March 31, 2013

Jesus Brings Peace - Mar 31, 2013

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About 700 years before Jesus lived and died, the Spirit of God inspired a prophet by the name of Isaiah to write about Him. You might remember reciting Isaiah’s words as a child in one Christmas Eve service or another. The prophet wrote…

6         For unto us a Child is born,
            Unto us a Son is given;
            And the government will be upon His shoulder.
            And His name will be called
            Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
            Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV).

Of these different titles for our Savior, today we seize on the last one, the “Prince of Peace”. In our meditation we’ll see how Jesus brings peace to His followers, and to the world.

A few moments ago we read a section from Luke’s Gospel. For our sermon reading we revisit that section. I’ll read it once more so that it’s fresh in our minds.

Luke 24:36-48 (NKJV)

36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them,  “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them,  “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things.
As the last of the disciples hastily entered the room, they quickly closed the door and locked it. Many emotions surged in the minds of those gathered in that room, but peace was not one of them. Uncertainty, doubt, and fear filled the minds of these men. And with good reason.

Just a few days previous their world had come crashing down. Their Master and Teacher had been arrested, tried, condemned, and crucified – all in the space of twenty-four hours.

When He was arrested, they had fled, fearing for their lives. And since that time their fear had only grown. If the powers that be were capable of having Jesus murdered, who could say what was in store for His disciples.

And now stranger events had added to their fear. There were reports from their own friends that the tomb of Jesus had been broken open, and that the Master’s body was missing. Some had reported seeing angels. Others that they had seen Jesus Himself, alive!

While you and I might think this should have led the disciples to joy, their minds had not yet put it all together. They were still gripped by fear. And so, as the disciples discussed the events that had been reported, they did so in hushed and tense voices. 

But then a new, and confident voice rang out in the room where they had gathered. A strangely familiar voice. It said,

“Peace to you.”

And as every head turned to look at the newcomer, their hearts raced faster, not with elation, but with ever more increasing fear.
Fear is like a tumor in the human mind. One that grows at an alarming rate. When the disciples first saw Jesus, they didn’t respond with joy. Instead their fearful minds gathered in still more fearful thoughts. This must be a ghost! A disembodied spirit come to visit some terror upon them! And they shrank back from Jesus like He was a leper.

But with a calm, and slightly scolding tone, Jesus questioned them, saying,

“Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

If it had been you or me reassuring a loved one that it was us, we might have pointed to a scar, or a tattoo, to prove it. But Jesus had more recent and telling marks to show His disciples. He held up His hands, which still bore the nail holes made to secure Him to the cross. With these he motioned to His feet which bore the same.

But Jesus could see that they still held on to the ghost idea. They still thought that it too good to be true. So, Jesus asked for food and ate it in their presence. And finally, the tense hearts of the disciples relaxed.

They could see that He wasn’t just a ghost. But now, what would show them that He was truly the Master whom they had loved so much? What could prove He  was Jesus, the man whom they had traveled with for years? How about something that He had told them in private? Yes. That would do. Jesus spoke once more, saying,

“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”

Once when they had been alone with Jesus, He had told them that He must suffer and be rejected by the chief priests, that He must be killed, but He would be raised to life again on the third day as ancient prophesy had declared (Luke 9:22). And He had repeated this same thing to the disciples a number of times. Once on the final trip to Jerusalem, again in the upper room on the night He was arrested. (Luke 9:44, 18:31-34, 22:37)

Somehow they had failed to grasp His full meaning on these occasions, but now Jesus helped them to see how His words matched perfectly with what had now taken place.
Fear for their lives had robbed the disciples of their peace. Confusion over recent events had done the same. But now, the Prince of Peace had come to restore their peace by explaining it all.

Jesus’ words to those fearful disciples was like powerful medicine massaged into sore muscles. It worked from the surface inward. First He assured them that He was no ghost. Then that He was indeed their loving teacher who had known God’s plan all along. And then the medicine of Jesus’ words worked all the way to the deepest source of their anxiety – their guilt.

Unless a person has burned away their conscience completely by repeatedly embracing sin, all humans feel a level of guilt over things they have said, done, or thought. The disciples felt this guilt, just like we do. But Jesus now addressed this final antidote to peace. He said,

“Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

We all harbor a sense of mortality in our hearts. We know that one day we will die. And we fear some sort of accounting for the things we’ve done. We sense that we fall short of what God expects. As the Bible clearly declares,

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NKJV).


“…the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23 NKJV).

That’s why it was necessary for Christ to suffer. He suffered for our sins. To take the punishment we deserve away forever. And because Jesus successfully did this by His cross, God the Father raised Him from the dead on the third day, again, as was foretold.
The Prince of Peace brought peace to those first fearful disciples by telling them their sins were now forgiven. And He brings that same peace to us today as we celebrate His resurrection.

Jesus told them that all the crazy events that had recently taken place had happened for a purpose. Now that forgiveness had been earned for sinners, the message of repentance and forgiveness must go out to the nations. Others must hear that message, believe it, and experience the peace that comes with it.

It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if the people you’ve sinned against don’t forgive you. Because Christ died in your place, God forgives you all your sins. You have peace with your Creator, through His Son. That’s why Isaiah called Him, the “Prince of Peace”!

In the book of Romans it does indeed say,

“...the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a NKJV).

That’s eternal death, not just physical death. That’s eternal separation from God and all His goodness! But that same verse goes on to say,

“…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b NKJV).

That’s the prize we find in the Easter egg of Jesus’ tomb. Free forgiveness for all our sins, and an eternal place in God’s Kingdom of grace.
When Jesus appeared to those first disciples, He swept away their fear and doubt with His physical presence, and with His words which explained all those confusing events.

Just as Jesus’ resurrection brought them peace, it also brings us peace. The resurrection is the Father’s stamp of approval on all that Jesus said and did. The resurrection says, “The sacrifice was accepted. Believe the promise. Your every sin is now gone – through Christ Jesus.
Before we close our meditation this Easter, let me direct your attention, once more, to the last words Jesus spoke to His followers here. He said,

            “And you are witnesses of these things.”

The work of saving sinners from Hell was all Jesus’ work. None of the disciples had a part in it. The weight of our sins fell on His back alone when He suffered for us on the cross. But the disciples were there for a reason – to see. And they were there in that locked room to do the same – to see, and hear, and touch – to become His witnesses to the world. This was their role to play. They were to testify concerning the peace that Christ gave them and how it was done. And they did. Their testimony, written down on ancient parchments and copied throughout the centuries is the reason we have gathering here today to celebrate the resurrection. We have come to trust in Christ as our Savior through their words.

And today, like them, we have become witnesses once again. We have seen and heard in our minds what the first disciples saw and heard with their eyes and ears. We are witnesses to the love and forgiveness God has extended to the world of sinners in His Son, Jesus Christ.

When you leave this room today, take that message of forgiveness with you. Hold it in your heart, and it will continue to give you peace and strength. Speak of it with your mouth, and it will become the possession of others as well.

It is a simple message: You’re a condemned sinner, but Jesus is your Savior. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be troubled. Don’t doubt. Trust in the God who keeps His promises.

And when the fear sets in, and the worries gather around you, remember those fearful disciples huddling in that locked room. Remember Jesus’ first words to them,

            “Peace to you”.

 And remember that the Prince of Peace, who once was dead – He  is Risen!


March 29, 2013

Jesus Lost Prayer - Mar 29, 2013

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Matthew 27:45-46 (ESV)

        45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Prayer is simple thing. In catechism class we describe prayer as “a heart to heart talk with God”. A hymn writer once described prayer as, “the Christian’s vital breath” – meaning that frequent prayer shows faith to be alive, just as continual breathing shows the human body to be alive.

The ability to speak to our heavenly Father at any time, in any place, about any thing, and to know that we are heard and will be answered in the best way possible – that is precious.

When has prayer been most precious to you?

Perhaps you were in mortal danger, and it was impossible for anyone else to hear you. Perhaps someone you love was great danger, and it was impossible for you to do anything to resolve the situation. Or perhaps you have found prayer most precious over a long period of time. A time when you toiled under some ever-pressing burden, and only found relief by praying your anxieties to God and trusting His promise to answer.
During His earthly life, prayer was very important to Jesus. Before the Son of God became human, He had existed in eternity in a perfect relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. When God the Son because human, He very naturally continued to communicate with His Heavenly Father.

When the Son of God became human, communication with the Father became more important than ever. Because now the Son of God was experiencing human life in a broken, sin-filled world. Now the sinless One was being tempted on a constant basis. And if He was going to offer His own soul to rescue sinners from Hell, then He needed to remain perfectly sinless.

And so during Jesus’ ministry, we often see Him sneaking away to pray to His Heavenly Father.
As Jesus drew closer to the cross, and to the climax of His earthly suffering, He continued to pray.

At the Last Supper Jesus prayed for His disciples, that they would be kept from temptation in the hours to come. That their faith in Him would remain, and the Devil would not triumph over them.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed with such deep tension in His soul over the coming battle, that blood forced its way into His sweat and fell in great drops on the dirt.

Prayer was Jesus’ instinctive reaction to everything. When the soldiers finally drove the nails home through His hands and feet, Jesus prayed for the soldiers saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
But prayer wasn’t just important for Jesus, He also instructed His followers to pray.

The same communication the Father that Jesus had, He wanted His followers to experience.

The Bible tells us that Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, even giving them a model prayer to use. We call it the Lord’s Prayer and still us it today.

Through the apostle Paul God instructs us to…

“pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

That is, to be just like Jesus, constantly speaking with God.

In Philippians 4, we are told that instead of worrying, we should unload our cares on God through prayer.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 NASB).

Here we learn that our communication to God isn’t to be like so many childish prayers, merely asking for things that we want. As Christians, our prayers are to also express our thanks and praise to God for all the blessings that we have received from His gracious hand.

The unbelieving world around us sees prayer as a last resort, or as merely a psychological exercise that offers relief for some. But the Bible tells us that prayer is much more than “talking to an imaginary friend”. Through prayer we connect with our powerful Creator. Through prayer His power flows into our lives. In James 5, it says…

“…the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:15-16 NASB).

Jesus encouraged His followers to speak to God as their own Father, noting that if sinful human fathers know how to give good gifts to their earthly children, then our Heavenly Father will certainly give even better gifts to those who ask Him in faith. (Matthew 7:11)
But, the Bible reveals that there was a time when Jesus’ prayer fell on deaf ears. As Jesus hung on the cross of Calvary, the Father withdrew from the Son. And that precious line of communication that had existed from eternity – was severed.

As Jesus hung crucified in the supernatural darkness of the first Good Friday, at around three o’clock, He cried out in a loud voice, saying…

“…My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV).

Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, an ancient Psalm which predicted how Christ would suffer on the cross. But Jesus wasn’t just quoting the Psalm, He was experiencing what it described. He was feeling what separation from the Father meant. He was literally suffering Hell in my place, and yours.

We know that Jesus wasn’t just being dramatic, because the Bible says that the full penalty for our sins against each other and against God, is separation from God and all His goodness. And the Bible also tells us that Jesus suffered the full penalty for our sins. And so even though we can’t comprehend how it could be, we know with certainty that the Son of God was truly cut off from His Father when He cried out these words.

This is something that we have never even come close to experiencing. No matter what pains we’ve felt, or what horrors have invaded our minds in our darkest hours, none of us have experienced a complete severing from God’s goodness from our lives.

But Jesus did.

The connection that the Son had enjoyed before the universe was made, the connection which had been so precious to Him in the garden of Gethsemane and through everything He had suffered to this point – that connection was now gone. He now felt the full weight of Mankind’s sins being heaped on His soul, with NO ONE to help Him bear it. No one.
When Jesus finished drinking the cup of our suffering down to the very bottom, He asked for a different drink. With the suffering of His soul complete, Jesus now asked for some meager draft of relief for His body. And with His mouth moistened, He said,

“It is finished” (John 19:30 NKJV).

With the work of salvation complete, He once again entered into communion with His Heavenly Father, and cried out in a loud voice what would be the final words of His earthly life,

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV).

And then He died.

And here is the point. Because Jesus suffered the complete punishment for our sins, our debt of sin has now been paid. All who trust in Christ’s promise of forgiveness are ushered into intimate communion with the Father. Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, we can now talk to God as our own Father, knowing that He smiles down at us, not as sinners who deserve His wrath and anger, but as sinners declared saints through His Son’s cross.
And to help us grasp the significance of Jesus’ death, the Father gave a sign to the world that His sacrifice was accepted. In just a few days Jesus would be raised from the dead to show He had done His Father’s will and the debt of sinners was truly paid. But at the moment of Christ’s death the Father gave a lesser sign, a preview of things to come. God tore the Temple veil in two from top to bottom.

In the Jerusalem Temple, the veil was a huge curtain that separated the most Holy room of the Temple from the rest. That room, called the Holy of Holies, represented God’s presence with His people. All year long it would lay in darkness until the one day when the High Priest would enter it to offer a blood sacrifice for the people’s sins.

But now, that huge curtain was torn open. Now light flooded into that room showing that the way to God had been opened to all by Christ’s suffering and death.

No more High Priests would be needed, and no further blood sacrifices. It was finished.
As followers of Christ, we often close our prayers with the phrase, “in Jesus’ Name”. We pray this not because we’re praying FOR Jesus, but because we are enabled to pray BECAUSE of Jesus. We know that the Holy God doesn’t hear the prayers of faithless sinners. But through simple trust in Christ, sinners like you and I are declared cleansed and forgiven. Through faith in Jesus we are given the gift of open, unhindered communication with God.

Because Jesus was cut off, we are invited in. This is why we pray, “in Jesus’ Name”.
So pray, dear followers of Christ! Pray to the Lord constantly! Bringing your sins to Him each and every day, and know that you are forgiven because of Christ’s cross. And remember that the precious and powerful gift of prayer is ours, only through of Jesus.

Because Jesus was severed from the Father and was not heard, now we are forgiven and heard, when we pray in His Name.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

March 24, 2013

Beneath the Surface - Mar 24, 2013

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When I was a kid growing up in Lemmon, South Dakota, we lived about half a block from the town library. Our little library wasn't all that big, but it did boasted something that I haven’t seen in other libraries. On one shelf near the librarian’s desk there were two stacks of ancient comic books, each about a foot high. You could look through these piles of dog-eared comics and pick out as many as ten. The librarian didn't even write down the titles, you just told her how many you had, and she wrote it down on your record. 

From reading through those comic books over and over, I learned that the axiom is true – you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Some of the covers on those old comics depicted their super heroes struggling in ways that didn’t actually have anything to do with the story in that particular comic book.

And of course, we find this same thing playing out in our daily lives. What we see on the surface of things, is often very different from what we find below.

This is true of our sermon reading for today. On the surface it looks as if Jesus is being accepted by the masses as the true Messiah. But when we look below the surface, we find a little different story. The part of God’s Word on which we focus our attention today, is found in…

John 12:12-19 (NASB)

  12   On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
  13   took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”
  14   Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written,
  15   “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
  16   These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.
  17   So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him.
  18   For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign.
  19   So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.”
Palm Sunday is all about this event: Jesus entering Jerusalem on the first day of Holy Week. This cheerful reception happened just five days before Jesus would be nailed to a wooden cross outside the city.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. This religious festival lasted a week long. Thousands of pilgrims streamed to Jerusalem, and to the Temple there, for this celebration.

Jesus would spend the week teaching the crowds of people and battling His enemies. They would engage Him time after time in word wars, trying to get Jesus to say something that would make Him look bad, and would turn the crowds against Him. Palm Sunday was Jesus’ first incursion into the city that week, the city that was home to His most powerful human enemies.

Now you wouldn’t think that just entering the city would be a big deal. But the WAY that Jesus entered Jerusalem ended up making quite a splash. To understand WHY, you have to know a little background about what Jesus had been up to lately.
Not long before Jesus headed to Jerusalem for the Passover, He had raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. Now, this wasn’t the first time that Jesus had raised someone from the dead, but it was the most remarkable time for a couple of reasons.

Jesus had raised a little girl from the dead in Capernaum, but when she was raised she hadn’t been dead for very long. If you were a doubter, you’d just say, “Well, maybe she wasn’t really dead at all”. And this resurrection took place behind closed doors, in the room where this little girl had been sick. There weren’t many witnesses.

Jesus had also raised a young man from the dead in the city of Nain. This miracle had been a little more public. Jesus had met the funeral procession as they carried the young man’s body to the tombs. But even though there were more witnesses on this occasion, doubters might still say, “Well, maybe he wasn’t really dead, and Jesus’ touch just shook him out of his sleep coma”.

But when Jesus raised Lazarus, it was astounding. Not only  were there many witnesses, Lazarus had been dead and entombed for four days. When Jesus had told them to open the door to the tomb, Lazarus’ sister protested, saying that by now there would be a bad smell in the tomb.

But Jesus had the door opened all the same. And when He called Lazarus to come out, the dead man listened, and Lazarus exited the tomb alive again, dressed in the grave clothes in which they had laid him to rest.
The resurrection of Lazarus had happened just a short time before Jesus came up to Jerusalem for the Passover. It was fresh in the minds of all the people. Also, Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, had lived in the city of Bethany. That was less than two miles south of Jerusalem!

During the week of the Passover, Jesus didn’t stay in Jerusalem. He  would stay in Bethany and would walk in to Jerusalem each morning.

So, on the day before Palm Sunday, a special meal was held in Bethany, in honor of Jesus. The recently resurrected Lazarus was at this meal. So was Mary, Lazarus’s sister. It was at this meal that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive and aromatic perfume. She was no doubt thanking Him for raising her brother from the dead. No doubt she was also expressing her faith that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

This, of course, was too great an attraction for the crowds in Jerusalem to stay away. Jesus and the man He had raised from the dead are both in Bethany?! And so people began to shuffle out of Jerusalem to head for Bethany. And many of those who came and saw, left believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)

The raising of Lazarus from the dead, was the catalyst which brought about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

As Jesus got ready to head to the holy city on the morning of Palm Sunday, people rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the masses that He was on His way. And crowds came out from the city to greet the man whom they now believed was the Messiah sent from God – the King of Israel.
That they truly believed Jesus was the Messiah is shown by their own words and actions. They went out in droves to cut down palm branches in order to make a green carpet for Jesus to enter the city on. Some even took of their own cloaks and laid them on the dirt so that the little donkey could walk on them – and not on the dusty ground.

They greeted Jesus with bits and pieces of Psalms. There were Old Testament Psalms, which spoke of the Messiah to come. And this crowd of praising people openly called Jesus the “King of Israel”.

Of course, by this they didn’t mean just a lowly king like Herod, who ruled under the Roman overlords. They meant the eternal king that God had promised to old king David. Over a thousand years before, God had promised David that some day, from His family, would come a king who would rule an eternal kingdom. The crowd looked at Jesus and saw this Messiah King.

With their joyful cries that Palm Sunday they were telling Jesus, “We know of your great power! We know who you must be! And we praise you as our great king!”
On the surface, their words and actions sound good and right. They were proclaiming the truth. But under the surface, they didn’t really understand what kind of Messiah King Jesus had come to be.

They just saw the amazing power He had. I think we can imagine what they must have been thinking. The Jews had long chaffed under the insensitive and sometimes brutal rule of the Roman Empire. And now a powerful liberator had come to them. How could Rome ever hope to stand against a general who could heal diseases and raise His soldiers from the dead?!

But this was not the kind of King that Jesus had come to be. His reign would be much more significant than this. Instead of liberating the little nation of Israel from the rule of Rome, Jesus had come to free mankind from sin and sin’s divine consequences.
Jesus hinted at the kind of Messiah He was coming to be by the animal that He rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. That morning, Jesus had instructed two of His disciples to go and get a donkey from a certain place and bring it back for Him to ride into the city. This was unusual. Jesus usually walked.

And it’s all the more strange when you think of the immense power that Jesus had just so recently demonstrated. You would think that the man who could walk on water, heal lepers, and raise the dead from their tombs would choose a more potent symbol of majesty and strength than a little baby donkey. Yes, it was actually not just any donkey, it was a foal.

Jesus’ disciples had no idea what He was doing. But later they would understand that Jesus had chosen this little donkey to fulfill another Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah. In the book of Zechariah there’s an ancient vision of the Messiah King, and in this vision He is described as being humble, coming to bring salvation to Jerusalem, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

But at the time, the disciples didn’t understand that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy. And they also failed to see past the surface to understand the symbolism of this shaggy creature.

A donkey is a beast of burden. You use them to carry things you don’t want to carry. Jesus came to Jerusalem in order to bear the burden of our sins.

This particular donkey was a little baby. It wasn’t a symbol of strength and power. It was a symbol of humility. Jesus came to humbly accept the punishment for our sins, and to carry that burden away forever by suffering and dying, in our place. 

He came humbly, to bear the sinner’s burden. That’s is the significance of the little donkey.

But they didn’t understand. Not the people. Not the disciples. As was the case with so many of the times that Jesus fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah, the people around Him didn’t understand until after He Himself had been raised from the dead.
It’s a sad thing that when you look past the surface of these events, you find a hollow faith. These people praised Jesus for His outward power, but ultimately they missed the point. They did not grasp the true significance of the Messiah King – that He was there to take their sins away forever.

Faith in Jesus merely as a miracle worker, is not saving faith. This brand of “faith” happened back in Jesus’ day, and it still happens today when people treat Jesus like a good-luck charm, or merely a good person to pray to when you really need something.

Is Jesus these things? Sure. But that’s just the surface. True faith in Jesus, saving faith, starts at the cross. Saving faith clings to the fact that Jesus suffered and died for ME, because more than anything else, Jesus is Mankind’s Savior from Sin.

He didn’t come to end hunger by feeding everyone miracle bread. He didn’t come to end thirst by giving people miracle water. He didn’t come to end governmental brutality by destroying the regimes of tyrannical men. He came to restore sinful mankind to a right relationship with God by absorbing the punishment for sin, thus cleansing sinners from guilt. THAT is the Messiah King that God’s Son came to be.

Let’s be careful not to praise Jesus like the crowds did that first Palm Sunday, merely for His power over death, or His power to help us in our daily lives by getting us out of debt, or landing us that new job, or restoring our health, or whatever thing we might be praying about. Instead, let’s make sure that our praise always begins at the cross.

THERE our sins were suffered for. THERE our greatest debt was paid. The debt we owed to God. THERE we were cleansed by the blood of God’s own Son. There we are made citizens of the Messiah’s Eternal Kingdom.  

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, help us never to treat Jesus like a good luck charm. Help us not to come to Him only to ask selfish prayers. But instead, help us to see our sins, and to come to Jesus for forgiveness, and to praise and thank Him for this forgiveness. Lord, help us to learn to know who you are beyond the surface, through reading your Holy Word and meditating on it day by day. Thank you Jesus for going to Jerusalem and facing all that you did to make us your people. We praise you from the heart today. Let all who gather here today also praise you in heaven one day, carried there by faith in your cross. Amen.

March 17, 2013

Jesus Gave Up Justice - Mar 17, 2013

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Every school day, countless children across the United States say the pledge of allegiance. Standing by theirs desks, with right hands over their hearts, and with eyes focused on the flag, they recite…

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Liberty and justice are things that Americans have taken seriously. This isn’t to say that America is free from tyranny or injustice. It’s not. But I think that we Americans can appreciate all the constitutional statements, amendments, and laws that have been drawn up to protect the freedom that we Americans enjoy.

I think we can appreciate things like due process. The fact that, in this country, there are rules when it comes to arresting, indicting, convicting, and sentencing someone who is accused of a crime.

I think we can appreciate the fact that we aren’t ruled by a team of thugs who serve as judge, jury and executioner at their own whim.  

While we may complain when some rich person ducks justice by the use of high paid lawyers, we still have to appreciate being able to defend ourselves in a court of law if needed. We aught to appreciate being able to stand up and give our side of the story before a jury of our peers.

We aught to appreciate the 8th Amendment to our constitution which prohibits excessive fines and the use of cruel and unusual punishment when sentencing the guilty.
But as we turn our thoughts to Jesus this Lent, and meditate on the final days and hours before His crucifixion, we can’t help but see that justice was something Jesus gave up.

Jesus had great injustice impressed upon Him by evil men. And when He was actually given the opportunity to seek justice for Himself – Jesus refused. And of course we all know why He did this. Jesus gave up justice for Himself, so that He could be condemned and crucified in our place, thus erasing forever, the divine charges that stood against us because of our sins.
There are two major places in the passion history leading up to the cross where we find great injustice inflicted on Jesus. The first of these is in the mock trial that was held before the Jewish Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin was the 71 man court that pronounced judgments on civil and church matters for the nation of Israel. But in Jesus’ case, the Sanhedrin didn’t really function as a true court.

First of all, they didn’t arrest Jesus is a straightforward way. He was teaching and preaching in the Temple courts during the week leading up to His crucifixion, but the Sanhedrin didn’t arrest Him out in the open. Instead they secretly secured Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, to sell him out so they could arrest Him in the dark of night. This arrest came before any formal charges were made, or any crime identified. It was an unjust arrest.

Once the Sanhedrin had Jesus under custody, they summoned a special meeting in the palace of the high priest. This meeting wasn’t an official meeting of the Sanhedrin. Official meetings weren’t held in private residences, they were held in a special courtroom designed for that purpose.

There is also reason to believe that many members of the Sanhedrin weren’t even present. Men like Gamaliel and Nicodemus probably wouldn’t have gone along with an outrageously illegal proceeding like this.

Also, the so-called trial was begun in the dead of night. Records of correct protocol state that new cases were not to be started in the evening, nor even in the afternoon, but only in the morning. In addition to this, no cases were to be held on Sabbaths or festival days. Jesus was arrested on the night the Passover feast was celebrated! This was clearly an unlawful court proceeding to say the least.

But all the same, the Sanhedrin held it’s mock trial of Jesus, with witnesses and all. Now, usually the witnesses that were called upon were informed with an elaborate system of warnings and cautions concerning their testimony. But the Gospel writers give us no details that this was observed. Instead, we’re informed that the witnesses brought to speak against Jesus were false witnesses! Witnesses that were so poorly coached that their testimony contradicted and couldn’t be used, even in a mock trial like this.

Since they couldn’t get a good case worked up against Jesus using coached witnesses, the high priest instead turned to questioning Jesus Himself. In America have an amendment that specifically says that a defendant doesn’t have to speak in court if he doesn’t want to. It’s all to easy for an experienced lawyer to make the average person sound guilty by asking crafty and loaded questions. In America we can ‘plead the fifth’. Not so with Jesus.

At the close of Jesus’ mock trial, the Sanhedrin declared Jesus worthy of death, but curiously, they didn’t use the formal wording that was typical for the Sanhedrin when making an official judgment. No formal charge was reached. And that was because this ‘inquiry’ was really only held as a kind of brain storming session in which the members of the Sanhedrin figured out what charges they were going to lay before the Roman governor when they asked to have Jesus executed.

But even without a formal charge, and without an official judgment, hose holding Jesus took the liberty to punish Him after the Sanhedrin was done for the night. We’re told that as the Sanhedrin was dispersing for some sleep, Jesus was spit on, and beaten. They put a bag over His head and punched Him. Mocking Jesus’ claim to be God’s messenger, they demanding that He prophesy who had hit Him. This was a clear case of police brutality.
In the morning, the Sanhedrin sent Jesus to be Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. They didn’t have the right to execute a criminal, and they needed Pilate to do it for them. As a side note, they also didn’t really want to be the ones officially responsible for Jesus’ death just in case the crowds of religious worshipers in Jerusalem got angry at about His murder. Pilate could take the blame if it came to that. Essentially, they were going to try to employ Pilate as their hitman.

This much is obvious, because when they brought Jesus to Pilate they just handed him over and said, “Here, we brought you a man who deserves to die. Trust us”.

But Pilate wanted to know why. As the Roman governor, it wasn’t his practice to just do whatever the Jews wanted, especially when it came to capital punishment.

When Pilate pressed then for charges, they said that Jesus told people not to pay their taxes, and declared Himself to be an earthly king over Caesar. It didn’t matter to them that Jesus had never condoned rebellion and had that very week taught that people should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. That is, pay your taxes to the king, but give your worship to God.

Now, when Jesus stood before Pilate, He was in a real courtroom. And thanks to Pilate, real charges were demanded, and made. But all the same, Jesus found no justice here. This is second place on the road to the cross where great injustice was inflicted upon Jesus.

After Pilate had questioned the Pharisees and Jesus at length, he declared Jesus to be innocent of all charges – and certainly NOT guilty of anything that was worthy of death. This pronouncement of innocence was made by Pilate a number of different times before the mob of angry Jews.

But this wasn’t justice. And if any accused person in America were treated like Jesus was, the whole population would be outraged. The mob refused to accept Pilate’s verdict of innocent. So Pilate tried to appeal to their humanity.

Pilate had Jesus scourged. Without any crime to deserve it, Jesus was whipped severely by a trained soldier, and presented to the mob bloody and torn, to be pitied. It didn’t work. They just cried out for crucifixion.

Pilate’s soldiers beat Jesus severely and dressed Him up in mock royal robes and a crown of thorns, again, to influence the mob to call for His merciful release.

When this didn’t work, Pilate turned to yet another strategy. It was customary to release one death row inmate to the Jews at the time of the Passover. So, Pilate selected a convicted rebel and murderer name Barabbas and asked who they really wanted him to release back into society, Barabbas or Jesus. But again, no dice. They asked for the murderer’s pardon and Jesus’ execution. This defies the purpose of all true courts of law! To knowingly release a dangerous and convicted criminal, and to condemn an innocent man.

In the end, Pilate even appealed to their consciences in a way that was characteristically Jewish. He had a bowl of water brought out to the place where verdicts were pronounced, and he washed his hands before them, saying that if this man was crucified, it would not be Pilate’s crime. This judicial murder would be on them. Any true jury would surely take this appeal to heart and step down from their demands, if nothing else just to make sure they weren’t in the wrong, weren’t executing an innocent man. But this didn’t work either. 

Finally, Pilate succumbed to their demand and, even though he had repeatedly declared Jesus ‘not guilty’, Pilate gave the order that Jesus be crucified to death. This was open murder.

Through all this, Jesus hadn’t lifted a finger to seek His own justice. He calmly and quietly submitted, giving up all hope of justice, in order to carry out the Father’s plan to save sinners.
And there was one final court where Jesus experienced great voluntary injustice. On the cross, He was condemned in the place of all sinners. He not only suffered the pain of nails, and on-going mockery, and slow exhaustion – He also suffered the Hell of separation from His Heavenly Father.

At 3pm on the afternoon of Good Friday, as He hung suffering in a supernatural darkness, Jesus cried out,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV).

These were no empty words. The Father had withdrawn so that Jesus could suffer the full punishment for your sins, and mine.

In Philippians 2 it says,

“…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philipians 2:8 ESV).

In 2 Corinthians 5 it says,

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)

Because the innocent Jesus had no justice, condemned sinners like you and me don’t get any justice either – for if we really got what we deserve, it would be hell. But because Jesus got unfathomable suffering and death, we have been given complete forgiveness and eternal life.

Like it says in John 3,

God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).
As we go about our daily lives in this country, we can and should appreciate the justice that is so commonplace in our land. But as we turn our thoughts to Jesus this Lent, and always, perhaps we can take recite a better pledge in our hearts.

I pledge allegiance to the cross of God’s own Son my Savior, and to the forgiveness for which it stands, one sacrifice under God’s wrath, His gift to me, with liberty and forgiveness for all.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

March 10, 2013

The Bliss of Not Knowing - Mar 10, 2013

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I’m not really a quiet person. I’m a talker. When issues come up in the relationships of my life,  I want to talk them out. Get everything out on the table, sort it out.

This desire for sharing, or maybe it’s just insecurity, extends to all my relationships to a degree. I want to know what other people think, and what they think of me personally.

Have you ever wanted to crawl into someone else’s mind? I imagine all of us, at one time or another, have desired to know what others were really thinking.

But imagine what would happen if God granted us the ability to know the minds of others. To know every thought passing through their brains.

At first it might be exciting peering into the thoughts of others. But before long, this “blessing” would become a curse.  For we are all sinners. And many of the thoughts that cross our minds are ugly, hurtful, or unfair.
This Lent we’ve been meditating on things that Jesus didn’t have, that we enjoy. NOT knowing what others think is sometimes a tremendous blessing. But often, the bliss of not knowing was something Jesus did not have.

Take for example all the times that Jesus interacted with the religious elite of His day. The Pharisees. On the outside these men seemed pious and godly. Very concerned with observing God’s laws. But on the inside, their hearts were hard and dead.

Listen to this interchange between Jesus and the Pharisees found in Mark 3.

      “1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 3:1-6 ESV).

Perhaps Jesus didn’t have to use divine knowledge to know what was in the Pharisees hearts here. He could tell by their silence. But there were other times when He miraculously read their inner thoughts, knowing exactly what they thought of Him.

How many times did Jesus perceive the thoughts of those around Him, that they disliked Him and refused His message? How hard was it for Jesus to love them anyway. To know that He was going to sacrifice so much for them, that He was going to suffer hell on the cross, for the sins of those who hated Him.
Maybe you’re wiser than me. Maybe you’ve never wanted to crawl into the mind of someone else. Maybe you’re content to know what is needed, and no more. When people want to spill their hearts to you, your first thought is, “Whoa! Too much information! I don’t need to know.”

But maybe you’d still like to know what the future will bring. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just didn’t know what was going to happen, and you wished that you didn’t have to wait to find out? You wished God would just give you a crystal ball so that you could know what was going to happen?

I imagine all of us, at one time or another, have desired to know what was coming in our own future.

But again, imagine for a moment what it would really be like if God granted your wish and laid your whole life out before you on timeline. Every struggle. Every pain. Every heartache. Every disappointment. And you could mark them well.

If we actually knew the hard things that were destined to come our way, that knowledge would be a curse. The anticipation of painful events would weigh on our minds, making a double tragedy of every bad situation. First we’d agonize over what we knew was coming, and then that pain would come. In effect, we’d suffer every trouble twice.

Jesus didn’t feel the bliss of not knowing when it came to many of the things He suffered. He knew that Peter, one of His closest friends, was going to passionately  deny that he had anything to do with Jesus. Jesus knew that Judas, one of His other apostles, was going to sell Him out to His enemies, betray Him with a kiss, the sign of close friendship.

In Mark 14 it says,

“…Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same” (Mark 14:26-31 ESV)

In John 6 we hear Jesus say,

“’…Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’ 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him” (John 6:70 ESV).

How it must have weighed on Jesus’ heart to know these things ahead of time, and yet be unable to do anything about them. He must be betrayed. The disciples would abandon Him. Peter would deny Him.  

And as the day of His crucifixion drew near, Jesus’ heart became more and more filled with tension, and a deep sorrow. On the night when Jesus was to be betrayed, He took His disciples out to a special garden that they knew in order to pray there. In Matthew 26 we read,

37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:37-39 ESV).

Luke adds this detail,

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 ESV).

Throughout history, when people have perceived that great disgrace or suffering was coming their way, they have often been moved to commit suicide to escape it. Others have fled from whatever burden was descending on them, even if it meant that people they loved would suffer because of their cowardice. Many who have remained to face their fears and bear their responsibilities have found them to be too much, and have suffered mental breakdown when facing great stress.

A normal person in Jesus’ shoes would have been broken. But He endured. Though driven to the point of death by sorrow over all that He was to suffer in the place of sinners, though sweating great drops of blood, Jesus remained to shoulder our burden. It was as if He suffered everything for us – twice.

This is love. To know the evil hearts of others, and to still reach out to them. This is love. To know the immeasurable pain that was coming, and to remain on that path to finish the task of redeeming sinners. This is love.

If you doubt that Jesus loves you, bear in mind that He knows all your faults and failings, knows all your hidden sins. And yet He calls out for you to trust in Him through the Gospel. If you doubt that Jesus loves you, bear in mind that knew the suffering that your sins had earned, and He stepped in the gap so that suffering would not reach you. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
We aught to strive to know each other, so that we can help bear each other’s burdens. But we also aught to appreciate NOT knowing the full extent of the evil which passes through the hearts of others. And we should appreciate the fact that Jesus DID know, and loved us all the same.

Sometimes knowing what trials are coming our way can help us to prepare for them. But there are plenty of times when NOT knowing what suffering will touch us is a blessing. But we should remember that this was a luxury that Jesus did not have. He knew what suffering was coming His way, and He went to the cross for us anyway.
As Christians we can find comfort that we will never suffer to the extent that Jesus did. Not even close. He suffered the wrath of God that was stored up because of our sins. Now that wrath is gone. In Christ, we can rest, knowing that the cup of God’s anger over our sins was drained when our Savior died.

And furthermore, God promises His followers that whatever trials come in life, they will not be too much for us because He will lend His shoulder to bear them. All who trust in Christ, rest in Christ. We know that no matter what evil things Satan throws our way, God will make that evil serve to bless us. God promises those who trust in Christ that He will guard us, protect us, and finally take us away from all suffering when He transports us to His side in heaven.
Ignorance is bliss.

Sometimes this is true when it comes to our neighbors. Sometimes this is true when it comes to our future.

But when it comes to God, we are tremendously blessed to know what He thinks of us. To know that because of Christ, He no longer sees our sins. Just like God promised in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah,

“…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV).


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.