Racing to the Empty Tomb

Race to the Tomb peters-face

In his painting of Peter and John racing to the tomb (John 20:3-10), Eugene Burnand (1850-1921), captures their determination and urgency. I see in this painting not only these two historical figures, but also the church, even our own fellowship. In the close-up, Peter is wide-eyed and his brow is furrowed. His mind is at work as he hurries along, perhaps thinking about all that has happened and now he has heard this report about an empty tomb. He looks worried to me, but soon that worry will gave way to wonder! The women- Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are told by the young man (presumably, an angel) to go, tell His disciples and Peter (Mark 16:1-7). We might even read it …the disciples especially Peter. Just a few days before, Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus (Mark 14:66-72). These are the ones who cannot stay awake and watch with Him in Gethsemene. These are the ones who deserted Him. They let Him down. They were not there when He needed them. They were weak when they should have been strong. They were cowards when they should have been courageous. And Jesus wants them to know that He is risen! And now they are hurrying.

It is important for us to be quiet and still before God because His grace contains all the power we need for living (Ps.37:7, 46:10, 2Peter1:2-3), and there are times, too, we are hurrying along. And, figuratively speaking, the Scriptures call us to be in a “hurry.” In Titus 2:14 we are told that Jesus gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good! Whether you are rushing to worship or to work or some appointment – I hope wherever you are going – you are inspired by the same news that caused John and Peter to race to the tomb, so that however weak you have been, however much this world has made you a coward, you might experience His strength and courage and know that such character and even more  is now ours through faith. And may all your worries – by His grace –  give way to wonder! Jesus wants you to know that He is risen!

Palm Sunday: Laying it Down for Jesus Christ, the Son of David

Many people spread their cloaks on the road while others spread branches … Mark 11:8

Palm Sunday- Lippo Memmi. JPG

The origin of Palm Sunday in the tradition of the church goes back to 4th century Jerusalem. People would gather at the Mount of Olives in early afternoon on the Sunday before Easter. At about five o’clock the passage of the gospel telling of Jesus’ entry would be read. A processional into the city would begin, and people with palm or olive branches would wave them as they walked.

Jesus approached Jerusalem by way of Bethany and Bethphage (Mark 11:1). Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem. The exact location of Bethphage is not known but it must have been even closer. He sent two disciples there to get a “colt,” a term used in biblical and other ancient literature to describe the colt of a donkey. Matthew’s account tells us that both the colt and the colt’s mother were brought (Matthew 21:7).

The action of the crowd is described as completely spontaneous. Lippo Memmi (1291-1356), an Italian painter, is one of the artists whose work adorns the Collegiate Church of San Gimignano in Tuscany, Italy. In his artistic tradition (seen above) the figures are somewhat static. In his presentation of these events, everything sort of seems like it has stopped and everyone looks so still -except the one person who steps in front and is placing his robe on the ground. He makes it just in time! His huge cloak falls into place precisely at the moment when donkey’s hoof will touch it. Here, as in 2Kings 9:13, the laying down of cloaks signifies submission to royalty.

Because of what God has done for in Jesus, the Apostle Paul calls upon us to lay down our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). When God sends forth His Spirit into our hearts that is what we should want to do! People all over the world are coming to know His power, and they want to submit to Him. They are laying down their lives in submission to the King of kings. He is coming! Want to join them? The celebration is about to start. Hurry! You’ll make it just in time.

 

 

Lent and the Grace of God

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. … Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me. Psalm 51:1-3,9-10

Honesty about our condition is the beginning of blessing. The words of David prayer – For I know my transgressions – remind us that reflection is an indispensable part of a Spirit-filled life. We are a people of joy but, like David, our joy has God’s grace and pardon in Jesus Christ as a backstory. If we accept God’s grace, we are acknowledging our ongoing need of it. As one who sought and experienced God’s grace, David tells us in Psalm 51:17, that a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  

The season of Lent is a time to contemplate the pardoning grace of God and our need of it. The church calendar marks the sacred seasons and times for believers worldwide, reminding us of God’s marvelous redemptive work in our history. It adopts the chronology given in the book of Acts with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover feast. Of course, the months and dates associated with all of the seasons and events on the church calendar, like December 25th for the birth of Jesus, are not the actual dates in history, but we know they did happen! The dates are commemorative.

As evangelicals, I believe there is great value in recovering aspects of our larger Christian tradition as a means to reflection and critique in order to help us refocus on genuine Christian spirituality in our increasingly secularized culture. Renew a right spirit in us, O God!

Birthplace

The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”  Psalm 87:6-7

 No matter where you were born, when you are born again in Jesus, God issues a new birth certificate: born in Zion.  Zion is often used in the Scriptures to point us beyond earth to heaven – “the Jerusalem that is above” Paul calls it in Galatians 4:26. The idea in the words of the Psalm seems to be that no matter where you were born or how connected you might be to your birthplace or any other place, or what your previous associations were, your place now is with Him and His family. Your “citizenship is in heaven” Paul says in Philippians 3:20.

The crowds celebrated in the earthly Jerusalem with singing and dancing. For them Zion was a place of “fountains” because their God was “the spring of living water” (Jer.2:13). Jesus tells us in John 8:37-38, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
 Isaiah 55:1 says, “Everybody who is thirsty, come”!
All week long the devil, the world, and our own flesh use every deception and device, trying to quench a thirst that only Jesus Christ can slake. In the true worship of Him, the world’s river of lies is washed away by the River of Life. I don’t how this week or today have gone for you, but never forget WHO YOU ARE and WHO HE IS. The only way to get ready to “make music” is by hearing the music of His grace.

Resurrection – the Debt is Paid!

 
 
 Jesus said to her, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned to Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). John 20:15-16
It is one of those mysterious things in life that we can often recognize someone we haven’t seen in a long time when they speak our name. Perhaps it was the way Jesus said her name that caused her to recognize Him. Jesus rose from the dead, just as He told His disciples that He would.  There are many implications to be drawn, but the most important is that this ended all the claims of God’s justice against those who know Him. Think of the gospel message this way: After a criminal fulfills the requirements of the sentence, the law has no more claim on him and he walks out of prison completely free. The gospel teaches us that Jesus Christ came to pay the penalty for us. He must have satisfied it fully, because on the third day He rose up, and walked out of the prison of death completely free. As Tim Keller has put it, “The resurrection was God’s way of stamping PAID IN FULL right across history so that nobody could miss it.”
Mary was searching for the Lord’s body and was prepared to carry it away, but all she carried away that day was the good news. That is what the church of Jesus Christ has for you, too, just the good news, no burden, only gratitude for grace. Come and join us as we praise the name of the One who has made us free.
 

 

 

 
 

Palm Sunday – Its About Him!

 

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Matthew 21:4-5

Jesus Enters Jerusalem           Sir Anthony Van Dyke

 

Upon Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophet Zechariah 9:9. But the good news of this coming King is not simply for Israel but for the whole world. As Zechariah 2:11-13 makes plain:

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst, says the Lord. Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. 

The joy of this particular moment goes beyond the immediate context and crowd of these events. ITS FOR US! Matthew believed there was something in these events that could bring joy to anyone who read of them with a believing heart. This explains why Jesus is so upset by the presence of the money changers and other businesses throughout the temple area and He runs them out. He is angry because “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17).” ITS ABOUT US.

Jesus cleanses the Temple      Rembrandt
The message which our Lord proclaims in the parables of this chapter is about us, too. We are one of these “sons” in 21:28-31. We are the new tenants of 21:41. And what exactly is Jesus’ message? Through His own death He is about to bring those into the kingdom of God who could never belong otherwise – “I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you (21:31).”
He is calling everyone who doesn’t seem to belong in the Kingdom of God, who feels too ashamed, too sinful, too hopeless, too helpless, too messed up to be part of anything that has to do with God.  Because He has done all this for us, our worship can never be about us. It is not about us. ITS ABOUT HIM! 
 
 
 

 

Not Beyond the Cure of Christ

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

The human heart is beyond a “cure” according to the Bible, it must be changed. When it comes to the spiritual condition of the human heart, the prophet Jeremiah is not optimistic (c.f. 13:23, 30:12).

The recent military trial of Army General Jeffrey Sinclair has once again exposed in public the incurable heart of humanity through the adulterous behavior and abuse of power carried out by this highly regarded military figure. In his defense, 24 of Sinclair’s colleagues and soldiers who had served with him or were under his command, came to testify about his good character.

I was especially struck by one of Sinclair’s character witnesses. He alluded to the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murderous cover-up that takes the life of her husband, Uriah. (2Samuel 11). He then went on to compare Sinclair to David, “I believe that General Sinclair is a man after God’s own heart. I believe he can be rehabilitated.” His opinion of his friend is that he is a kind of David, who is described in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22, 1Samuel 13:14).

I’m glad this soldier has friends but do not think it is really helpful or accurate to describe the disgraced general this way. This is the Bible’s comment on David in his youth and long before he commits his crimes, not in their aftermath! He was not always after God’s own heart, and the Lord’s message to David after he does these horrible things is very different: Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah, the Hittite, to be your own (2Samuel 12:10). Like all of us, David would need God’s generous grace to live with the consequences of his actions.

The general, his friend, and all of us, must realize that we deceive ourselves with talk of the human heart being cured or “rehabilitated.” It has to be “regenerated” – made new through faith in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5, Ezek.18:31,36:26). In truth, there has only been One who was consistently a man after God’s own heart and He is God’s own Son. That is is my only hope, David’s only hope, your only hope, and that is the help the general and every human being needs. When we are troubled by our trouble,
stressed out by sin, weary of wickedness, and burdened by the bad, only Christ our Savior and Lord, can be the Cure.