Holy Week

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.

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!

Holy Tuesday

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As the week marches on, opposition toward Jesus ratchets up to another level. Going to youth group and Sunday school as a kid I often wondered why Jesus was killed in the first place. It didn’t make much sense to me. Jesus was a miracle-worker and clearly a great guy, so why would anyone want him dead? We are typically taught at a very early age that we live in a meritorious world – you get what you earn; bad guys die and good guys live. What was puzzling to me was why anyone would desire to kill Jesus. He gave sight to the blind, he caused the paralyzed to walk, he taught valuable life lessons, and he even raised Lazarus from the dead! If there was ever a good man who deserved to live, it was him I thought. What I didn't understand was the true depth of depravity of the human soul. Pride, jealousy, and deception could cause men to do incredibly evil things. We begin to see this side of Israelite leaders on a greater level on Tuesday of Holy Week.

Jesus is in the temple once again and the chief priests and scribes approach him with a question. Remember them from yesterday? They were the guys who wanted Jesus to rebuke the children for praising him. They also were likely offended by Jesus’ decision to clear out the temple in the first place. So, they decide to team up and hit Jesus with a barrage of what they believe to be profound questions beginning with, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” In other words, they wanted to know what gave Jesus the right to speak against their lifestyle. Who made him worthy of telling them how they should or should not run the temple?

In typical Jesus fashion he responds to their question with a question of his own, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” Brilliant. By responding with a question, Jesus forces these men to deal with their own duplicitous hearts right in front of him. John the Baptist was one of the most popular individuals in Israel at the time. The people adored him and held him to be a great prophet sent by God. The problem for the chief priests was that John was the forerunner for Jesus. Not only was John a man who was unanimously regarded as a prophet, but he used his ministry to glorify Jesus as also having been sent by God. This reality was a problem for the chief priests. Jesus’ question completely disarms his verbal attackers. Rather than successfully painting Jesus into a corner, the scribes now have the tables turned on them.

All three synoptic gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) let us in on what the chief priests and scribes were thinking in this moment. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet’. (Matthew 21:25-26)” These men weren’t concerned with the truth and Jesus knew that. They simply wanted to challenge Jesus and look good for the temple crowd. There intentions were far from pure. And because their intentions were far from pure they were willing to go to any lengths to rid themselves of Jesus.

Unfortunately, the same is true for a lot of us. Following Jesus has deep implications for the way we live our lives. So, rather than be honest with who he is and adjust our life accordingly, we seek to get rid of him. Maybe you don’t follow Jesus because you’re holding on to a lifestyle you prefer. Maybe you won’t follow Jesus because of the ramifications that doing so may have on the relationships around you. Either way, no one is rejecting Jesus because they researched the facts and concluded that what he says isn’t true. No one. The depth of our sinful hearts, like the chief priests, will cause us to deny the truth and embrace a lifestyle of lies just so we can keep Jesus out of it. Allow this question to really sink in if you aren’t following Jesus...

“WHY?”

Rather than answer Jesus' question about John the Baptist honestly, the chief priests and scribes slithered out of the conversation with a noncommittal, “We do not know.” And so Jesus refused to entertain them with a conversation about where his authority comes from. Instead, he tells a series of parables recorded in Matthew 21:28 – 22:14 all of which condemn the Israelite leaders of that day for their hypocrisy. Parable after parable Jesus drives home the point that the end is coming and whoever is not with him is against him. By the end of the day, the lines had been clearly drawn. Jesus wanted these leaders to know that their rituals, legalism, hypocrisy, and pride were not on the side of God. Unless they turned away from their sin, faced the truth, and followed Jesus, they would perish eternally. Many of them, however, did not heed Jesus’ warnings or take to heart his teaching. Instead “they perceived that he was speaking about them” and “they were seeking to arrest him” (Matthew 21:45-46). Rather than face the reality of how egregious their sins were, they began to plot to get rid of Jesus as if that would solve the problem!

Are you doing the same thing? Do you see Jesus and rationalize how to get out of following him? Or do you recognize him as the one, true God – the only way to eternal life?

Which side of the line are you on?

Holy Monday

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On day two of Holy Week, Monday, Jesus finds himself in the temple in Jerusalem. As a celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from bondage to Egypt, all of Israel would be offering animal sacrifices in Jerusalem this week. The required animals were not always easy to come by and with many of the people traveling a great distance, transporting the animals was also difficult. It was generally easier to purchase animals after already arriving in the city. Taking advantage of the predicament of these worshipers, salesmen set up shop in the court of the Gentiles outside of the temple. These salesmen set things up so that travelers essentially had no choice other than to purchase animals from them at higher price than normal. This feels a lot like paying six bucks for a Coke at a modern movie theater - no one watches a movie without something to drink and theaters are more than happy to make you pay six times more than the average price!

Jesus wasn’t having it. He proceeds to overturn the tables where the animals are being sold and chastises the criminals with words from Deuteronomy, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” and words from the prophet Jeremiah, “you make it a den of robbers!” He exposes the thievery of these supposed religious men who were taking advantage of the people. John’s Gospel also records a time at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in which he clears out the temple in a similar fashion. Some scholars have concluded that either John or the other gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) made a mistake in where they place Jesus’ temple cleansing, but there isn’t much warrant to that conclusion. Jesus actually cleansed the temple on two separate occasions. Jesus' quotation of Jeremiah 7 hints at this because Jeremiah also prophesied judgment on the temple on two separate occasions (Jer. 7:1-15; 26:2-6).

Jesus does this at the beginning and the end of his earthly ministry for a specific purpose: to demonstrate that the entire temple system of animal sacrifices and corrupt priests was coming to an end. No longer were people going to make a pilgrimage to a single location and kill animals to atone for sin. No longer were temple salesmen going to profit off of the piety of poor people. Salvation was not to be found in a place, rather salvation would come through a person: the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus makes this emphatic point just a few verses later in Matthew 21. He remained at the temple healing the blind and the lame and performing miracles, which earned him the praise of children nearby. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they shouted. “Hosanna” was a Hebrew term that meant “save,” and “Son of David” was an official title reserved for the Messianic king promised to king David centuries before (2 Samuel 7). In other words, the children were proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah who had come to save them, and this didn’t sit well with the chief priests and scribes who heard them. The praises by the children made these leaders very angry. In their mind, the children were blaspheming, or using God's name in vain, and they expected Jesus to shut that down. Rather than silence the children, however, Jesus affirms what they proclaimed and even takes it a step further.

Blasphemy is only a valid charge if Jesus was not who the children were proclaiming him to be. But he was. He is. The Jewish leaders turn to Jesus in the midst of the hoopla and ask him, “Do you hear what these [kids] are saying?” In his typical stroke of genius Jesus responds with a quote from Psalm 8, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’? Psalm 8 is a song all about how wonderful and majestic the one, true God is. In the lyrics of the song, the Psalmist describes children praising “The LORD” and this praise silencing the LORD’s enemies. Essentially Jesus has just said to the chief priests and scribes, “I will not silence these kids because they are correct. I am the majestic God worthy of all worship and anyone who stands against that is my enemy!” Mic drop.

The temple system is over not because it was simply time for a change, but because the eternal God of the universe who created all things became a man and sacrificed himself for his people. There would be no more need for the slaughtering of lambs and doves because the Perfect Lamb was going to be sacrificed. We wouldn’t need priests to make these sacrifices anymore because Jesus is not only our sacrifice, but our High Priest who brings us to God as well. Making an annual trek to Jerusalem to celebrate a feast would no longer be necessary because through the Holy Spirit, God’s presence resides in his followers, not a building. Jesus was beginning the fulfillment of the redemption of humanity.

I pray that you recognize this reality this week. Rituals, sacrifices, and commitment to religious work will never make you right with God. Only Jesus is able. We may not necessarily be taking advantage of a temple by overcharging for animal sacrifices, but we may be guilty of having the same spirit. The salesmen likely didn’t think they needed God and the chief priests thought they could appease God with their rituals. Both beliefs will get you left out of the kingdom and paying for your own sins in eternity. Focus on the only Lamb who saves you from your sin and follow him. This is the way to eternal life.