Saturday, April 19, 2014

A New Mandate

John 13: 24 - 25 (NIV): 34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

    It was just hours before Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Hours before he would be whipped and beaten and nailed to a cross. Hours before he became sin for us, paid the price for it, dying in agony. Jesus had just washed his disciples' feet -- even Judas' feet. In a little while Judas would betray him and the disciples would run scared into the night. Peter would deny three times that he knew him.
Then Jesus pronounced a new command. You could call this the Eleventh Commandment. Jesus was elevating us loving each other to the status of being equal to the Ten Commandments. It's not that the command for us to love each other was new. God had already told the Israelites to love each other as they loved themselves (Leviticus 19:18). But Jesus was putting love at the top of what we should do as Christians to show the world who we are. And they were about to understand what loving each other really meant. Love involves sacrifice. Showing true love for someone costs you. Moments later, Jesus would say, "greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13).
Now we understand what it means to love each other. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, he showed that love is humble, that love is a servant, and that love forgives. He knew full well that they were all about to let him down.
The first word in the Catholic Holy Thursday liturgy is "Mandatum", which is Latin for mandate or command. This is where the term "Maundy" comes from. Many Christians recognize Maundy Thursday as the day Jesus washed his disciples' feet and issued a new command, that we love one another as he loved us. Because the disciples showed true, sacrificial love for one another, Christianity soon conquered Rome and is on its way to overtaking the whole world. But it will only do so if we continue to follow Jesus' command and love one another as he has loved us.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Easter 2014

Luke 24: 1 – 3 (NIV): 1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

    Here is our whole faith in three verses. The tomb was empty. The women had seen him dead and buried, and simply wanted to anoint his dead body with spices to keep the smell down. The best they had hoped for was that someone would help them roll the stone from the entrance. But it was already removed. They weren’t even happy that Jesus’ body was gone, they were saddened by this, thinking that someone had taken his body. The idea that Jesus would have risen from the dead was nowhere in their minds. When they saw Jesus alive they were astonished and amazed and overjoyed.
    Can we know this story is true? Is it just a myth or a legend? Is it just wishful thinking? Consider: Something happened in the lives of the witnesses. We have a reliable history of each of the disciples. Each of them was basically a coward. Each of them thought Jesus was going to be a political ruler who threw Rome out of Israel. Jesus didn’t – he died instead. But the disciples didn’t quit the revolution, they died for it! Would they have all died for something they knew to be a lie? Not only this, but Christianity conquered the most powerful empire in the world within 200 years and continues to change history as it changes individual lives to this very day.
    The only explanation is that the tomb was empty. But the story doesn’t end there. Soon, Jesus appeared to the disciples and many others. He appeared and spoke to the very people who had seen him die. He even spoke to 500 people at one setting. History records this, but you don’t need history to tell you that Jesus lives, you already know it if you have experienced him. Yes, the tomb was empty that first Easter morning and that changed everything. Jesus proved to be who he claimed to be – God in the flesh; the Messiah. He proved that he was the way to God and offers salvation to all who put their trust in him.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm Sunday

Luke 19: 41 - 44 (NIV): 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.

    Jesus wept over Jerusalem the day he entered triumphantly on a donkey. The people worshipped him and laid palm branches on the road before him so that the donkey on which he was riding would not have to step on the dirt. Jesus was entering Jerusalem as a king. Kings in times of peace would ride into town on a donkey in this culture. Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy from Zachariah 9:9 that said the king would enter on a donkey bringing peace.
    So, why did Jesus weep over Jerusalem? Because he knew the people of the city were going to reject him as their king. They were looking for a political Messiah and he was a spiritual one. They would chant "crucify him" within five days of his entry. And 37 years later, the Roman General Titus would enter Jerusalem and murder most of the people. He would completely destroy the temple. He would forever change the worship of the Jews.
    Palm Sunday is celebrated by churches around the world each year. But there is a dark warning we must not miss. Jesus came once into Jerusalem on a donkey. He came once bringing peace. He died once and only once. When we see him again he will be on a white horse and he will bring "the fury" of God's wrath to those who have rejected him. On his robe and on his thigh this will be written: "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." (Revelation 19:  11 - 16). Accept Jesus' peace while there is still time. When he returns he will not bring peace, but judgement.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The New Covenant

Luke 22: 14 - 20 (NIV):  14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

    This was Thursday night of Passover week. All Jews were required to go to Jerusalem to eat the Feast of Unleavened Bread and take part in the week-long Passover events. Passover was the celebration of the death angel passing over those who had the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. This was the tenth and final plague in Egypt. It was the one that convinced Pharaoh to set the Israelites free.
    So Passover was a celebration of freedom. Jesus and his disciples followed the law and had been in Jerusalem to honor the holiday. Then Thursday night arrived. Jesus and his disciples met in an upstairs room that had been prepared in advance for them. They reclined at the table and began the meal. None of the Gospels give us much detail about the meal, but we know they would have eaten roast lamb, bitter herbs, and bread without yeast, and they would have drunk wine. Scholars say the lamb was roasted over a fire using two sticks in the shape of a cross. Exodus 12 tells us how the meal was to be eaten.
    Then Jesus gave new meaning to the meal. He said the bread now represented his body, given for us, and the cup represented his blood, shed for us. His blood represented a new covenant -- a new contract. Jesus was about to pay for our sins, once for all time, and our part of the agreement is simple: we must put our trust in him for our salvation.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Jesus Prays in the Garden

Luke 22: 39 – 44 (NIV): 39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

    Here’s what Scottish Minister William Barkley said about this remarkable moment in history: “There is no scene like this in all history. This was the very hinge and turning point in Jesus' life. He could have turned back even yet. He could have refused the cross. The salvation of the world hung in the balance as the Son of God literally sweated it out in Gethsemane; and he won.” Jesus did not want to go through the agony of being abandoned, scourged and crucified. He did not want to take our sin upon himself and be separated from God; he did not want to experience the death that we deserve. 
    But Jesus knew the power to endure what he was facing came from God. He leaned on his friends – to a point – but his prayer was between him and God. He went to his usual spot. This tells us that he prayed often. He took his best friends with him, but continued on a few more feet to pray alone. And he knelt to pray. Matthew and Mark say he “fell on the ground”. Jesus humbled himself before God and that is the posture we must take when we pray. He wasn’t demanding that God do his will, he was begging for relief, or at least for the strength to do God’s will.
    Luke, the doctor, says that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. This shows us the agony he was in. He was battling the temptation to run away. He could have used his powers to escape, or he could have called an army of angels to save him. But he thought about you and me and he knew what he had to do. Jesus won the victory and purchased salvation for all who believe.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Picture of True Worship

John 12: 3 – 8 (NIV): Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages. " 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "[It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

This story happened the night before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. He was at the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. Lazarus’ sister Martha served Jesus supper, but then Mary poured a jar of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair.
    I want to celebrate her act of true worship. Her worship was appropriate for the occasion. Jesus said her anointing of him was symbolic of his impending death. True worship is always appropriate for the occasion. It was costly. That perfume cost a year’s salary! And she poured it on Jesus’ feet. David said he would not make a sacrifice that cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). So often we enjoy God’s blessings, but true worship involves sacrifice.
    This act of worship was humbling. She wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. In that culture and in any culture, this is an act of humility. David said he would become “undignified” for God (2 Samuel 6:22). Do we? Do we ever make fools of ourselves in our devotion to God? I love her example here. She was not full of pride, she was full of love. And her worship was timely: Jesus would be crucified in a week. If she had waited she would have missed her opportunity for this expression.
    And typically, someone didn’t like it. When we go all out for God we can expect criticism and opposition. John tells us where Judas’ heart really was. But Jesus accepted her worship because God should be worshiped and Jesus was God.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Immense Universe

Colossians 1: 15, 16 (NIV): 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

    The universe is apparently immense. We are in orbit around an average-sized sun, in the disk of a large galaxy. Our galaxy may have a billion stars, and there may be a billion galaxies in the universe. The earth is a dot in our solar system, a speck compared to our galaxy, and a microscopic speck in the whole universe. (This is not to mention that that are seven billion people now on this one little planet.)
    The earth is orbiting in a habitable zone which, along with several other factors, makes us extremely privileged. Almost everywhere else in the universe is hostile to life, either extremely hot or cold. And the sheer size of the universe boggles the mind. Distances are simply incomprehensible. 
    Why did God create the universe so big? I'll be honest, this has been troubling me. Why would God create such an immense universe just to put stars in our sky? And we are just now discovering how huge the universe is. The Hubble Telescope is revealing galaxy clusters we never would have imagined. 
    But it occurs to me that the size of the universe is a reminder of how long eternity is. What our size is to the universe is akin to what our time on earth is compared to eternity. I often snap my fingers and say that is how long our life on earth is compared to eternity. In the same way, our whole earth is tiny compared to all of God's creation. God is a big God. The universe is immense. And eternity is a very long time.
    After reading this column, my brother, Kevin, pointed out that astrophysicists say the universe has to be the size it is or it wouldn't work. If it were larger or smaller (keeping in mind that it is expanding) the stars could not have formed.  Everything about the earth and the universe has to be just right for life to exist and everything IS just right. Amazing.