Resurrection Sunday

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In a major way Christians are who are because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is one of our biggest holidays because of this fact. Churches are packed on Easter Sunday as regular attenders consider it a special day to gather with fellow believers and those who don't worship consistently also come out of either moral obligation or just a simple cultural habit. But I would contend that Easter should be so much more to you than a cultural habit. The resurrection of Jesus Christ must hold more significance to you than a neat story to hear once a year. Jesus' rising from the dead is the greatest historical event our world has ever seen and the implications of it have direct bearing on your life right now. Because he conquered death, he really is the God he claims to be; he really is Lord of the universe and in control of all things - including your life!

So how do we know that the resurrection is a historical fact? I think there are several solid evidences and I would invite you to consider them, especially in comparison to the implications of the alternative. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, what happened? That's a tougher question to answer than you may think. Here are some of the strongest evidences that I believe demonstrate the fact that Jesus is the God who created everything, sustains everything, and when he died as a human being, he really did get back up.

First, the actions of his disciples are remarkable. We just saw how all of them fled after Jesus' arrest. None of the disciples other than John were even present at his crucifixion. They were all hiding in a house with the doors locked on Saturday for fear of what might happen to them if it was discovered that they were Jesus' boys. However, they didn't stay fearful and timid for very long. Just a few weeks later these same men were proclaiming Jesus' lordship to anyone who would listen in Jerusalem! As you know, Jerusalem was where Jesus was executed. Luke records one of these amazing acts of boldness in Acts chapter 4. Peter and John, both disciples of Jesus, are standing before Caiaphas - the very man who orchestrated Jesus' crucifixion by holding an illegal trial, falsifying testimony, and bringing him to Pontius Pilate. Caiaphas has ordered the men to stop proclaiming the forgiveness of sin found only in Jesus Christ. Peter's response is incredibly bold, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."

Peter is the same man who famously denied Jesus three times in public because he was terrified of the consequences of being associated with a Roman prisoner. Now only a few weeks later he is being arrested, not for mere association with Jesus, but actually preaching that Jesus is the only way to heaven! And rather than be silenced for doing so, he challenges the very man most responsible for Jesus' murder that his words hold no authority over Peter's because Peter is proclaiming salvation through Jesus - a message from God. Amazing. 

Peter and most of the rest of the disciples died gruesome deaths for preaching about Jesus all over the world. You have to ask yourself why they would be willing to do that and process the reasons throughly. Sure there are many religious fanatics willing to lose their lives for their cause. But these men all knew Jesus personally, and their specific message was that he had risen from the dead. Their specific place of ministry was Jerusalem at first - the easiest place to confirm or deny whether or not Jesus had actually risen. If his body were in the grave, it wouldn't take much time to produce it and shut the disciples up. If they were making the whole thing up, why would they take their lie to the grave? And if it were some sort of delusion, how did "over 500" (i Corinthians 15) experience the same delusion? How did that delusion manifest itself in 27 books of the New Testament written as an articulate explanation of a faith centered around a resurrected Jesus Christ?

Most baffling to me is how does James, Jesus' brother, come to faith that his big bro is the Lord of the universe and die for preaching that? If you have siblings you understand how significant that is. I have a sister who I have never believed is the Lord of the universe, and I would never be willing to be tortured for proclaiming that she is. I love her, but she is definitely not God! The same assertion is easy to make about me. Not only would my sister never claim that I am God, but she could easily do the exact opposite and tell the world of all the faults she knows that I have. Only one thing explains James' conviction that he should worship and pray to his brother - he really did see him live a perfect life and rise from the dead.

Finally, we should also keep in mind that the first recorded witnesses of Jesus' resurrection were women. Modern day we hear a lot of rhetoric about how misogynistic our culture is. Whether or not that is true we can all agree that Western society has progressed far beyond the way things used to be. At the time of the resurrection society considered women to be second class citizens. Women could not hold office, get a job, be educated, or own land. And most relevant to the resurrection, women were not even allowed to give testimony in court. It was considered invalid. So why would Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all record that it was women reached the empty tomb first? Because they sought to record the historical details as accurately as possible. Had the story been fabricated, they would not have included such an astonishing detail. Mary being the first to witness the resurrected Jesus is in our Bibles because that's what actually happened!

The bottom line is this: historical evidence weighs heavily in favor of Jesus' resurrection being a legitimate historical event. The evidence we have have that this happened are as reliable, if not more, than evidence stating that Julius Caesar was once the emperor of Rome. No one disputes that and no one should dispute Christ's resurrection.

The implications of this are huge. Jesus says that no one gets to Father except through him. Since he resurrected, he has proven that to be true. Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Since he resurrected, he has also proven that to be true. The Bible says that all who believe in Jesus are given everlasting life; because Jesus rose from the grave, he has proven that to be true. Salvation through Jesus Christ and him alone is simply TRUE, and you would do well to believe that. This Easter, don't allow the day to go by as just another day where you do your cultural duty and go to church with your family. Let Jesus be a consistent part of your life. In fact, the Bible would contend that Jesus is your life (Psalm 63:3)! Worship and follow him for that is what you were created to do; his resurrection has proven that to be true. 

Holy Saturday

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And they all left him and fled
— Mark 14:50

It is just five words in Greek but this short verse in the fourteenth chapter of Mark speaks volumes. Those who followed Jesus during his public ministry had numbered in the hundreds with people flocking to hear him teach, sometimes swelling into multiple thousands (John 6). But now that he had been executed as a Roman criminal, his followers were at a grand total of zero. "They all left him and fled." John's gospel gives us the detail that when Jesus was taken away the disciples locked themselves in a house "for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19). They knew that association with Jesus meant trouble for them since he had been crucified. It was likely that the same fate awaited them as his companions, so they hid in fear and despair. Jesus predicted this would happen and he told his disciples as much on the night of the Last Supper. "You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, 'I will strike the Shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered'." (Matthew 26:31). 

There was a misunderstanding on both sides about what Jesus had come to do. At some level the disciples were ready for a political revolution. Peter even drew his sword (what's a fisherman doing with a sword!) to fight off the guards who seized Jesus in Gethsemane (John 18:10). While Pontius Pilate didn't find any wrongdoing in Jesus, there was still some trepidation on the part of the authorities. Jesus was being hailed as a king and he had a large following. This potentially had the seeds of a revolution that the Romans needed to crush. That fear is exactly what the Jewish Court played upon to convince Pilate that Jesus needed to be killed. Therefore, when Jesus' execution was complete, the disciples feared that they would be next.

While the disciples fear and despair is understandable to some extent, Jesus did predict his death and resurrection on several occasions. They should have known that. Even the Pharisees knew that Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead. They stated as much when they asked Pilate to put extra guards at Jesus' tomb because "that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise'." In fact, when Jesus does return from the grave on Sunday he mentions just as much to the disciples on the road to Emmaus saying, 

"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)

Not only should the disciples have picked up on the nature of Jesus' mission from the Old Testament, but Jesus' own words to them were sufficient to understand. In John 2 he identified his own body as the temple that would be torn down only to be risen again in three days. In John 10 he presented himself as the Good Shepherd who has the authority to lay down his life and take it back up again. In John 11, just days before Holy Week began, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and proclaimed that he is the "resurrection and the life" and those who trust in him would rise again. Matthew even communicates to his readers that Jesus spent time explaining to his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem to die and resurrect (Matthew 16).

The disciples imagined a Jesus who had come to improve their physical situation. They were citizens of a tiny nation subjected to the oppression of the Roman Empire. They had to pay excessive taxes to a gluttonous empire who would brutalize those who didn't comply. They were told to hail Caesar as their king and possibly even one of the gods. They had to witness suspected criminals be tortured and executed under the violent capital punishment of Roman law. These men wanted to be free, and we can all identify with that emotion. However, Jesus' mission was much greater. Overthrowing Rome is a small thing. Jesus came to topple the real enemies: sin, death, and Satan.

Oftentimes we find ourselves in the same mindset, looking to Jesus to improve our physical situation and then despairing when he doesn't. We want better jobs with more reasonable bosses, higher pay, and great benefits. We want our relationships to run smoothly. We want to be successful in whatever we set our minds to. We want stability and control in every aspect of our lives. These aren't necessarily bad ambitions, but when we are willing to scatter from Jesus when we don't get them, then we have a problem. Our mindset needs to be on a grander scale. Jesus is Lord of the Universe and his primary concern was to inaugurate the coming of the Kingdom of God by overthrowing the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil. This should be our focus as well. We want to put our complete faith and trust in Jesus and follow him to the end.

This means that we will not always get what we desire. Things will not always go our way. Being a Christian doesn't guarantee that your job won't downsize and let you go. It doesn't mean that your kids will always be obedient, honor roll students. It doesn't mean that your car will never break down at inconvenient times. Being a Christian means that your rebellion against God and his laws are forgiven. It means that you are a citizen of a new kingdom - a kingdom that lasts for eternity. It means that as a recipient of grace you have been commissioned to be gracious. As a Christian, you are called to share with your friends, family, and neighbors the good news that on Friday Jesus died for the sins of the world and tomorrow, Easter Sunday, he rises from the grave to defeat death once and for all. That is why Jesus came and that is where all of our hope should reside.

Good Friday

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Judas’ betrayal comes to its climax late Thursday night identifying Jesus with a kiss at the Garden at Gethsemane. The Gospel of John makes it clear that Judas knew where Jesus would be because it was a place where Jesus frequently went to pray. John also makes it clear that this was Jesus’ intention. He purposely went to Gethsemane to be captured, “knowing all that would happen to him” (John 18:4). It’s important to remember that Jesus went to the cross willingly. After Jesus finished praying Judas shows up with a crowd of armed men from the chief priests and scribes to arrest Jesus. What transpires next is nothing short of the epitome of criminal and evil.

First, the guards take Jesus to a trial before the high priest Caiaphas… at night. The law stated that trials were to be held during the day and in public. Yet, these men opted to break the law – men who were held in honor as the religious leaders and examples of society. They secretly and willfully schemed to have a private trial at night. Not only did they subject Jesus to an illegal trial, but they also sought false testimony against Jesus since they didn’t have any actual evidence against him (Matthew 26:59). Soldiers beat Jesus, spit on him, and mocked him, challenging him to prophesy who hit him. A fair trial was far from their concern; they simply wanted to put Jesus to death and they were willing to snap the rules in half to do it.

Unfortunately for the chief priests their scheme had a plot hole. Israel, being subject to the authority of the Roman Empire, didn’t have the authority to execute anyone. Doing so would have resulted in the Jewish court losing its privileged status in Israel under Roman control. So they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea where Jerusalem was located. Only he had the power to pronounce a capital sentence. Somehow the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, needed to convince Pilate that Jesus was guilty of breaking Roman law and deserving of death. But as Pilate looked this extraordinary prisoner in the eye – a prisoner whose kingdom is “not of this world” – Pilate could not find a legitimate reason to render a guilty verdict.

Pilate tried to pass Jesus off to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch over Galilee because that was the region from which Jesus had come. Herod, like many Galileans, had heard that Jesus was a miracle-worker and simply wanted to see a magic trip. But rather than oblige, Jesus remained silent as Herod sends him back to Pilate for a second time. At this point all of the tension finally comes to its apex. Jesus is mishandled, whipped, and beaten severely, all without even a hint of a guilty verdict. The backboneless Roman governor sought to release a prisoner to be free as was customary at Passover time. He presents Jesus and a criminal named Barabbas to the crowd and asks them to make their choice. The crowd, having already been swayed by the chief priests and looking at a beaten and bloodied Jesus cheer for Barabbas and demand Jesus be crucified. The trial was complete and Jesus was sentenced to die.

On Friday afternoon, as Jesus hangs from the cross with nails in his hands and nails in his feet, we are reminded that all is going according to plan. In Psalm 22, hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, David writes a song lamenting “they have pierced my hands and feet” years before crucifixion had even been invented (22:16). The Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes and divided his garments which Matthew tells us is a fulfillment of Psalm 22:18. As dehydration sets in the soldiers mock Jesus by giving him sour wine, as his broken bones lay bare for all to see from the severity of his wounds. We are reminded here of the description of David’s thirst and agony in Psalm 22:14-15. And as Jesus cries out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” our minds are drawn to Psalm 22:1, which opens with the same words.

 Jesus was not the victim of a plan gone wrong. He was not subject to the evils being done around him, ultimately succumbing and losing his life. Jesus was in full control. “For the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). This had been Jesus’ plan all along. It was his MISSION. Think back over the course of this week for a moment. On Sunday Jesus arrived in Jerusalem as a humble servant on the back of a donkey. On Thursday evening he knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet, demonstrating that service is the greatest mark of a leader. And finally today, “Good Friday,” Jesus accomplishes his role as the Suffering Servant of the book of Isaiah by being “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” for “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

You and I are desperately sinful people. If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t even live up to our own moral standards. We can’t be on time for work as often as we want to be; we don’t tell the truth even when we want to; we try to avoid anger, pride, and jealousy but consistently give way to those emotions anyway. According to God’s law, we are deserving of death – death for eternity in hell. God’s sentencing for us is a fair judgment that none of us can dispute; we are consistent law-breakers on trial before the Perfect Judge. This is why today should be rebranded “GREAT Friday,” because Jesus Christ willingly gave in to the agonizing death on the cross to pay for our sins, not his own. Those nails, that crown of thorns, the beatings, the spitting, the mockery – all of it is what we deserve, yet Jesus did it for us.

He died so that we may live.

Maundy Thursday

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Thursday of Holy Week would be the last time that Jesus gathers with his disciples prior to his crucifixion at noon on Friday. All four gospels give us some of the details of the setting and the conversation, but John’s gospel is by far the most detailed. He gives five chapters (13-17) of Jesus’ “final” words to the men who were closest to him and commissioned to carry out his mission. In these chapters Jesus demonstrates what being a servant-leader is all about during the Last Supper; he institutes a new command; he promises the arrival of the Holy Spirit; he leaves his disciples with some final words of wisdom; and he prays to the Father on behalf of the disciples as well as all who would follow him in the future, including you and me.

In John 13 Jesus and his disciples gather together to share in The Lord’s Supper. During these moments we see something of the unique love that Jesus has for those who follow him as Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and explains to them that service is the best form of leadership. Being a Christian does not simply mean eternal life or an escape plan from hell or a crutch to hold onto in difficult times. Being a Christian is to be in a close, interpersonal relationship with the Lord of the universe who created you, sustains you, and has forgiven you of all the wrong you have done and continue to do. Here in John 13 we find the King of Everything humbly washing the feet of his disciples in an amazing demonstration of the fact that the greatest leaders are servants first.

As he breaks bread with his disciples, Luke records Jesus as saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” And as he gives them the wine he says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus’ words echo those of Moses in Exodus 24 when God established the “blood of the covenant” at Mount Sinai. Here, God establishes an entirely new covenant with his people, not like the old one. This covenant would be a covenant of grace through the death of Jesus that was about to take place on Friday. Salvation now comes to all who put their faith and trust in Jesus alone. What a reminder the Lord’s Supper is that our God loves us so much that he would die for us, dine with us, and give us this meal as a way to continue to remember the greatest demonstration of love that has ever been done!

Later in the meal Jesus instructs the disciples with a new commandment love one another just as he has loved them. This is where the word “Maundy” comes from. Maundy is an English rendition of the Latin word “mandatum” which means commandment. Jesus commands his followers to love one another just as He has loved us. Think about how incredible that is. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate sacrifice by laying down his life for his friends. Now he calls us to return the favor to one another so that all may know that we are his disciples. Nothing really demonstrates the truthfulness of Christianity better than the authentic family of faith. Jesus’ followers are called to love and forgive one another, displaying a unity and a brotherhood (and sisterhood) that goes unparalleled by any other institution in the world.

To help in this task Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit (his “Helper”) in John 14 to teach and guide all believers after he leaves this earth. This special gift of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee and deposit of our salvation. The desire of all of the saints of the Old Testament was for God to be with them, to dwell with them. Here Jesus promises exactly that to ALL of his followers! Through the Holy Spirit, God dwells with us. Amazing. The Holy Spirit guides us when we don’t know the way. He helps us to understand the Scriptures we read and brings them to the forefront of our minds when we need them the most. He comforts us in our troubles and reminds us of the origins of our blessings when those troubles come. He convicts us of our sinful desires and challenges us to conform to the character of Christ. He is our motivation to love fellow believers when they continuously prove to be difficult to love, reminding us that Jesus himself performed the most difficult act of love.

Finally, Jesus goes on to explain how true growth happens for his disciples when we abide, or remain, in him. It is essential for Jesus’ disciples to stay connected to him through prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and service. And when this life becomes difficult, as it inevitably will, we can take heart in the midst of our troubles because Jesus has already overcome the world. Jesus then prays in John 17 for all who would follow him, asking the Father to give us the same deep and loving relationship that God the Son shares with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Later this night Jesus would be arrested and brought to an illegal trial, resulting in his death.

John’s crystal clear point in these chapters is to demonstrate the depth of Jesus’ love for his followers – not just the twelve, but all who would believe in him on account of what the disciples would say. This love is a special and particular love for his followers. Elsewhere in the Bible God calls Christians his “sons” (Gal. 4), his “friends” (John 15), his “brothers” (Matt. 28), his “body” (1 Cor. 12), his “bride” (Eph. 5), and his family (Luke 8). Sure Jesus loves all of humanity to a certain degree. He created us and he sustains us. Every human being regardless of what they believe owes their life and joy to Jesus Christ. However, those who have willfully rejected Jesus as God get no share in the Holy Spirit. The promises that believers can cherish do not hold true for anyone who takes his unbelief to the grave. Not following Jesus means you do not get to call God your Father, Jesus your brother, or the household of God your family. Not following Jesus means the Holy Spirit does not dwell with you and you will not inherit eternal life – that kind of love is reserved for Jesus’ followers ALONE.

Are you a follower of Jesus?

This Easter take time to consider what it means to follow Jesus and what the outcome of the alternative would be. Jesus welcomes anyone who wants to come to Him and it’s our prayer that you would do just that.

Spy Wednesday

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The cross is fast approaching as we hit Wednesday of Holy Week. Jesus recognizes this fact, saying to his disciples, “After two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). Jesus knew that the Jewish leaders were actively plotting to kill him. They wanted to arrest him secretly, without the knowledge of the people because they feared “an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5). The appointed time for him to die for the sins of the world had arrived.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he called twelve men to follow him and become his disciples. This group of men followed Jesus for three years. They were his close friends and brothers. They listened closely to Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom and strove to follow the example of his character. The majority of these men would go on to become the foundation of the church as we know it today, penning God-inspired letters and gospels that would instruct the church as the very words of God for centuries. But there was one disciple who didn’t follow Jesus to the end, Judas Iscariot.

For reasons unknown to us, other than Luke’s note that “Satan entered” into his heart, Judas decided to betray Jesus. We don’t know whether the chief priests had approached Judas some time before or whether the entire plot was his own doing, but the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are all clear that Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to sell Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. The picture here is of one of Jesus’ twelve closest buddies sneaking off in secret to commit the greatest act of betrayal we’ve ever seen. If you have ever been betrayed by a friend or anyone close to you then you identify with Jesus’ emotions deeply. Few things feel worse than the disloyalty of someone you love. An adulterous spouse, a backstabbing friend, a family member...when the betrayal comes from someone dear to your heart it hurts that much worse. This is exactly what Jesus would experience Thursday evening when Judas' plot would come to the light. But the Bible has prepared us for this sometime before.

In the book of Genesis we read about a man named Joseph in chapters 37-50. He was one of twelve brothers, sons to the patriarch Jacob, later to be known as Israel. Joseph’s brothers betrayed him. They conspired to kill him and eventually settled on selling him into slavery for some cash because they were jealous of the favoritism their father showed Joseph, and if we're honest, Joseph was a bit of a brat. His brothers' goal was to get rid of him and teach him a lesson. Instead, the story progresses and comes to a Hollywood-worthy resolution when Joseph becomes the prime minister in Egypt after experiencing several years suffering as a slave and prisoner. Now his treacherous brothers are at his mercy.

Rather execute then execute a Michael-Corleone-on-Fredo-style revenge, however, Joseph forgave his brothers. They came to him during a famine, not knowing who he was other than the Egyptian prime minister who had stockpiled enough food for the nation. Joseph was in the position of power and could have easily refused or even executed his brothers for their evil so many years before. Yet, he forgave them and left all readers of the Bible with amazing insight into the mind of God. As his brothers awaited their fate, now realizing the true identity of this Egyptian leader, they expected full revenge especially after their father’s death. Instead, Joseph said to them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph's God-given insight was that God's plan all along had been to use the evil intentions of Joseph's brothers to bring about mass salvation for the entire nation. Isn’t that the story of Jesus? Judas and the chief priests had intentions that were pure evil: to betray, falsely accuse, and murder an innocent man. Yet their incredible evil was subject to the sovereign control and plan of God. The same is true of ALL evil. By the treachery of his brothers, Joseph was able to be in a position to feed and save an entire nation during a widespread famine. By the treachery of his brother, Jesus was able to take on the punishment for the sins of the world and save everyone who believes in him!

My hope is that you would always see evil and suffering in this perspective, especially in a world that has seemingly gone mad lately. EVERYTHING is under God’s control, including the evil we see. This can be a difficult truth to grasp, but difficulty doesn't make facts any less true. God knows and he has a plan greater than we could ever fathom. There is no way Joseph could have known what his slavery would ultimately accomplish as part of God's plan. And as Judas ended up killing himself in despair, believing that his treacherous actions pushed him too far from grace, let us never make the same mistake. Judas couldn’t imagine that Jesus’ death would result in the salvation of millions, maybe billions. Yet that was the wisdom of God to crush our Savior (Isaiah 53:10) so that we might live.

We, too, have no idea what will result from the difficult times we face. And if we aren't careful, we can look at our circumstances and despair. But if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you can be certain of the fact that although Wednesday may be full of traitors, deceit, and back-stabbing, SUNDAY IS COMING. Jesus came back on that beautiful Easter morning, conquering death and providing a way of hope. Our ultimate Sunday is coming as well. One day, when Jesus returns a second time, he will put an end to the sin, death, misery, and betrayal of the world in which we currently live. He will bring a new heaven and a new earth where all who trust in him will reign with him for eternity! Sin will have no place there. Don't spend your time in worry, in fear, or in despair over your own wrongdoing or that of others... SUNDAY IS COMING!