky.

Story 170: Passion Week, Day 3: Wars and Rumors of War

Matthew 24:1-14; Mark 13:5-13; Luke 21:8-19

Hellish city

How Jesus longed to show the love of the Father to His treasured nation. They would not have it…it went unrequited. He left the courts of the Temple and walked away with His disciples. As they went He looked up at all the massive stone walls and buildings that made up the vast Temple complex. It took King Herod’s family over forty years to build it. The Lord Jesus pointed up towards it all and said, “‘Do you see these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'”

And thus, the beginning of another great teaching from the Lord Jesus. You might remember that early on in our reading through the Gospels, we learned that when Matthew wrote his Gospel, he clumped the major teachings of Jesus into five main sections. He took all the beautiful things the Lord taught as He ministered for three years and broke them up into five major ideas. Then, when he wrote out the story, he created a section for each of those ideas so that when people read his book, everything would be laid out nicely and clearly. We talked about how the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was the first section. It is about how the members of God’s Kingdom are supposed to live their lives before a holy God. The next section was Matthew 10, where Jesus taught about how He wanted His disciples to go as they proclaimed the Gospel. There are two more sections that we haven’t mentioned, even though we have already read the stories. The third section was from Matthew chapter 13, where we see the parables that Jesus told as He preached across the land. The fourth section is found in Matthew 18-20, which gathers up all of Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness…and how He doesn’t want any of His followers to block the way for others to enter His Kingdom. Now we are going to read Matthew’s last section, where we learn what Jesus taught His disciples about how God is going to bring human history to an end. It is a fascinating epic and frightening topic. It is important for us to understand because we have to be ready…and we have to know how to live until that day comes.

As Jesus and His disciples continued on their path out of the Jerusalem, they walked down through the Kidron Valley. As they moved up along the side of the Mount of Olives they found a place to sit down and look out at the City of David. Imagine the thoughts of the disciples. Jesus had just declared that the Temple would be utterly destroyed. What could it mean? What epic events were thundering towards them? “‘Tell us,'” they said. “‘When will this happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?'”

For you see, they were still looking forward to the Day of the Lord. They were beginning to understand that it was still to come, and that Jesus would somehow return to usher it in. Now they were learning that in the midst of these things, the Temple was going to be destroyed. They were curious to know when.

Jesus had an answer ready for them. It was time for them to know:

“‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.'”

Matthew 24:4-8

Wow. Jesus was giving a glimpse of the end of time. All of these things would come like the birthing pangs that give warning when a woman is about to have a baby. Wars and famine are the warning of the terrible wrath that will come on the Day of the Lord.

We can look throughout human history and see the vicious pain and malice of war. These are things that remind us that an end is on the way. We know that many false prophets have come and tricked people into believing Christ has returned. We can look at the earthquakes and terrible famines and know that they point us to the time when Jesus will return and end all of the problems that the curse brought into the world. Yet it seems Jesus is saying here that when the end draws near, these things will increase with intensity.

The time will come when God will not let humanity live out the fullness of our sin and hatred any longer. In the midst of these great, cataclysmic events, the followers of Christ will spread the bright truth of the Gospel. They will also bear the terrible brunt of humanity’s rebellion. Jesus explained it to His men like this:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will increase, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

And there it is…the map to the end of the story…the conclusion of the grand plot of human history. His disciples were getting the inside scoop. It was a privilege that let them in on the story of their own lives, but it was a sobering message. Their task would be to fill the world with the proclamation of the Good News of Christ…and to offer up their lives in the name of Jesus. The nations would hate them, many would choose the lies of false prophets over the servants of God, and resolution would not come until the world itself was over. It was a breathtaking challenge. Would His disciples rise to it?

 

Story 169: Passion Week, Day 3: The Widow’s Mite

Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4

elderly lady begging in Morocco

For most of the Bible stories on this site, the only things added to the stories are things like geographical facts, theological insights or reminders of where we are in the context of the broader biblical narrative. The goal is to keep as close to the story as possible while providing helpful information to understand it better.  The story of the widow’s mite is very short.  It is only four verses in both Mark and Luke, yet it is rich with the background of what it would have meant to be a widow in the time of Christ and what it would have meant to trust God in such a state. How might she have leaned on the Word in her growing process of trusting God wholeheartedly? There is a reason Jesus responded to the widow’s faith with such tenderness and delight…and even holy pride? For this precious story, I thought it might help to add a backstory to help us dig into what it meant for her to trust the Lord so profoundly…

She didn’t have much. Time had worn hard on her life. Yet over the years, she had learned things that gave her a simple but magnificent freedom. Though she had loved her husband greatly, God had taken him very early, and she had been a widow for a long time. As her own years stretched on, she became more and more poor. There were days when she wasn’t certain if she would eat. There were nights that would have been much more pleasant if she had another blanket to keep her old bones warm. Yet God had proven utterly faithful in the long and lonely years. She felt the covering of her Lord over her, like a great wing overshadowing her and protecting her (Ps. 17:6-9). The Most High God had been so close. How He loved her so! She didn’t have much, but everything she had belonged to Him, and He had provided (Prov. 3:5-6; Is. 30:15). And so with her last two copper pennies, she made her way along with the crowds to the grand and glorious Temple.

The Passover Feast had come once again, and as always she wanted to bring her offering to her Lord. As she entered the gates, the religious leaders stood tall in their elegant robes, speaking to each other in dignified voices. They could hardly veil their scorn for the masses of people who clogged the Temple courts with their gifts to God. The dear widow crept on by, far beneath their notice or care. As she looked up at their imposing figures, she recognized one of them. He was the son of the Pharisee who owned the home that she and her family lived in when her husband died. It was such a nice, open place, so full of love and memory. Of course they could not afford to live there once her husband was gone.

How terrible she felt when she could not pay her last month’s rent. The Pharisee was furious with her. She supposed he had a right to be, though it was hard when he claimed all of the belongings that she and her husband had gathered over the years.  He held great power and great knowledge of Scripture.  It never occurred to her to consider whether he was right in what he did…it was what the people expected from these religious leaders.

That move was the first of many.   It was also the beginning of a whole new life with God. She began to see Him move His strong arm to protect her in ways she could not have imagined before. Strangers would show her unusual kindness, food would come at just the right time, a neighbor would give her a new tunic just as hers was wearing out. Day after day, her God had proved faithful (Ps. 18:1-19). How powerful and mighty was He! How loving and good!  When she saw the women who were consumed by their clothing and jewelry, her heart filled with pity for them.  What a burden to carry, what a barrier to finding hope in God Himself instead of all those trappings.  How precious her time with God had become, how wonderful His deeds, how beautiful His face.

These were her thoughts as she walked through the Temple courts. She had spent many years choosing to trust God, choosing to be grateful, and now grateful praise were the pattern of her thoughts and feelings. Joy was the habit of her heart (Ps. 5:10-11; 37:3-6).

As she quietly moved into the line up to the Temple treasury, she could hear the clanging of the golden coins that the rich poured into the collection drums. What a wonderful riot of noise they made. “Surely,” she thought, “They give a great and mighty gift to God.” She looked down into her hand at the little nubs of bronze that sat in her palm. They were ridiculous, weightless little coins. They were only worth a cent, but they were everything. And because of her long years of faith, because of her deep humility, knowing that she could never have enough to give her holy God, she was content to give Him what she had. He would accept them as surely as He accepted her. With a special peace she prayed:

“‘Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord God,

Bright hope lifted in her as she silently declared,

“‘The Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them–

the Lord who remains forever faithful.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry…

The LORD watches over the alien

And sustains the fatherless and the widow,

But He frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever…

Praise the Lord!'”

Psalm 146:5-6a; 7a; 9a; 10b

She knew Him. She knew the value of her offering to Him. So great was the love of the Almighty God. She lived in the shelter of His wings. And there was a wealth and abundance to her inner life.  For you see, this poor little widow was lavishly rich in faith.

That day was very busy for the Lord Jesus in the Temple courts. He taught bright and striking things about God and the future. He fiercely rebuked the leaders of Jerusalem, who used the faith of God’s people to make money for themselves and reinforce their positions of power. The contamination of their sin was everywhere.

Jesus also knew that not everyone in Israel was so rebellious. There were many who worshipped God in beauty and truth from the depths of their hearts. As He continued doing the perfect will of His Father in the Temple courts, He saw them, too.

At one point in the day, Jesus stood with His disciples across from the Temple treasury. People filed in, bringing their money offerings to God. The rich came in proudly with their large sums. How much they seemed to give the Lord! How blessed they were in this life! Many Jews believed that those who gave more money pleased God more than those who couldn’t afford it. In fact, many in Israel believed that God blessed the rich with more money because they were more righteous than the poor.

Imagine the pressure and shame this put on those who were already living in poverty. Not only did they live with the pain and struggle of having so little, they had to live with condemnation because they were poor! Once again, Jesus came to speak a bright and beautiful truth against a terrible, destructive lie.

As Jesus watched the people pour their riches into the treasury drums, He spied out a woman by herself…a widow…who crept up quietly among them. She was obviously poor. Her clothes were little better than rags. The Lord continued to watch her as she reached out her hand and dropped in two tiny copper coins.   They made no sound, especially compared to the wild jangling of the wealthy offerings poured out by the people in front of her. If anyone had been close enough to look into her eyes, they would have seen a rich and glowing delight, a contentment too deep for words.

The Lord Jesus was not so close, but He saw. He listened to the Spirit of His Father and was deeply moved.   With all the examples of faithless unbelief in Israel surrounding Him, here was a woman of true devotion. She loved His Father, she trusted Him, and the Son of God was amazed. He gathered His disciples together…He didn’t want them to miss her. They wondered what the urgency could be. With a tender smile lingering in His eyes, Jesus pointed her out.

“‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put more than all the other contributors to the treasury; for they put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.'”

Wow. Imagine the glory of the little widow! In the courts of the Temple, the King of Creation’s palace on earth, she delighted the Prince of Heaven with her beauty…an exquisiteness of trust that radiated from her humility and surrender to God. For all of the darkness and faithlessness in the nation of Israel, here was the one who could strike the heart of God’s Son with wonder. Her abandoned trust was all He ever wanted from them all…and all He requires from each of us.

Story 168: Passion Week, Day 3: The Seventh Woe

Matthew 23:29-39

fire in a glass on a black background

Jesus was standing in the court of God’s holy Temple making powerful declarations against the Pharisees and religious leaders. Now it was time for the seventh and final woe (see Story 167 for the first six woes). The fullness of Christ’s righteous wrath and hatred for sin and corruption poured out in a stunning rebuke. Imagine the fierce and holy zeal of His voice:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!‘”

How magnificent He must have been, standing in righteous glory, defying the arrogance of wicked and powerful men. The wrath of God is often described in Scripture as the filling of a cup. God endures with sinful humanity for a certain period of time until that cup is full. At that point, the cup will pour out and the unrepentant wicked will have no choice but to drink the consequences of what their choices have wrought (see Job 21:20-21; Is. 51:17-22; Jer. 25:15; Rev. 14:10 and 16:19). It is a frightening and awesome image that should drive each one of us to our knees in prayer!

For thousands of years, sinful leaders in Israel had persecuted God’s messengers. Wicked kings brought idols into God’s holy city and false prophets declared lies to the people. God sent His righteous servants…judges and prophets and kings…to purify His nation, but often, the evil men of their time would oppress them and try to silence them as they preached God’s Word. God’s wrath against those who persecuted His saints had been filling up throughout the history of God’s nation. As the religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected the Savior, as they tried to silence His message and plotted His death, they were filling that cup all the more. The time was coming when God would fully vindicate His faithful ones. His wrath was going to be poured out.

With His final woe, Jesus cried out:

“‘Ýou snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell?'”

The sin of the religious leaders was not only destroying the hope of the nation, it was sealing their own eternal fate. As the Son of God declared their final doom, did their hearts tremble at all?

“‘Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify: others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah’s son Berekiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all of this will come upon this generation.'”

Wow. What a prophecy! Jesus declared that He was going to raise up people to proclaim His truth, and these very religious leaders would hunt them down and kill them, just as the evil men of history who were full of violence and murder had done. He declared that the fullness of God’s wrath against all the terrible times of history when His righteous ones were persecuted would be poured out on the religious leaders for their relentless evil and rebellion. And Jesus predicted that it would all come about in the lives of those who were standing in the Temple courts that day.

We can look back on that generation and see that the words of Jesus came true. These very religious leaders who rebelled against their Messiah would also persecute the servants of Christ. They would put His disciples to death, chase them out of Jerusalem, and hunt them down across the land. They would utterly reject God’s magnificent blessing of honoring the nation of Israel with the Savior of the world.

How the Lord Jesus grieved! How deep was His sorrow that they did not return His love! This is what He said:

“‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Once again, the Lord was declaring a prophesy about the future. As He walked through the City of David over His years of ministry, He had longed and yearned to gather up His people in His arms, taking them under His wings in loving protection, but they would not let Him. And so a great desolation was coming. The city that was meant to welcome the Messiah had refused its purpose. And judgment would come in the form of a desolation.

We know now that this prophesy was absolutely true. Within Christ’s generation, Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed. In 70 AD, the city of Jerusalem was laid completely waste by the Roman Empire, and the nation of Israel was wiped off the map. The Jewish people fled out to other places, creating small, scattered remnants throughout the surrounding nations. They were expelled from the Land of Promise and exiled to pagan nations that had no regard for their way of life. Israel would not become a nation again for almost two thousand years. But one day, the time will come when Jesus will return. He prophesied that on that day, the people of Jerusalem will sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Finally, finally, He will gather His people…those who put their faith in Him…under His wings for all eternity.

Story 167: Passion Week, Day 3: Dirty on the Inside

Matthew 23:13-27; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47

Dirty dishes waiting for wash.

As Jesus stood in a courtyard of the Temple, He had already begun to declare His indictment against the religious leaders of Israel.  It was a mighty confrontation.  Here was the Son of the living God, pronouncing God’s rebuke against the leaders of His holy nation…His treasured possession. The abuse of their power over God’s people was great.  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (see Hebrews 10:26-31)

In the last story (see Story 166), Jesus said that while it was right for the common people to follow the teachings of their leaders that came from the Bible, they had to reject their way of life. True followers of God were meant to be people of great humility and service, which was exactly opposite of how those religious leaders lived.

Now Jesus was going to pronounce a declaration of seven woes against the Pharisees and scribes that would utterly expose them as religious frauds. Yet these woes had a far stronger power than mere accusation. Jesus was declaring the judgment of the Most High God on these men. This is what He said:

“‘But woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.'”

Wow.  Not only had these leaders failed to repent and worship their Lord, they did everything they could to force others to turn away from the Messiah as well. Instead of inviting the people into the presence of God’s love, they stood in the doorway and blocked the path.

And so Jesus declared the second woe :

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law, and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.'”

Can you hear the righteous anger of the Messiah? Can you understand His holy rage? These were the men who had been given the great and precious promises! Out of all the people on earth, they had the privilege of spending their entire lives studying God’s holy Scripture.  Yet they used their positions of power for selfish ambition. They were such terrible models of God’s righteousness that everyone they mentored became just as despicable as they were.  Jesus went on:

‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the Temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the Temple, he is bound by his oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater, the gold of the Temple, or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if anyone swears by the offering on it, he is bound by his oath.” You blind men! Which is greater; the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.'”

This third woe might seem confusing. Jesus was dealing with some very specific wrongs that the religious leaders were committing against the people of His day.  What were these oaths that Jesus was so angry about? Well, the scribes and Pharisees had developed a legal system with oaths. If someone made a promise with a certain kind of oath, it was legally binding. The person who said it had to follow through or receive a penalty. But if they said a different oath that was similar but had a few small changes in the words, then the oath wasn’t binding at all. The oath giver wasn’t legally bound to follow through.

Imagine how confusing that must have been for common people who didn’t understand all the rules. The religious leaders who knew what to say could trick the common people into believing they were making a binding oath that they didn’t really plan to keep. They could say, “I swear by the Temple” instead of “I swear by the gold of the Temple,” knowing that it didn’t count. They wouldn’t have to keep their promise.

Imagine how much this added to mistrust among the people of God’s holy nation.  Their own leaders were using the oaths of the Temple to manipulate them! In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus said that a true follower of God who lived in His presence would want to speak the truth as clearly and consistently as possible. When he said, “Yes,” it meant “Yes.” When he said “No,” he really meant “No.” Imagine the trust this would build between people if they knew that whatever the other person said was really what they meant. They could be trusted to keep their promises. That is what the religious leaders should have been teaching the nation of Israel. That is the culture they should have been fighting for with everything they did! That is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus went on:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices, mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.'”

As Jesus declared the fourth woe, He blasted the religious leaders for their poverty of obedience. It was true that the Old Testament law commanded that they give a tenth of everything to God. The religious leaders were faithful to do that about the smallest things… even garden herbs like dill and cumin. But then they lived as if the great, glorious (and much harder) obedience of showing mercy and establishing justice in their land was as nothing. As leaders with real power, it was their job to protect the vulnerable from mistreatment and shame, but they refused. They made a big deal about the rituals of religious activity from the Law as if they were the most important things, while ignoring the things that were deeply important to God, who loves justice and mercy. They were carefully straining out the gnats of obedience while swallowing the camels of injustice and corruption.

The Lord continued:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence. Blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean.'”

The cup and dish are a metaphor of the lives of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. They made sure that the outside of their lives was squeaky clean. Everything they did in front of people looked very holy and religious. But in their hearts and in the secret places, they were greedy and selfish.  They were filthy with their malice and ambition! Jesus commanded them to clean up their insides, to purify their hearts. If everything they did flowed from a heart devoted to their holy, Most High God, then they wouldn’t have to worry about what they looked like on the outside.

The sixth woe Christ spoke was a lot like the fifth. He said:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.'”

In those days, the Jews would often whitewash with chalk the tombs where they buried their dead. By clearly marking the tombs, they made sure that anyone walking by would not defile themselves by touching them. (According to God’s holy Law, it would make them unclean for seven days if they were to touch one.) This was one of God’s wise codes to help protect His people from disease and degradation…to remind them that death had no part in the holiness of their God.  Rather, it was the consequence of the human choice to reject Him, the Author of Life.  These tombs that were marked with white chalk looked like something pure and clean…yet they were still the place where the dead were kept. The bodies inside were rotting away, and all that would remain was mere skeleton. The wicked hearts of these religious leaders were filled with the same death and decay. They looked like they were pure and clean, but it was all a cover up for the rot inside.

Christ was using powerful images in these six woes to provoke the scribes and Pharisees and warn the people. There was only one more woe left. Would the seventh woe bring them to repentance?

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