Tag: Messiah

Story 190: The Way of the Cross

Matthew 27:27-32; Mark 15:16-21; Luke 23:24-31; John 19:16

The Flagellation of Christ (stained glass)

The sentence against Jesus was pronounced by Pilate. His soldiers led Jesus into the Praetorium. They called the whole Roman battalion of soldiers to the courtyard. There were over a hundred men gathered around the Lord, ready to use Him for sport to relieve their boredom. They stripped Him of His clothes and put a purple robe on Him. They put the crown of thorns back on His head and shoved a reed into His right hand to act as a scepter.

Doesn’t it seem strange that they would choose to mock Christ in this way? Isn’t it ironic?

Can you imagine what it might have been like for the angels, watching the One who, for all eternity past, sat on the Throne of Heaven, at the right had of the Father…the One who they had worshiped in His blazing glory, honor and power. What was the angelic scene on Heaven and earth as they saw Him subjected to this humiliation, this nakedness, this shame?

It must have been awful, and yet what else could so fully display the profound, stunning goodness of their God? That He would endure such agony for those who are so undeserving…that He would set aside His glory for the sake of the ones who would beat and kill Him? It is a story that has captured the attention of humanity for 2,000 years…and thankfully for us, it is the myth that turned out to be true.

As the soldiers continued to harass the Lord, they began to cry, “‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” and bow down to Him in mock reverence. Then they began beating His head with the reed and spitting on Him.

Through it all, Jesus said nothing. Though He could call those angels to His aid in a moment, though by His own power He could destroy them with a Word, He stood there in absolute surrender and obedience to the will of His Father.

It was a magnificent strength, a glorious meekness. His devotion was to the High King of Heaven, and He knew that His Father was watching it all. He understood the victory that awaited Him on the other side, and He scorned the shame of all that was to follow for the sake doing His Father’s will (see Heb. 12:1-3).

When the soldiers were done mocking Jesus, they took off the purple robe and put His clothes back on Him. They lay the beam of His cross on His back and led Him out through Jerusalem on the path to His crucifixion. Meanwhile, the whole city of Jerusalem had learned about what was going on, and crowds had filled the streets.

As Jesus went along the path, the weight of the wooden beam became too much for Him. His body was in a terribly weakened state, and He fell. The soldiers took hold of a passer-by named Simon of Cyrene. He had come into Jerusalem from the country for the Passover celebration. He had no idea what God had in store for him. The soldiers pressured him into carrying the cross for Jesus. As Jesus walked on, Simon carried the heavy wooden beams, and the great multitudes followed behind.

The nation had been holding its breath to find out if this Jesus was the Messiah. The tension had been building for three years. The clashes between this radical, miracle-working teacher and the established religious leaders had only intensified with time. As Jesus made His way through Jerusalem, the rumors flew.

Everyone expected things to come to a head at the Passover Feast, but nobody expected this. How could this be? The Messiah was supposed to come in power! He was meant to rule with an iron scepter! He was supposed to conquer the nations!

Stories of the midnight trial in secret, the savage beatings, the trip to the palace of Herod, and the trial before Pilate were circulating like mad. As Jesus progressed through the city, everything came to a standstill. The noise of the morbid parade could be heard throughout Jerusalem.   The crowds came to catch a glimpse of the famous young teacher who was about to be crucified. How weak and bloodied He was! He couldn’t even carry His own cross!  Was this really the end? His teachings were so beautiful, so straight and right. For many, it must have seemed as if goodness itself was dying.

How many of them had been healed by Jesus?

How many of them had walked mile upon mile to listen to Jesus…and now watched in horror at the outcome of His life?

The humiliation of Christ had come on the one day in the year when the highest number of Jews would be in Jerusalem. It was the day of the Feast when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, but this day would also see the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The Passover lamb had been an image or a shadow of what Christ had come to do. It had been a ritual and a symbol for the nation of Israel for thousands of years. Would they recognize that the True Lamb had come?

The people who flocked to Jerusalem would all witness the sin that their nation, the one that had been chosen by God to be a blessing to all the other nations of the world, would commit against their own Messiah.

Some of the women who loved Jesus followed along behind Him, lamenting and weeping over the suffering of their Lord. Jesus turned to speak with His faithful ones:

“‘Daughters of Jerusalem,’” He said, “‘Do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us,” and the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry.’”

Luke 23:28-31

For you see, Jesus knew that the time was coming when Jerusalem would receive the consequences for this rejection of the Savior. That very morning, the high priests had declared their loyalty to the Roman Caesar, and the people had cried out that the blood of Jesus would be on their own heads and on the heads of their children. In times to come, God would let them have their way.

Within the lifetime of the crowds that clamored around Jesus’ pathway to the cross, the people of Jerusalem would learn what it meant to feel the full force and fierceness of the Roman army. There would be no mercy at all. Rome would lay siege to Jerusalem. The people inside the walls would spend months in anguish and starvation. They would turn on each other in despicable sin. Then the Roman army would attack with the full range of their powerful weaponry. The very streets that the people walked and the glorious Temple would be laid to waste, and the Jewish nation would be utterly destroyed.

Jesus knew that His terrible trial would come to a distinct end. In three days, He was going to rise again to eternal glory. But many horrors still lay ahead for the people of Jerusalem. The Spirit of Christ was so great that even in the midst of His terrible travail, He had compassion for those who were on a path to doom…and had the wherewithal to warn them.

Story 179: The Last Supper: The Father and the Spirit

John 14

Conceptual graphic illustration of glowing Christian cross with three white doves, symbolizing Jesus Christ's sacrificial work of salvation. Digital artwork composed against abstract gold colored oil painted background with texture.

Jesus shared the first Communion with His disciples at the Passover Feast. He knew that the time had come for Him to give up His life as a sacrifice, and so He gave them a ritual the symbolized His great offering. It was a command that would be followed by every generation of His Church up to today. Did the disciples understand the significance of that moment? Did they have any idea of its power?

Then Jesus began to share with them the mysteries of what was coming in the days ahead. He had to prepare them for His coming death. What He was about to say was His farewell to His dearest friends. There was much to tell these men that He had spent the last three years with. Yet in truth, this wasn’t really an ending, it was just a different type of beginning. His life with His followers was going to come in a far more powerful, intimate way, and it was going to carry them right into eternity. Jesus would no longer walk beside His disciples in His earthly body, but His Spirit would live inside them. And one day, after they finished their service for Christ on earth, they would go to be with Him for all eternity.

How could He explain all of these things to His men with the eve of His death looming so large upon them? How would they ever comprehend the glory on the other side? How could He explain the wonder and life of the coming of the Spirit before they experienced it for themselves?

This is what Jesus said:

“‘Do not be let you hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me, that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’”

Jesus was speaking of Heaven, of course. He knew He was going to die, but the much bigger picture was that He was going to be raised up. He was heading back to Heaven where He would sit on the royal throne at the right hand of His Father! They could have absolute confidence that even though the next few days were going to look like a desperate tragedy, in truth, they were the ultimate, cataclysmically greatest victory in the history of victories! Jesus was completely able, absolutely competent, and unrelentingly sure.

The amazing, quieting thing about it was that as Jesus moved forward to do the work that would transform the entire universe, He looked at these twelve simple, confused men with love and said, “I am doing this for you. You matter infinitely to me. You are a valuable part of this epic rescue mission because you are valuable to me. As I work to destroy death and sin itself, you are on my mind. And we will be together again.” They were the words of a Greater Love than the world had ever imagined.

But the disciples didn’t get it. His plans were too great and their vision was too small. Thomas asked Him, “‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’”

Jesus said, “‘I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.’”

The disciples still didn’t understand. Philip asked, “‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’”

Philip wanted assurance. He wanted something more concrete to believe in than the Words of this Man sitting before Him. He wanted proof. But Jesus was the proof. Philip had seen the miracles, he saw the bold confidence of Christ as He confronted the lies of the corrupt leaders, and He heard the powerful lessons of gleaming wisdom. For three years, He had watched day after day as the Truth of Christ untwisted and fixed what was broken. Philip wanted a moment of glory to convince him by what he could see. But true life comes through faith in believing in what is not seen. He had to trust the Words of His Master.

At the same time, there was good reason for Jesus’ disciples to be confused. The disciples understood that when Jesus spoke of His Father, He was talking about the Living God who created the universe. In the Jewish faith, the idea that there is only One True God was very, very important. One of the most treasured verses of the Old Testament read, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5). They also knew that Jesus described himself as the Son of God, which meant he was declaring himself to be equal with God. But He also called himself the Son of Man. How did it all work together? It was a mystery, and in many ways, Jesus Himself seemed to keep His identity shrouded.

The disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah. They knew He was a prophet, and they looked forward to Him becoming a King. All of these were honorable titles, but there was a far greater, more awesome truth that they had yet to understand. Jesus was God. And Jesus is God. The Oneness of God is the Oneness of the Father and the Son in perfect unity. The time had come for Jesus to make it absolutely clear:

“‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? The words I say to you are not just My own. Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.’”

The veil was being lifted. Jesus was explaining to His disciples the great mystery of the inner workings of God Himself.

But that wasn’t all. The Lord of all had come to make a way. He left Heaven and entered the world as a human being so that He could give humanity back the relationship that they had with God in the Garden. He came to reverse the separation from God that sin had brought human race. Through His own death, He would pay the price for their sin and purchase their lives back for God. The Great Separation was over. All who put their faith in Christ would be transformed into New Creatures. They would be transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light. And His life as a human was the perfect model for all of those He rescued. Now their lives could be lived in the power of God, and they would continue the work that Jesus began. Jesus said:

“‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’”

John 14:9-14

Wow, those are some pretty amazing promises. Then Jesus said:

“‘If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him for He lives with you and will be with you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Now Jesus was telling his disciples about a third mystery. Jesus is the Son, and He is One with the Father. But there is a third Person in this perfect unity of God. He is the Holy Spirit, and together with the Father and the Son they make the Holy Trinity. As Jesus prepared to leave earth and return back to Heaven, His Father was preparing to send out His Spirit. The Spirit would come into the hearts of all who put their faith in Jesus. He would give them power and guidance and comfort from the Father.

Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was not leaving them alone. He had a plan for how He would be near them even as He sat on the Throne of God. Jesus and the Spirit are One, and anyone who has the Spirit is One with Christ. But only those who have faith in Christ will have the Spirit or know that He is real.   Christians should not be surprised when those who don’t believe cannot understand what it means to have the Spirit. He is the special treasure of the children of God. Jesus went on:

Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you. Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him.’”

John 14:15-22

Wow!  Imagine how intimately the followers of Jesus are going to be bound up in Christ and the love of the Trinity! Because He lives, we live. He is in the Father, and we are in Him, so we are in the Father! Christ was going to resurrect, ascend into Heaven, and live in everlasting victory. All who follow Him and obey Him will join Him there for all eternity! It is such a breathtaking, magnificent hope that it is difficult to see or understanding. It is greater than anything the human mind can grasp.

No wonder the disciples were confused. Their hope was still set on what might happen on earth. Why was Jesus going to keep Himself a secret from the nation of Israel? Didn’t He plan to bring the Kingdom of God soon? Wouldn’t everyone on earth know about it? One of the disciples asked, “‘Lord, why do You intend to show us to Yourself but not the world?’” Jesus answered:

“‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

 Once again, Jesus did not give his disciples a direct answer. They kept asking the wrong questions. They weren’t listening. Their own hopes and ambitions were clogging their ears. They wanted Jesus to tell them about how He would overcome the Jewish leadership, defeat the Roman Empire, and establish a mighty Kingdom in their own lifetime. They wanted Him to start laying out His grand master plan, and they wanted to know what their positions of honor would be in His Kingdom once He had taken His throne.

The disciples had good reason to believe Jesus was going to reign as King in Jerusalem. Their hopes came from reading the Bible. One day, all of their hopes are going to come true, but not in the time and way they expected. We are still waiting for God to bring that time when Christ will reign in fullness of power over all the earth. (See Isaiah 60-66).

Jesus kept coming back to the disciples with their mistaken questions by telling them their true hope in this life. It was not to be found in earthly power or wealth or prestige. Their life was to be found in the hope of the spiritual realm: Nearness to an invisible God in this life, and eternal life for the next. Jesus said:

 “‘All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’”

Even though Jesus was leaving His men, God the Father and God the Son would continue to reveal themselves through the Spirit. As followers of Christ cooperate with His Spirit and depend on Him, we bring the victories of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of Darkness will not be happy about those victories, and there will be many battles and trials for God’s children. In the end, it will all be worth it. Even the best things of this world are shabby next to the radiance of what we will receive in Heaven. But Jesus knew that severe challenges still lay ahead for His disciples. The greatest of these would be His own death, so He said:

“‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give it as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’”

“‘You have heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved Me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on Me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.’”

John 14:27-31b

Wow. Jesus knew that Satan was on the move, and that His hour of sacrifice was on the way. The Father had orchestrated history so that even Satan was helping to bring about the Great Victory. Jesus was not submitting to God’s enemy by going to the cross, He was suffering because of His responsive, obedient love for His Father. When the world of rebellion, the followers of Satan, saw the absolute obedience of the Son of God, they would not be able to deny the power of His love.   Where every other human had failed, where Satan and his evil demonic forces failed, Jesus was going to succeed, and He was going to bring everyone who had faith in Him along with Him in His victory!

 

 

 

 

Story 167: Passion Week: 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?

Story 166: Passion Week: Turning Up the Heat

Matthew 23:1-12; Mark 12:38-39; Luke 20:45-46

Segnender Jesus Christus Glasfenster

The religious leaders were mad. And they were scared. Nobody, not even the most brilliant minds in the nation, had the courage to stand up to Jesus any more. He was too quick. He spoke with a power and an authority that they had no answer to.

So they stopped their questions and took their plans behind closed doors. They plotted in secret with  murderous intent, searching with all their hearts for a way to kill the Son of God.

It was the greatest irony in the history of the world.  Out of all the people on earth, the nation of Israel was chosen to be God’s treasured possession (See Exodus 19:1-6). God said that one day, He would bring salvation to the world through them (See Genesis 12:1-3).

Now that time had come.  Every year, the Jewish people held a national feast to celebrate the magnificent salvation that the Lord gave them at the first Passover when He rescued them from slavery to Egypt.  Thousands upon thousands would converge on the city of Jerusalem for the festivities. As they poured into the city, their rulers were paving the way for the ultimate salvation that God had promised.  Yet they weren’t doing it on purpose. They were doing it in spite of themselves. God would use their malice and sin to bring salvation to the world through their murder of His Son.

In the wide and powerful flow of God’s glorious purposes for human history, these men could have had the privilege of obedience.  They could have taken part in God’s breathtaking victory over sin and death. They were meant to take part in His victory! They were meant to lead the nation of Israel to repentance when the Messiah came. They were meant to welcome the Kingdom of Heaven! But instead, they chose for themselves the petty role of jealous and power hungry men.  They would go down in history as men that allowed their malice to blind them from true glory. And as always, God would take their insidious choice and use it for the very greatest Good.

As Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, He was empowered by the Spirit in absolute obedience to the Father. He knew exactly what His enemies were up to. He was fully certain of what was going to happen…and He would lay down His life knowing that in the end, He would make all things new.

But for now, the time had come for a confrontation of the religious leaders.  In truth, it was an act of compassion. He had taught them, reasoned with them, and told stories that highlighted their corruption without directly confronting them.  He had spent three years giving them a chance to repent.  It didn’t work.  Their hearts were too hard.  So now He would come with a stronger message, turning up the heat, calling them out directly.  If they still didn’t listen, it would at least make things clear for the crowds.  This is how He began:

“‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.'”

Wow. Moses was the great leader of Israel who went up Mount Sinai and spoke with God. He brought the people of Israel the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. It was the very Scripture that the scribes and Pharisees taught the people. They were in positions of great authority, yet they were in rebellion against God. Even though they were terribly sinful, these scribes and Pharisees had positions of authority, and they were teaching from the Word of God. The actions of the leaders were completely different from the good things that they taught. Jesus told the common people in the crowd that they had to separate the sin of their leader’s actions from the righteous beauty of God’s Word. They had to choose to be like God’s Word and reject the terrible model set by the leaders who taught it. Then Jesus went on to describe exactly why the actions of the leaders were so sinful.  Notice that Jesus didn’t mention the awful way they were treating Him:

“‘They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at the banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them “Rabbi.”‘”

 Wow.  Imagine if you were a member of the nation of Israel.  Imagine if the zealous religious leaders were constantly making you and your family feel like your love and faith in God were never enough?  What would that burden feel like if they kept adding more and more?  Can you imagine what it was like for the people to hear Jesus declare that the religious leaders were wrong?

Imagine these proud men, the religious leaders, walking among the crowds as if they were somehow holier and more worthy than everyone else. The phylacteries that Jesus spoke of were leather cases that held parchments of Scripture. Their tassels were a part of the clothing they wore in obedience to the Old Testament Law. God commanded the men of Israel to sew blue tassels on the corners of their garments to show that they were holy and set apart for God (see Numbers 15:40). Jesus probably wore the tassels, too. But these men didn’t wear them to honor God. They wore the tassels to honor themselves, demanding admiration and power from the common people. They were demanding the worship and honor that belongs to God alone! And then they turned around and treated the people with contempt.  Jesus was offended. He went on to explain what He desires from His disciples:

‘”But you are not called “Rabbi,” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called “teacher,” for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'”

Wow. The followers of Christ were to be completely different from the leaders of Israel. Can you imagine if everyone treated each other that way? Can you picture how sweet it would be to live among people with such kindness and humility? Jesus was calling His followers to a completely different way of life. It is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is the way He still wants us to live.

Story 165: Passion Week: Raging Against Truth and Ramping Up Sin: The Legacy of the Opinion Makers in the Time of Christ

Matthew 21:23-46; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-18

Vineyard, San Vicente de la Sonsierra as background, La Rioja

It was morning, and Jesus and His disciples were walking from the town of Bethany on the Mount of Olives across the valley into Jerusalem. As they went, the Lord  explained that because of their faith in Him, His disciples could feel confident that God would answer their prayers in breathtaking ways…they could cast a mountain into the sea if they only believed.

As Jesus spoke, did His disciples look up at the Mount of Olives? Did they trace the path from the mountain to the Dead Sea, which lay off in the distance, shining in the morning sun?

Jesus was making it very clear that the Most High God was on their side, ready to answer the prayers of His faithful servants. There was great reason to hope. Yet the Lord reminded them that in the midst of those prayers for great works of God, there was another great work necessary on the part of His disciples. It was the work of quiet obedience in the deepest places of their souls. They had to maintain hearts of sincere, unrelenting forgiveness towards others. How gently Jesus dealt with the deep struggles of human brokenness.

As they reached the Temple courtyards, Jesus began to preach to the people. As He was speaking, the scribes and chief priests and elders came rushing down on Him, confronting like a force: “‘By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?’”

What they meant was, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” It was an insult, and attempt to shame Him into silence in front of everyone. These were the men who were in charge of the nation…what right did this scrappy radical have to mess with their Temple? Just the day before He had entered the Temple grounds in a parade of celebration. People were waving palm leaves, there were claims of remarkable healings all around, and the children sang of this Jesus as if He was the Messiah. Then He drove out the businesses who had sold sacrificial animals in the Temple courtyard. Where did He get the gall to take over with His healings and teachings? THEY were the ordained religious rulers of the nation. WHAT BUSINESS DID THIS CARPENTER HAVE MESSING WITH THE SYSTEM?

So they asked: If Jesus did have authority to do these things, who gave it to Him?

They had no true interest in His answer. Their real concern was not really about protecting the Temple. It was to hold on to their own positions of power and prestige…and those goals smothered any longing to find out if He was truly from God. It choked their ability to hope that maybe He was the One they had been waiting for. It destroyed their ability to be amazed by the miracles. And so now, they were trying to catch Jesus in a trap. They had to get Him to say something they could arrest Him for. Jesus far out-mastered them:

“‘I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.

“‘Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.’”

Mark 11:27-33

Wow. Jesus made them quite an offer. If they answered Him, He would reveal His true identity. It was the answer they had been seeking for three years. There was only one problem. They couldn’t answer His question. As the religious leaders gathered together to discuss how to answer, they said:

“‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say, “Then why did you not believe him?”

“‘But if we say, “From men,” we fear the multitude, for they all hold John to be a prophet.’”

Matthew 21:25b-26

Once again, Jesus, ever the Master of Truth, caught them in their own manipulation and deception. He had turned the situation entirely around. Suddenly, the religious leaders were having to answer for their own rejection of God’s prophet. John the Baptist had called them a brood of vipers, and they had refused to repent. Now they were treating God’s Son with the same contempt. The religious leaders didn’t shake with fear that they might be offending God, but they certainly were afraid of offending the people. Their chief concern was holding onto their positions and power. They said, “‘We don’t know.’”

So Jesus replied, “‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’”

If they weren’t going to honor the ministry of John, they were not going to receive the truth of Christ, for both came from the same God.

Jesus went on to tell some parables that made the truth shine even more brightly. In the first story, He said:

“‘What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”

“‘“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“‘Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will sir,” but then he did not go.

“‘Which of the two did what his father wanted?’”

The people said that the first one was the son who truly obeyed.

“‘I tell you the truth,’” Jesus said, “ ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom ahead of you. For John came to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.’”

Wow. Can you imagine the scandal of what Jesus just said? He declared that the prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors that repented when they heard John the Baptist’s message were better off before God than the religious leaders that were standing there confronting Jesus. If we think about the power these men had, how they could intimidate the entire population, Jesus’ words were stunning and bold.

They had come declaring that Jesus had to prove His authority, and Jesus turned it right around and demonstrated that they were the ones whose authority was in question. They were in need of serious repentance. They had rejected John the Baptist, the man God Himself had given authority to declare truth to the nation. But Jesus wasn’t finished:

“‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his beloved son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said.

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’”

Matthew 21:33-40

Wow. Can you see how the tenants are like the religious leaders? They had been given temporary rule over God’s nation. The servants were the prophets of God, men like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Elijah and John the Baptist. Over the centuries, they had come speaking the truths of the Most High God to His sinful nation, and the corrupt kings and religious leaders of Israel hated them for it. Now God had sent His one and only Son, and the religious leaders were plotting to kill Him.   They were on the wrong side of Israel’s history. They were on the wrong side of God’s plan!

Jesus described what God was going to do to those who mistreated his servants in the parable. They would be utterly destroyed, and the vineyard would be given to others. Then Jesus gave an ominous warning:

“‘Have you never read the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,

the Lord has done this,

and it is marvelous in our eyes”?

Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who fails on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’”

Matthew 21:43-44

As the Pharisees and chief priests listened these parables, they knew that Jesus was sending them a message. For you see, in Isaiah 5, the prophet uses the metaphor of a vineyard to represent the nation of Israel. It begins by poetically declaring God’s lavish love for her:

“I will sing for the one I love, a song about his vineyard:

My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.

He dug it up and cleared it of stones,

And planted it with the choicest vines…”

In this first section, the vineyard is given tender care from the very beginning in order to insure it’s fruitfulness. This was just how God cared for the nation of Israel when He rescued the people from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the Land of Promise. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. In the middle of the Song of the Vineyard, the prophet declares:

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,

judge between me and my vineyard.

What more could have been done for my vineyard,

Than I have done for it?

When I looked for good grapes,

Why did it yield only bad?”

As a consequence of the bad fruit, by end of the Song, God declares:

“Now I tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard:

…I will take away its hedge and it will be destroyed…

I will make it a wasteland…”

The chief priests and Pharisees knew these verses very well. There was only one thing that a reference to a vineyard would mean in Jesus’ parable…it was the nation of Israel, and when Jesus condemned it’s leaders, it was a very bold and clear though indirect condemnation of them.

The religious leaders seethed with their desire to arrest Him, only they couldn’t. The crowds were in the way. If they tried to arrest him, there would be a riot. The crowds were filled with hope that Jesus was a prophet…and perhaps the Anointed One of Israel.

What is precious in this story is that Jesus does not end this parable with the destruction of the vineyard. Instead, He says that God is going to pass the privilege of tending to His vineyard…or His Kingdom, to those who would bear good fruit. When Jesus died and rose again, He passed the message of God’s redeeming work in the world to His disciples. They, in turn, passed it on through the power of the Spirit, and so the Christian Church was born. All who put their faith in Christ are a part of that Universal Church, and we all share in the privilege of bearing fruit for the vineyard of God.

Story 156: Blind Bartemeaus

Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-19:10

 Christ healing sick and blind people. Stained glass.

The eyes of the whole nation were on Jesus, wondering what the unpredictable young preacher would do next. Everyone knew that the most powerful religious leaders in the land had turned against Him. They were looking for any excuse to get rid of Him. Yet there was such great authority in His teaching.  It was as if He took all the gross distortions and lies of humanity and made them right and true again.  What is more, His remarkable miracles seemed to fulfill the prophecies of old.  His works of healing and freedom for the broken were so powerful and beautiful that the crowds continued to be in awe of Him.  He couldn’t be silenced.

The Lord Jesus had traveled all over the nation of Israel, starting in the north, around the Sea of Galilee where He had grown up. He began by going to the synagogues, offering the religious leaders of Israel a chance to recognize that their Messiah had come. All they had to do was honor Him. And yet they didn’t. Their determination to protect their own positions of power and status and their own rules and traditions about what God meant in the Bible kept them from surrendering when God actually showed up. What an honor it would have been for them to be the generation of Israel that welcomed the Savior! But in clinging to the honors of this world, they lost the honors of eternity.

And so Jesus left the synagogues and began preaching out in the countryside, on the hills and plains where the crowds would come by the thousands to meet Him. He traveled to the towns and villages all across the land, reaching out towards those who hadn’t come to Him, preaching the Good News of His Kingdom all along the way.

Now the time of Jesus’ preaching ministry was coming to a close. The Passover Feast had come and the people of Israel would be making the pilgrimage to offer their sacrifices at the Temple.  They would bring their wheat and lambs, but Jesus would bring the ultimate sacrifice, He, Himself.  He was going to lay down His own life. Yet His sacrifice was not only for Himself or His family and it was not only for the generation in which He was living. It was for every generation that has ever lived. And for that, Jesus had to journey straight into the heart of danger…to the City of David, the great king and ancestor of Christ. Jesus would die outside the gates of King David’s city, and in doing so, He would make the way for the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David.

This is what God promised David a thousand years before Jesus came:

I have found David, My servant;

with My sacred oil I have anointed him.

My hand will sustain him;

surely My arm will strengthen him.

The enemy will not get the better of him;

the wicked will not oppress him.

I will crush his foes before him

and strike down his adversaries.

My faithful love will be with him,

and through My name his horn will be exalted.

I will set his hand over the sea,

his right hand over the rivers.

He will call out to Me, ‘You are my Father,

my God, the Rock, my Savior.’

And I will appoint him to be My firstborn,

the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

I will maintain My love to him forever,

and My covenant with him will never fail.

I will establish his line forever,

his throne as long as the heavens endure.

Psalm 89:20-29

By the time of Jesus, King David had been long dead and the king that then reigned over Jerusalem was Herod, a man of great folly and corruption. But the True King was coming to wage war on sin and death and the victory would be totally His.

Would the people understand? Would they worship the One who had come? Did they have the courage to acknowledge Him now as He journeyed towards Jerusalem?

When Jesus and His disciples arrived in Jericho, just forty five miles outside of Jerusalem, they had been joined by a great crowd on the way to the Passover Feast. How exciting it must have been to be journeying with this radical Preacher.

Imagine the sight of the energized multitudes converging on Jericho. Can you feel the hustle and bustle of people bumping up against each other, trying to get a look at Jesus, wondering to one another what He would do next?

As they went along, they came upon a blind beggar, who sat by the side of the road. His name was Bartemaeus, and he was the son of Timaeus. When he heard the crowds coming, he asked what all the noise was about. They told him that it was Jesus of Nazareth, coming his way.

As soon as Bartemaeus heard that, he began to cry out, “‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

People began to rebuke him harshly, telling him to shut his mouth, but Bartemaeus refused. It only made him shout out even louder than before: “‘SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!!!’” Wow! That is the power of perseverance!

Jesus heard him. In the midst of the throng and the forward motion of the crowd, He stopped. “‘Call him here,’” He said. The people called out to Bartemaeus and said, “‘Take courage, arise! He is calling for you!’”

The second he heard that, Bartemaeus threw off his cloak, jumped up, and ran straight to Jesus.

Jesus asked, “‘What do you want Me to do for you?’”

“‘Rabboni,’” Bartemaues implored, “‘I want to regain my sight!’”

The Lord Jesus touched his blind eyes and said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.’”

Bartemaeus’ sight came back instantly. Imagine how he felt as the light came flooding in!

Sit for a minute and imagine all the ways his life would change.  He would see the blue sky again.  He would be able to look on the faces of the people he loved.  He would be able to work and provide for himself and his family.  The days where he had to stumble around and be led from place to place were over.

But that was not the only healing that took place. His faith in Jesus had brought the far greater healing of his heart and soul as well. He was saved!

As Jesus began to walk forward with the throng of people, Bartemaeus followed along, giving glory to God and praising Him with outrageous joy.  When the crowds saw the jubilant happiness of Bartemaeus and realized what had happened, they were amazed and gave praise to God as well.

There is so much richness in this story that is easy to see just by reading it through the first time. But the amazing thing about God’s stories is that we can never go deep enough…there is always more treasure to find if we only dig a little deeper. One of the tools we can use to dig are questions about the story. We can pay closer attention to what happened in the story by asking: What did each character say and do at each stage of the story? What choices did they make…and what other choices could they have made? And what were the impact and consequences of these choices?

For example, the crowd that was so excited to be traveling with Jesus were also very quick to try to shut up Bartemaeus.  Their reaction to him was very different from the response of Christ.  What do we learn about the people who showed such contempt for a blind beggar seeking the attention of a spiritual leader?  They seemed to like the idea of the radical nature of Jesus’ teachings and healings, yet in the practical outworking in daily life, they found it rather inconvenient.  But for Jesus, His radical words matched His radical way of life.

Or think about what Bartemaeus did when he learned that Jesus was in the crowd.  He immediately began crying out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Why did he choose to call Jesus the Son of David? Didn’t Bartemaeus know that it was dangerous to say that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah? What if the religious leaders found out? What if one of them was there in the crowd, taking notes? Bartemaeus could have chosen to cry out the name of Jesus instead. It would have been safer. But he chose to declare Jesus for who He was.  Blind Bartemaeus could see what so many others refused to see, and he was bold in faith and proclamation.

Jesus had many choices, too. He was bearing the greatest burden any human has ever had to carry…and He was walking towards the greatest suffering any human ever had to experience. Yet when He heard Bartemaeus cry out in faith, it compelled Him to stop. The whole force of the movement of the crowd was going forward; the people themselves thought Bartemaeus was a nuisance.  The disciples were there and they didn’t do anything to help him.  But Christ stopped everything to show him mercy.

There are many times in life when the people in our lives…the crowds…may fail to see what God is doing. Sometimes these people will be among the Lord’s most faithful followers.  But if the Lord has given us sight…if we have a chance to declare the Son of David…if there are ways we need to cry out for His mercy…then Blind Bartemaeus, the beggar, is our model. We are never too inconvenient for the Lord, and He will stop everything to respond to the cry of faith.

Story 149: The Coming of the Son of Man

Luke 17:20-37

Anointed One

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time studied the Old Testament, and so they knew many wonderful truths from it. They also had many questions because the Old Testament had left many mysteries. They believed that God was going to come in power to establish the nation of Israel in a special, powerful way. They read their prophets and understood that a king would sit on the throne of David again.   Some of the Pharisees wondered, did Jesus know when this was going to happen? Was He a part of the plan? As Jesus went around doing powerful miracles and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, He reminded the nation of God’s great works of power in the past. So they asked Him when the Kingdom of God was going to come.

Jesus answered, “‘The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.’”

What did Jesus mean? Well, the Kingdom was standing right next to them in the Person of Jesus Christ! It had come in a way they had not imagined. Before this point, God had sent His faithful messengers, like Moses and King David and Elijah and Isaiah, to tell God’s people about His plans and to help the nation live in His will. But they were only messengers that pointed to God. Now God Himself had come. The Son of God was the Kingdom! Through His life, Jesus ushered in the first stage of God’s breaking into the cursed world. The mighty Prince of Heaven was invading the Kingdom of Darkness and opening the way for the Kingdom of Light! The reign of God on earth was already happening in the lives of those who were putting their faith in Christ! But the Pharisees refused to believe, so they could not see!

For those who did see the light of Christ, there were even deeper mysteries to learn. It was as if they had walked through a small, hidden gate and taken steps down a small, narrow road. But with each step, new, deep, rich wonders were revealed.

The privilege of learning the hidden mysteries of God’s plan would not be given to people who had no faith. That honor belonged to those who listened to what Christ said and believed. That little step of faith took them on the path to the good things of God that will always increase and have no end (see Isaiah 9:1-11).

The Lord’s disciples had taken those first steps. They had set everything aside to follow Him, even as the powerful men of their nation turned more and more hostile against Jesus. So Jesus began to unveil to them the hidden things about what would happen when the Kingdom of God came to earth in full glory:

“‘The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, “There he is!” or “Here he is!” Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in His day will be like the lightening, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’”

Luke 17:22-25

Wow. There is a lot of amazing information in those sentences. Jesus was giving a prophecy about the future. There were times ahead when people would long for the return of the Messiah. They would hunger for the days when He would rule in righteousness. People would even point to false Messiahs, claiming that they were the Christ. But the next time Jesus comes to earth, He will not come in secret, or as an infant. Nobody will have to wonder if it is Him because He will split the sky with the flashes of His glory! It will be just as the prophet Daniel described the coming of the Son of Man over five hundred years before Jesus told these things to His disciples:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one 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 worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His Kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.’”

Daniel 7:13-14

Wow.

Have you noticed how Jesus often called Himself the “Son of Man”? That was His way of pointing to these verses in Daniel. He was saying, “I am this very same Son of Man!” When Jesus described His return, He was making it clear that it would be a fulfillment of this prophecy.

These were the deep mysteries that God knew from before the creation of the world. He has always known exactly how it is going to end, and that Jesus will have complete victory. But the road to victory was going to take a turn that almost no one expected, not even His closest disciples. For centuries, the Jewish people had wondered about what would happen when the Messiah came,  but nobody had guessed that He would come to die. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “‘But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’”

For us, that is easier to understand, because we can look back and see what He did for us on the cross. But for His disciples, those words were confusing. They didn’t fit any of their hopes or dreams. The disciples couldn’t imagine a Conqueror whose victory came through the obedience of suffering. But the suffering wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus went on to describe what it would be like when He returned:

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

“‘It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.’”

Luke 17:26-27

 Do you remember the story of Noah? For a hundred years he was building his ark.   The people of earth knew that he was a righteous man, and he preached to them, warning them to repent. But instead, they ignored him. They kept on living in their sinful patterns right up to the very day it began to rain!

In the same way, Abraham had come to live in the Land of Promise with his nephew Lot. For many years, Abraham stood for the righteous ways of God, but the people of Canaan did not change their ways. They ignored the messenger, and when they least expected it, God’s good and holy judgment came in fire. Only Lot and his daughters were saved.

It is interesting that when Jesus described what the people were doing, He did not list a bunch of terrible sins. Marrying, planting, and building are all tasks that God gave the human race to do. Each of them can be holy acts of obedience. But when life is lived separate from God, even the wholesome duties of life can become a way of rebellion. Humans were created for God. The primary pursuit of life is to love Him…that’s what we were made for. The only right way to lean in life is to lean into Him. Otherwise we lean away, crossing the line into our own determination and pride. All duties must be done out of our desire to serve Him. Everything can be done as an act of holy devotion.

The disciples had left everything to move into that obedience, and because they did, they were learning the great, prophetic secrets of the centuries past and future. But the nation of Israel, from religious leaders all the way down to the most common of people, still had a choice to make. They had been given a breathtaking privilege. The Messiah had come to their generation. Would they honor that privilege by putting their faith in Him?

Story 147: Despising Life

John 11:17-54

Senior man

It was an interesting moment in the life of Christ. He had spent time away from Jerusalem because the religious leaders were plotting to have Him killed. Yet word had come that His friend, Lazarus, was sick and dying. Lazarus lived in Bethany, a mere two miles from Jerusalem, but Jesus still planned to go to him and his family. What was really strange was that even though Jesus knew the situation was serious, He told His disciples that they would wait a few days until Lazarus had fallen asleep. He meant that He was going to wait until Lazarus died before He went to see Him. It was all a part of God’s plan to give Lazarus the amazing privilege of being a powerful testimony of his friend’s power over death.

Imagine how the word spread. A man who was unquestionably dead had been raised to life by Jesus, the very One everyone was talking about. Jews from Jerusalem had witnessed it firsthand. There was no disputing the facts. Lazarus was gone for four full days, and now he was alive.

The people of the nation of Israel were going to want answers from their Jewish leadership. How was it possible for this Jesus to have such incredible power if He wasn’t from God? If He was from God, and He was the Messiah, then what was wrong with these leaders? Why were they trying to kill God’s servant?

The Jewish Scripture was filled with stories of men who were the heroes of God and others who were His vilest enemies. Which side was Jesus on? Which side were the religious leaders? Were they on the same side as men like Mannaseh, the evil king who killed the prophet Isaiah? The king whose memory had been despised by everyone in Israel for hundreds of years? Were these men on the same side as those who had killed the prophets of God?

As the Jewish leaders went against Jesus and tried to silence Him, and as Jesus stood in His authority as the Son of God and fearlessly proclaimed the Truth, it became increasingly sharp and clear that only one side could be right. Would the Jewish leaders repent? Would they finally accept that the Messiah had come? Would God’s holy people believe?

Many of the Jews who had come to mourn with Mary and Martha and saw what Jesus did put their faith in Him. Others went to the Pharisees. Then the Pharisees went to the chief priests in Jerusalem to tell them about this new development. This was a serious problem. If this Man, Jesus, kept on deceiving the people, there would be no stopping Him. Clearly, the Pharisees could not control Him.

They called together a council of the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land. As the most powefulr men in Israel met together, they debated what to do about Jesus.

“‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs,’” some said. It was an honest question. How could they explain the miracles?

“‘If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation,’” others declared. They were trying to claim that Jesus was such a rabble-rouser that He would force the Romans to move against Israel. They would come and destroy the Temple and lay the nation to waste to quiet things down.

In the next few weeks of our reading, it will become very clear that this was absolutely ridiculous. The Romans hardly knew who Jesus was and weren’t troubled by Him in the least. Pontius Pilate, the governor that Rome sent to rule over Jerusalem, didn’t even know who Jesus was! But these Jewish rulers needed a good excuse to destroy Christ, and they could hardly admit it was because they were jealous!

Finally, Caiaphus spoke. He was the high priest with the most powerful position in the Jewish nation. By the end of his term, he would have held it for eighteen years, longer than any other high priest in his century. But he did not keep his position because of his righteous leadership or because God took pleasure over his rule. He and his father-in-law, Annas, held a dynastic-like power over the Temple and the Jewish religion, using corruption and manipulation to hold onto their influence and power. They used one of the most honored roles God gave to His people for their own selfish gain. With Jesus, they had found a new rival that they couldn’t control. They had no scruples about bringing the full force of their power against Him.

The high priest rebuked the other leaders, declaring, “‘You know nothing at all’” He wasn’t a very polite man, was he? But what he said next was even worse. He declared, “‘…nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.’”

Wow. Caiaphus had already decided. Jesus had to die. There was no desire to give Him a fair trial or to seriously consider the facts. There was no move to hear both sides of the argument about who Jesus was and the things He did. The other voices that had voiced those concerns were silenced.

Yet isn’t the way Caiaphas said it interesting? It was true. Jesus did have to die so that the nation could be saved. God had ordained that the high priest of Israel would state this prophesy, whether He followed the Lord or not. Jesus truly was going to die for the nation. As John wrote this story down, he wanted to make sure we understood this. He said that Jesus not only died for the nation of Israel, but for all the children of God who were scattered all over the world. He was talking about us! Caiaphus meant one thing with his declaration that Jesus needed to die, but God meant something far different…far more dreadful and vast in scope, and yet full of the greatest hope the world will ever know.

Another great tragedy and irony in this declaration is that the very thing that Caiaphas claimed he was trying to avoid also came true. John would know all about it when he wrote this story down years later. He must have found it stunning. In 70 A.D., the Roman Empire invaded Jerusalem and utterly destroyed it, and the nation of Israel would not exist again for almost two thousand years.

The Sanhedrin had made their decision with their high priest leading the way. From that time on, they plotted and planned about how they were going to do it. For you see, it was complicated. They had no legal reason to kill Jesus. He had done nothing wrong, They could catch Him in no deception. Not only that, but many in Israel believed in Jesus. If they tried to arrest Jesus in public, there might be a riot. Yet Jesus was always surrounded by people. How could they get a hold of Him without anyone finding out?

Word leaked out about the Sanhedrin’s plan. Suddenly everything became much more dangerous.   Jesus could no longer go out among the Jewish people. There were many in Israel that would benefit from getting on the good side of the Sanhedrin.   So Jesus made His way north to the countryside, out near the wilderness in Ephraim, and His faithful disciples went with Him.

Story 140: Counting the Cost

Luke 14:25-33

Abacus

As Jesus went around Perea proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, great crowds began to follow Him wherever He went. A great line of hostility had been drawn by the most powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem against Jesus, but He was still the most popular teacher in the nation. Many of those among the people had come to believe that He was the Messiah.

As Jesus traversed the towns and villages of Perea, He began to make His way towards Jerusalem. Everyone was watching His moves, and everyone knew that a major crisis was on the way. When the time of Passover came, there was bound to be a terrific clash. The entire nation was talking about it. Would they try to arrest Jesus? Would He bring some fantastic miracle and assert His power over Jerusalem? So far, Jesus’ miracles had been used to show compassion for others. When would He use His power for Himself?

The Old Testament told stories about angelic armies and miraculous victories for the nation of Israel over nations with far more powerful armies (Check out Exodus 14:12-31 or Isaiah 36-37). Would Jesus somehow come against the Romans and establish a throne of His own?

Many in the crowds believed Jesus was the Messiah, and they didn’t want to miss the blessings that would surely come when He chose to act. They were expecting Jesus to somehow take His throne in Jerusalem as the rightful King. They expected Him to build the Kingdom He was always talking about, and they wanted to be a part of it.

They didn’t understand that Jesus was talking about a spiritual Kingdom. They didn’t yet grasp that the Great Enemy that Jesus was going to have victory over was far greater than the Roman Empire.

Human empires may have their day in the sun, but they always fade away eventually. The real oppression of human history does not start with human leadership. It starts with Satan and the powerful grip of the Curse. That is what Jesus came to destroy, and it was a far deeper victory than anything the people of His day had imagined.

Christ’s victory would open the gates of Heaven, God’s eternal Kingdom, for all who believed in Him.

What the crowds, including Jesus’ own disciples, did not understand was that living for the Kingdom for Christ on earth was not going to look like victory…at least not right away. It was going to look like the cross.   This was not only going to be true for Jesus. It was going to be true for His followers as well.

The blessings of God’s Kingdom in this world are often the very things most people view as a curse. For the past 2,000 years since Jesus died and rose again, His followers have made major sacrifices to establish God’s Kingdom to further and further regions of the world. In fact, more people have died for the name of Jesus in our time than in any other.  It is happening today…it probably happened somewhere in the world as you were reading this post.

As His faithful ones have proclaimed the Good News, they have often come against very same hostility that Jesus was facing. Following Jesus often brings suffering and hardship. Like Jesus, the true hope of His disciples is in a world they cannot see. Someday, all who have stood faithful with Jesus will live in the lavish blessings of a Perfect World with a Perfect Savior. It will make every moment of suffering for Jesus here on earth worth it, but it will not necessarily be easy in the meantime (Check out 1 Corinthians 4, Revelation 6:9-11, and 12:10-12 ).

The Lord wanted to make the cost of following Him very clear to the crowds and His disciples. He wasn’t afraid to challenge them with choices that were meaningful enough to cost them something.  He had no intention of hiding what true devotion looks like.  In fact, He demanded it as a central  imperative for a life of true faith.

So He said:

“‘If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, even his own life- he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.’”

Now, do you think Jesus really meant He wanted His followers to hate their families? This was the same Jesus who told the people to love their neighbors…and their enemies. When the Jewish people used the word “hate” in the way Jesus was using it, they meant that you had to choose to love something less in comparison to how much more you loved something else.

For example, it is okay to love ice cream, but that love should be nothing close to how much we love our families. Compared to our devotion to parents or children, our love for ice cream should be so much smaller that it is almost like hatred. In fact, if we ever have to choose between family members and ice cream, we would “hate” or reject ice cream so that we could express love to our relatives. They are a lot more important.

As much as His disciples were supposed to love their families, their love and obedient devotion to Jesus had to come first. And if it ever came down to choosing between making family happy or honoring Jesus, obedience to the Lord had to be the most important thing. The Lord Jesus was demanding first loyalty from those who wanted to follow after Him. That meant being willing to obey all the way to death. That is a lot to ask. It is radical love. But it is no less than the radical love He has shown for us.

Then Jesus said:

“‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays down the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “this fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”

‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’”

 Luke 14:28-33

Wow. Jesus was challenging each of His followers to sit down and think: “Am I really willing to give up everything for Jesus? What if He asks for my house? My job? What if I have to suffer to proclaim His name? What if nobody understands what I am doing but the Lord? What if they all think I’m crazy? Or stupid?  What if I have to die? Is it worth it? Can I truly follow Him to the end? Can I really give Him everything?”

The scary thing about these questions is that they demand a real answer. And as extreme as these questions seem, they aren’t anything that Jesus wasn’t willing to do for us Himself. These were all things Jesus willingly gave to God on our behalf.

The life of Christ was being poured out for the people of His nation, even as they rejected Him. And His blood would be poured out to bring salvation to the world. He was the model and the hero that all who believe in Him can follow. He created the door with His own body, and then led the way through it. And He is so beautiful, so pure and so good…so not like the confused and dark things of this world, that the more we gaze on Him, the easier that becomes.

In the end, the thing that stokes the soul and makes it radiate with passion is not the vapid mediocrity of ease and compromise or selfish pleasure, but the ringing, powerful call to something greater than ourselves…and nothing is greater than Christ.

Those that truly want to be identified with Him must be willing to surrender to the Father as completely as He did. It is their radical surrender to God and their carelessness about the things of this world that testifies to the watching world that there is something far greater they are waiting for.

As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was preparing…challenging…each person to search their own heart. Would they count the cost? Were they willing to pay the price? Many would have that question answered for them when Jesus was arrested. Even those with the best intentions would find themselves faltering and failing in the face of death. Would any be left when all was said and done?

Story 139: A Feast for the Broken

Luke 14: 15-34

Road in the evening

Jesus sat at the table of a powerful Pharisee. The influential, honored religious men of the region had joined them. Normally, an invitation to dinner is meant to be a sign of friendship, but in this case, it was quite the opposite. These men had invited Jesus to trap Him so they could silence Him. They wanted Him dead.

As usual, the Lord turned the conversation upside down. How He longed for these men who claimed to love His Father to be the men of humility and justice that God required. So He confronted them through stories that told about characters that were committing the same kinds of sins to provoke new ways of thinking. He was trying to help them look at their old, entrenched ways from another direction, trying to help them see. These men were trying to kill Christ, but He was offering them new life.

In Jesus’ last parable, (see Story 138) He said that if they wanted to truly honor God, then when it came time for them to throw a dinner party, their guests would be the poor and the lame and the blind. As the religious leaders, they were meant to show the love and grace of God; they would open the doors of their homes to comfort the people whose lives who were most crushed by the Fall. It was a beautiful idea, and the very purity of it made the flashy, presumptuous tone of the feast glaringly obvious. It was so obvious, in fact, that it became very uncomfortable in the room.

Imagine how tense and annoyed these leaders were. Nobody had ever dared to challenge their ways like this before! Who did Jesus think He was to confront their honored host like that? This was no time to be talking about the poor! Didn’t this Jesus have any manners?

One of the men tried to change the subject. He said, “‘Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.’”

Jesus wasn’t about to let it go. He replied with another parable. This time He told about a great banquet. It was something like the feast that the Jews believed God was preparing for the righteous at the end of time. Of course, these Pharisees assumed that they would be there among the Lord’s most honored guests. Imagine their shock as this parable unfolded:

“‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet He sent His servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”

Now, it is important to realize something. This was no ordinary dinner party. It was a great banquet. The host had invited his guests many weeks ahead of time.   His family had gone to great expense, sacrificing other treasures so that they could shower blessings on their friends. They turned over their time and energy for weeks to make it a great day. In the days that led up to the party, great packages and carts full of wine and oil and food had arrived at the house. Everyone in the region had been be talking about it.

For a large feast to occur, it took dozens of busy hands many days to cut and slice and mix the many dishes. They would have to hire outside workers to come and help. The ovens would be going night and day, baking and roasting and grilling all of the rich delicacies that the host would offer his friends in celebration. Tables would be set out and covered with the finest of linens. lamps would be filled with oil so that the banquet could go on long into the late night hours. Imagine how the excitement would grow and build in the house as they prepared.

As Jesus told the story, He explained that when the day for the banquet finally came, the master sent his servant out to his guests, telling them that the awaited time had come. But when his servant met with the guests, something strange began to happen. This is what Jesus said:

“‘…the [invited guests] all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

“‘Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”

“‘Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”

Can you imagine? What ridiculous excuses! Why couldn’t the man go check on his field another day? Why couldn’t the oxen wait? Or why hadn’t they done these things ahead of time, knowing that this was the day of the banquet? Was the honor of the man who threw the grand feast of less value than a pack of animals?

It was clear that these reasons were not reasons at all. They were giving bad excuses on purpose, and the worst part was they probably weren’t each working alone.

They were probably working as a pack. For some reason, they had planned to humiliate the host with the most public, shocking rejection possible. In their malice, they had waited until the very last minute, when the food was cooked and the tables were all set, to let the host know they weren’t going to come.

There would be no refunds for the money he had paid for the banquet. There would be no one to eat all that food or dance to the music.   How the guests must have sneered and cackled at the thought of those grand, elegant tables sitting empty as the master and his family realized that everyone had turned on them.   The people they had counted as their greatest friends were revealed as their greatest enemies.

As the servant went from house to house to house, he found that every single one of the invited guests had joined the refusal. How heavy-hearted the servant must have felt as he carried the terrible messages back home:

“‘The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”

“‘“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has already been done, but there is still room.”

Wow. Rejection was not going to stop the master from having a feast, and his servants knew it! The new guests would be those whose lives were crushed and broken. They were the last people anyone would think to bring to a glittering, fancy affair. Imagine the blind and lame  and poor men and women as they were escorted to the brilliant tents and all the fine table settings. Imagine how they delighted in the gifts of the host! They would truly enjoy the wonderful delicacies that had been so carefully prepared! Imagine how wonderful it would all taste to those who were truly hungry.

Sometimes the greatest blessing is brokenness.  It crushes our love for the things of this world, the positions of power and pride, and helps us appreciate the deep beauty of spiritual things and our need for Christ.

What did the guests who were first invited do? When they learned who was invited in their place, did they squeal and laugh? Did they sneer because the host shared his table with people of misfortune?   Did they run to each other’s homes with the gossip, mocking the banquet where the guests were dressed in rags? Whatever they did, their wretchedness had no effect on the master of the party:

“‘…the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Luke 14:16-34

Wow, now even the travelers and outsiders along the road were invited to come in. But the malicious noblemen who had been invited first were barred completely. In their mutiny, they had excluded themselves from the grand celebration. The happiness of feasting and music and dancing was given to the ones who said “Yes” to the master of the party.

As the Pharisees listened to Jesus, they could not have missed His point. For three years, the religious leaders of Israel had been given an invitation from Jesus, and not only did they refuse it, they denounced it!   They joined forces and turned their backs on the Messiah as a united and hostile enemy. Then they tried to convince the people that this man who worked such startling miracles and told such astonishing Truth was operating in the power of Satan.

They were like the noblemen of the story, and during the time of Jesus’ life, they were doing everything they could to shame Him. But in truth, it would be to their own everlasting shame and sorrow. Unless, of course, they would repent, which was the very reason Jesus told the story.

How patiently Jesus continued to express to these men the catastrophic error they were making. How relentlessly He tried to help their blind eyes to see! But they didn’t, and they wouldn’t, and they were going to miss the banquet.

Jesus ceased preaching in their synagogues to go out to the roads and hillsides of Israel to declare the nearness of God’s Kingdom. He proclaimed good news to the poor and set captives free from every bondage. And now, in this parable, Jesus was hinting at an even greater ministry. The servants of the Master would go out into all the world, inviting people from every tribe, nation, and language group.  For there truly is going to be a Great Feast at the End of Days, and those who say “Yes!” to the invitation of Christ will join Him in a celebration that will last for all eternity.

 

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