Monthly Archives: February 2015

Today’s Scripture – February 27, 2015

John 3:22-30 (NIV):  After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.

John’s disciples were defensive for John, for his reputation and his fame.  They had first come to him because he was somebody; he was unique.  He was a genuine prophet of God, and one of those hadn’t been seen for a few centuries.  They enjoyed being at the center of what was happening.  As long as John was important, they were important.  And that was important to them.

Of course these were the followers of John who had stayed with him even after he had identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV) and the “Son of God” (John 1:34 NIV).  Andrew and John had heard John say this and had left John to become followers of Jesus.  But many stayed with John.  Part of that was out of familiarity – they knew who John was, and his fame was still on the upswing.  But another part what that they weren’t at all sure what John meant when he called Jesus “the Lamb of God” and “the Son of God.”  Those terms, those concepts didn’t fit into their theology or their worldview.  So they stuck with what was safe and familiar.

As long as Jesus was working in other parts of the country, those followers of John were comfortable.  Of course their business in baptisms was slower than it had been, but they chalked that up to just normal cycles.  But when Jesus and His disciples came back to the area and started baptizing people as well, they noticed that people were flocking to the “competition,” while they sat idle.  As they saw it, it wasn’t fair.  John was the original baptizer; this Jesus was just an upstart.  In fact, originally John had been the one who had baptized HIM!

When they brought this report to John, they expected him to do something about it – to stop Jesus somehow, or to denounce Him so that people would leave Jesus and come back to John, so that they could get back to the good old days when they were following the top dog.

They never expected John to respond the way that he did.  John knew two key things:  he wasn’t the Messiah, and Jesus was.  And that worldview kept everything else in its proper perspective.  John understood that his whole job was to prepare the way, to prepare the people for Jesus’ coming.  And he had done that.  Now that Jesus was there and His ministry was up and running, John’s job was complete.  He was now simply following God’s last orders until he received new directions.

It didn’t bother John that Jesus was a success.  In fact, Jesus’ success was actually a pat on John’s back.  John had done his job well.  The people were ready for Jesus, and were now flocking to Him.  John didn’t need to be in the spotlight to validate his success; he actually needed Jesus to be the center of attention for him to be validated.  Thus he, the friend of the bridegroom, was elated at the success of the groom.

John knew that, of necessity, as Jesus’ light increased, his own must dim.  But that was okay, because John was never after the top spot in the first place.  His goal had never been to be famous or admired.  All he ever wanted was to please the Lord, to fulfill the purpose to which God had called Him, for which He had made him.  Everything he did was purely to hear from the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 NIV)

Father, I can imagine the disappointment in the hearts of John’s followers when he said those things.  They, like most people, are used to others being fiercely protective of their own turf, their own reputation, and being willing to do just about anything to protect it.  John’s attitude, the attitude of the kingdom, where Your plan is all that matters, was completely foreign to them.  But today, that is to be our attitude in all things as well.  As members of Your kingdom, we are to divest ourselves of our self-interest.  Instead, we are to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Jesus (cf. Luke 9:23).  We are to seek first Your kingdom, not ours, and Your righteousness, not our reputation (Matthew 6:33).  We are to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, so that we will find it (Matthew 10:39).  John had all of that down cold.  Help me to keep that same vision, those same priorities in my own heart every day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 24, 2015

Mark 14:43-52 (NIV):  Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

The crowd of men was armed when they came after Jesus because they were afraid of Him.  They had never really gotten to know who He was, because they were violently opposed to what He stood for.  They saw Him not as just a preacher and teacher, but as an enemy, and that made them fear Him.  They also feared His disciples and what they might do when their leader was arrested.  (With good reason, it turned out, as Peter sliced off Malchus’ ear – John 18:10.)

Judas agreed to the signal of a kiss because in the dim moonlight and shadow of the garden, it would be easy to waste precious moments going after the wrong person.  Judas had spent enough time with Jesus that he knew Him even in the dark.  With a kiss on the cheek, and a softly spoken “Rabbi” (my teacher), the deed was done, the betrayal was complete, and unstoppable events were set into motion.

Jesus’ disciples bravely stood alongside Jesus as long as it looked like He was putting up a fight.  They figured that Jesus would give them a tongue lashing and that these guards, like all of Jesus’ enemies, would simply slink away with their tails between their legs as they had at other times.  But suddenly Jesus simply ended the conversation with “But the Scriptures must be fulfilled,” and surrendered to them.

At that moment, all of Jesus’ prophecies were fulfilled, both the several times He had told His disciples that He would be handed over to be killed (Mark 8:31-32, 9:30-32 for a couple of examples), and His prophecy that the disciples would all desert Him (Mark 14:27-31).  All of them literally did desert Him, leaving Him to face His arrest, trial, and execution alone.  It turned out that Peter wasn’t the only one with a willing spirit but weak flesh!

Father, it is easy for us to make all kinds of grandiose promises when things are easy.  When the road is level and smooth, it is easy to promise to walk with You 1000 miles.  But only You can see the whole road, not just the level path of the present, but also the steep up- and down-grades that lie just around the next bend.  Only You see the portions of the road that hug close to sheer cliffs, with terrifying chasms that will make us faint with terror.  Only You know the long stretches through deserts where there is no water.  In the end, the only way for us to really be able to follow You all the way is to listen when You describe the road ahead, not denying the reality of what You are saying, or trying to argue You out of going that way (as Peter did, and as we are all sometimes guilty of), and then agree in advance that when the road gets scary, we will stand by You and hang on, with Your help.  Then, of course, we have to stay prayed up so that we will not fall into the temptation to cut and run when the enemy closes in for the attack.  None of us have it in us to stand up for You and for the gospel on our own.  And none of us really want to end up like that young man, all of our faith stripped away, retreating in nakedness and shame.  Trust and prayer is the only way.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 22, 2015

Mark 14:37-42 (NIV)

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

The disciples had heard Jesus’ words at the dinner about being betrayed, but they had no idea what that would look like.  They heard the urgency in His voice as He taught them, but they had no idea that this was the night when it would all come down.  So when Jesus went off to pray near their campsite, they did not pick up on the fact that their own time of testing was right around the corner.  Even when Peter, James, and John were called to go further with Him, and told about the sorrow and agony that His heart was going through, they were blind to the fact that the betrayer was already on the way, leading a group of armed men to arrest Jesus.

And so their souls were not on the alert.  Their bodies were fatigued, and Jesus’ warning to “keep watch” found no resting place in their minds.  As Jesus agonized with the Father over the terrible things that were already afoot, that would be revealing themselves in moments, the disciples fell asleep.

Jesus’ rebuke was much gentler than it could have been.  Even in the depth of His sorrow, He still loved these clueless men.  His exasperated instruction, urging Peter to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” was an attempt to clue them all in, Peter especially, that this was a dangerous moment.  Peter had sworn only a couple of hours before, “Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You.” (Mark 14:31), but Jesus understood that though the spirit was willing to die with Him, the body was weak.  In the moment when he would have to choose, Peter’s flesh was going to have the upper hand, because his spirit, though willing, was not on the alert, and was not fortified with prayer.

The disciples were ashamed and embarrassed that they were so weak, that they had fallen asleep, not once, but three times, while Jesus was praying in such distress.  But after He woke them the third time, it was too late to pray.  The time when preparation could be done had passed.  Now, whether they were ready or not, the moment was upon them.

We human beings are, by nature, short sighted, much like the sheep that Jesus compared us to.  All too often we shrink at shadows in the dark, but utterly fail to see and understand the real spiritual dangers until they are upon us.  Jesus could see the danger coming because of His intimate connection with the Father.  He was in communion with God, ever listening to His voice, always immediately responsive to His every leading.  Nothing took Him by surprise.  When His betrayer came, He was prayed up.  He was on task.  He was ready.

Father, I can absolutely relate to the disciples more than to Jesus on this point.  I really am short-sighted when it comes to being able to see what lies ahead.  And I can also clearly understand that the reason behind that short-sightedness is primarily that I spend much more time with my focus on the physical realm than on the spiritual.  I measure my prayer time with You in minutes, or even moments, and let my mind be taken up with worldly affairs for the hours that are left of each day.  No wonder things take me by surprise!

Father, help me to keep my communion with You open at all times.  Help me, as Paul urged, to pray continually (2 Thessalonians 5:17), to listen carefully to Your voice in every situation, and to never be caught sleeping when I should be watching and praying.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 20, 2015

Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Paul begins with “for this reason,” which points to the previous section in which brings out two truths:

  • Paul is a legitimate apostle, called and empowered.  Therefore he has both a right and a responsibility to approach God’s throne on behalf of not only the Ephesians, but on behalf of Christians everywhere.
  • The Church has a vital job to do:  to make known the manifold wisdom of God through making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  That job requires divine power, which is always dependent on passionate prayer.

Paul then makes five interlinked petitions:

  • That out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being – God’s goal in us is that His power flowing through our lives will enable us to be witnesses of the gospel with our actions as well as our words.  This is why Jesus, when He talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit, focused on power to be a witness (Acts 1:8).  Many of us want power for victorious living, and the Holy Spirit will provide that as well.  But Jesus identified the key purpose of that power as proclamation of the gospel. These days we have come to rely so strongly on programs and programmed methods of evangelism because we don’t have this power.  We make excuses how that divine empowerment was only for the early Church, only available until the Bible was completed.  But the proclamation of the gospel is no less a divine activity today than it was 2000 years ago.  It is something that cannot be effectively accomplished by human devices and ingenuity.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit working though our lives so that ALL of us can do the work of making disciples.  This power is not an option, something that only certain people in the Church need.  It is essential for all Christians everywhere.  We need to be praying this into our own lives and into the lives of the people in our churches starting now!
  • So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. – I have always interpreted this verse to be talking about salvation.  But in context it means much more, because it is written as a RESULT of the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through our lives.  It is pointing to the idea that Christ is in complete control of us, that He is in the driver’s seat, controlling and directing our every thought, word, and deed.  This ties to illustration in John 15 of the vine and the branches.  After He paints that picture He goes on to say, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV)  Praying that Christ will dwell in our hearts by faith is praying that this “remaining in Christ and He in us” will be a reality, so that we can be empowered to carry out the mission of bearing much fruit – new disciples, saved souls who have been saved and made new creations in Jesus.
  • And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ – We have very little idea how massive and extensive the love of Christ is.  We know that it extended to us, but we have very little idea how passionately Jesus loves ALL people on earth, how passionately He wants them ALL to be saved.  Peter tells us that God is actually holding back the return of Jesus so that more can be saved!  (2 Peter 3:3-10)  God’s love for the lost, for all of the lost is overwhelming, to the point that His plan is to empower and send us all out to tell everyone the good news, so that they can be saved.  It is not Jesus’ love for ME that Paul is praying for me to grasp – that has already been abundantly demonstrated to me through His saving me in the first place.  It is His love for all of the lost, including all of those that are reachable by me. I can see that a key to this is the phrase “rooted and established in love.”  It means to be rooted in love in the same way that a healthy plant is rooted and established in rich, fertile soil.  God’s love for all humanity is to be the soil that we grow in, not just a fertilizer that we apply to our lives occasionally.  If our whole lives are rooted in God’s love, in the self-sacrificing, other-centered agape love of Christ, we won’t be able to stand the thought that ANYONE would die without knowing Jesus.  God’s love for them working though our lives would control our every action every day, just as it did Jesus, and move us to purposefully reach out to them with the gospel at every opportunity.
  • And to know this love that surpasses knowledge – The phrase Paul uses here is fascinating.  How can we know something that surpasses knowledge?  The only way we can do that is to experience it on a much deeper than intellectual level.  It has to move beyond theory or theology to become a reality in my own life.  The love of God for all of the lost must pulse through my own veins as it did though the veins of Jesus Himself.  We will never “understand” it, but we can know it, experience it, as it flows through our lives like a stream.
  • That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Again, this is pointed to as a RESULT of all that has gone before.  As we are strengthened and empowered to do the work of the kingdom, Christ will dwell in our hearts through faith.  As we are rooted and established in God’s other-centered, self-sacrificing love, we will begin to grasp the magnitude of that love experientially as it works through our lives.  And in the process, as a result of surrendering completely to that love that rushes through us into the lives of others, we will be filled with all of the fullness of God.

Two things amaze me as I read these verses.  First is how often we center these verses on ourselves, figuring that the love that is being talked about here is specifically God’s love for US, for ME.  Instead, in context, Paul is praying that we will be able to grasp the depth of God’s love for all people, for the lost that still must be reached, so that that love will spur us to action. Secondly, I am amazed that  even though praying this kind of love, and power, and fervor into the lives of “ordinary” Christians seems like such a long-shot, Paul is confident that God will not only do all that he is asking, but that He will do immeasurably more than all that we can ask or imagine.  Amazing!

Father, this prayer for the Ephesians is really a prayer for me, and for all of your people today.  Forgive us, Lord, for often being too preoccupied, too busy, too wrongly focused to actively live out Your love for the lost in our day-to-day lives.  Help me to experience and know beyond knowing the reality and immensity of Your love for all humankind, by allowing that saving love to flow through my life.  Help me, Lord, to do that today, and every day in the future, and to join Paul in praying that reality into the lives of all of the other Christians I know as well.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 17, 2015

Mark 14:32-36, 39 (NIV)

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”…Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

Jesus was standing right on the cusp of events that would not only challenge Him to His very core, but that would shake history.  And what He was seeing ahead was daunting, to say the least.  He knew that He had already been betrayed – heartbreaking in itself to think that someone into whom He had poured three years of His life could lift up his heel against Him like that.  He also knew that once He had been arrested, the rest of His closest followers would run, leaving Him bereft of any human intimacy.

All of that saddened His heart beyond measure, leaving Him feeling alone even before the events unfolded.  But it was what He saw beyond all of that that chilled His soul.  He saw the shame and disgrace of being mocked and beaten by the guards of the high priests.  He saw the pain and the agony of the lashes He would receive at the hands of the Roman soldiers.  He could already hear the jeers of the crowds as He carried the heavy crossbar of the cross through the streets of the city; crowds that had, just five days earlier, hailed Him as their king.  He already felt the agony of the nails being driven through His hands and feet, the shame of hanging helpless and utterly naked along the road into the city, the burning thirst from the profound loss of blood, and even the agony of seeing His own mother on the verge of total collapse from a grief too heavy to bear as she watched Him die.

But all of that was nothing compared to the ultimate horror that loomed before Him.  He knew that on the cross He would endure all of the shame, all of the suffering, all of the untold agony that had been earned by the sins of all of the people in the world.  And He knew that, in that moment, He would even experience the vast separation from His Father that those sins deserved.  The Son of God, who had been one with the Father from all eternity (cf. John 17:5), who, even as a human man, still experienced His presence every moment, would, for the first time, be completely alone.

Jesus could see all of this clearly.  He had known that this moment was coming from before the world was created (Revelation 13:8).  But now that it was here, now that all of these events would be starting in mere minutes, His human flesh wanted to draw back from pain and suffering that would go far beyond anything physical.

But Jesus, when His flesh was weak and afraid, did not pull away from the Father.  Instead, He ran to Him in prayer.  His request was basically, “If there is any other way to do this, let’s do it that other way.  If there is any way to avoid what is coming, I would prefer to avoid it.”  But, in the end, His prayer was, “Not what I will, but what You will.”  “If this is the only way to accomplish what you want to do, I’m in.”

At that moment, Jesus knew that the events were set, and that, no matter how much His flesh revolted or wanted to pull back, He was committed, and His soul, completely sold out to God and His will, would be in control.  Jesus came away from that moment of passionate prayer energized, empowered, strengthened, and completely committed to the plan laid out by the Father.  From that moment on, there was no fear, no timidity.  Instead, there was a firm resolve to accomplish the mission, to gain the victory, even if the way led through the pain of the cross, and the dark chill of the tomb.  He knew with all of His knowing that the end would be glory.

Father, even in His time of greatest challenge, Jesus is our role model.  Help me, Lord, when facing my greatest challenges, to run to You, not away from You.  Help me to seek You for the strength and resolve that I need to do everything You have called me to do.  And help me to do everything with the power and passion that can only come through the heartfelt prayer, “Yet not what I will, but what You will.”  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 10, 2015

Mark 14:27-31 (NIV):  “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today–yes, tonight–before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

Jesus knew very clearly exactly what would happen, because it was all prophesied very clearly.  He had already been betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, just as it had been foretold (Zechariah 11:12).  And now, as His time grew short, He knew from Zechariah 13:7 that when He was arrested, all of the disciples would flee, leaving Him alone to face all of the suffering and anguish that was in store for Him.

Obviously the twelve protested this.  They had faced hard times and conflicts before, and had remained at Jesus’ side.  They would stand with Him no matter what happened.  Peter was especially vocal in His support – even if everybody else fell away, he would stand firm.  But Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself.  He knew that behind that mask of bravado still lay an unsanctified heart, a fleshly heart that, when push came to shove, would seek survival above all else.

But even though Jesus knew that ALL of the disciples would flee at the critical moment (Peter’s denial was simply the most tragic of the desertions), He was already looking beyond their failure, beyond their betrayal to His victory and resurrection, and to the time when they would all find restoration, when He would go ahead of them to Galilee (verse 28).  There would be failure on a massive scale, but there was restoration just over the horizon.

Father, it is comforting to our souls to know that our failures do not have to be the end, as long as we seek restoration.  That was the main difference between Peter and Judas.  Both betrayed Jesus.  But Peter’s heart was bound to Jesus, and desired above all else to be loyal and faithful, even when his flesh failed him.  Judas, on the other hand, had already turned his heart away from Jesus, even before his betrayal.  And when he was later stricken with pangs of guilt, he did not seek restoration.  Instead, he merely sought relief from his guilt, and tried to find it in suicide (cf. Matthew 27:3-5).  Father, help me to always have a heart like Peter’s; a heart that, in any failure or fault, seeks restoration above all else; a heart that repents powerfully; a heart that can be restored completely.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 6, 2015

Mark 14:22-26 (NIV):  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The unleavened bread and wine were a normal part of the Passover meal.  But as the meal progressed that night, Jesus began to fill these familiar symbols with new meaning.

The unleavened bread was a symbol of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.  On the night of the first Passover, the Israelites were instructed to make and eat their meal quickly, without even giving the bread time to rise (Exodus 12:11, 39).  And the Jewish people ate unleavened bread for a full week starting with the Passover as a remembrance of that event.

Over time, yeast became a kind of symbol for sin, because both yeast and sin multiply quickly and affect everything nearby, spreading until it has affected the whole batch of dough.  When Jesus presented the bread to His followers that night, both meanings were very pertinent.  The giving of Jesus’ body in just a few hours was going to be the mechanism to provide deliverance for the people of the world from their bondage to sin and death.  Also, Jesus had lived a completely sinless life, so His body, symbolically given to the disciples in the bread, was pure and holy – without sin.  Thus Jesus had no sin of His own that had to be paid for by His death.  So His death would be accepted as payment for the sins of all humanity.

The cup symbolized and celebrated the Old Covenant given on Mt. Sinai – a covenant sealed with the blood of bulls, and sheep, and goats.  Jesus reinterpreted this to symbolize the new covenant, sealed with His own blood that He was preparing to pour out on the cross.

Jesus did not drink the wine that night (cf. Luke 22:17-18).  Some have believed that it was because He didn’t want the alcohol to dull His senses.  But the amount that He would have gotten from that cup that was shared all around would have been very small, and out of His system before His arrest.  But right at that moment, Jesus was making the transition Himself from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.  He would drink wine again, but not until that transition had been completed.

This reinterpretation of the Passover meal was a powerful symbol that His disciples never forgot.  And these elements have become a central part of Christian worship to this day, reminding all who partake of them that they are part of the holy Body of Christ, the people of the New Covenant that was made once and for all with the blood of the Lamb.

Father, it always strikes me when we take communion how rich the symbolism is.  And the fact that we, as Your people, are joining others all around the world in this same ceremony of remembrance is a powerful reminder of the fact that we are all one in You.  Thank you for these symbols, and thank You for the reality that lies behind them.  Amen!

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Today’s Scripture – February 4, 2015

Mark 14:17-21 (NIV):  When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me–one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

It was the last thing they expected to hear from Jesus’ lips.  There had been many dinners with Jesus and His twelve closest disciples, but this one was different.  Behind the celebration of the Passover, and the prayers, and the ceremony, there was a solemnity, a seriousness, an earnestness in all of Jesus’ words and actions that they had not seen before.

He had already startled His disciples by insisting on washing their feet (John 13:3-17), a task usually done by a servant or one of the children of the household.  But now, during a lull in the conversation, He shocked them still further by announcing that one of them, one of the twelve people closest to Him, would betray Him.

They could tell from His expression, His whole demeanor, that this was no joke.  They all knew that Jesus often knew what was going to happen before it did.  Did He know who the betrayer would be?  Eleven hearts wondered if they could possibly do such a thing to Jesus, while one heart was filled with sudden dread, dismay that somehow he had been found out.

Yes, Jesus knew precisely who would betray Him.  He knew, in fact, that the deed had already been done, the money had changed hands, and all that was left was the actual confrontation, which would come in just a couple of hours.

Jesus understood that even this betrayal was part of the ultimate plan, the plan that would lead to His shame and suffering, to the cross and death.  But He knew that it also led beyond the cross to resurrection and eternal victory.  But for Judas, this path that he had chosen would lead him away from the light he had experienced in Jesus into eternal darkness.

Even though Jesus had seen this coming from the beginning, it still broke His heart that someone could betray Him who  had only received love and respect from Him; someone into whom He had poured so much of Himself.  Even now His heart went out to Judas, the one who would shortly lead a cohort of temple guards to Jesus’ camp, and with a kiss would set into motion the events that would ultimately rock the world.

Father, at first glance, it is inconceivable to me how someone who had experienced so much in Your presence could still turn away from you and betray You like that – throwing all You had done for him back in Your face.  But then I look back at my own history, and am shocked to find that I, too, once betrayed You.  There was a time as a teen when I turned away from You and sought my own way.  I didn’t think at the time how much of a betrayal this was, how similar my heart at that time was to the heart of Judas’s – cold and hard enough to be able to throw all that You had done for me back in Your face.  I thank You, Lord, that in spite of all of that, You didn’t give up on me, didn’t just throw me on the ash heap and wash Your hands of me.  It took more than ten years for my heart to finally break over my betrayal of You; more than ten years wasted in the “far country” before I was willing to really repent.  But when I finally heard Your voice, when I turned my tear-stained face upward for the first time in years and cried out, “Save me!” You did.  You forgave even my betrayal of You, and restored “the years that the locust ate.” (Joel 2:25)  Such love!  Such grace!  Such unfathomable mercy that You showed to me, Your one-time betrayer!  I will love You forever, Lord!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 2, 2015

Mark 14:12-16 (NIV):  On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

As God provided everything for Jesus, so He provided even a place in crowded Jerusalem for Him to celebrate this last Passover feast with His disciples.  All that was needed was for His followers to go and find it.  And Jesus’ concise instructions were very easy to follow.

Jesus’ death occurring during the Passover had great symbolic meaning.  The Passover itself celebrated the Israelites’ release from the bondage of slavery in Egypt 1500 years before.  Jesus’ death provided release from the bondage of sin and death.  As the blood of the spotless Passover lamb smeared on the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses saved them from death at the hand of the destroyer, so Jesus’ blood, poured out on the cross, saves all who trust in Him from the second death in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).

The disciples, even after three years with Jesus, were surprised to find everything just the way He had told them it would be.  When they entered Jerusalem, teeming with people because of the holiday, they quickly saw a man carrying a jar of water – unusual, because women usually did the work of carrying water.  When they followed him to his house and asked the owner where the guest room was where the Teacher could eat the Passover with His disciples, they were instantly shown to the large upper room Jesus had told them about.  (This room would actually become their headquarters and gathering place over the next several weeks.)

There is some debate as to whether Jesus had pre-arranged all of this, or whether this was an instance of prophecy on His part.  But that debate misses the main point, which is that Jesus went through His whole life and ministry trusting that His Father would provide everything that He needed, right when He needed it, and that He would be shown where to find it.  Jesus wanted the disciples to develop that same reliance on God and His provision, so that they would know how to rely on their Father in heaven after Jesus had gone.

Father, I’m afraid that a lot of that discussion and debate comes because we are so used to organizing and orchestrating things ourselves, that we usually have little opportunity to see You work in these kinds of powerful ways to provide for our needs.  Help us, Lord, to look to You more frequently for what we need instead of needing to provide our own security by preparing our own way and doing so much in our own strength, according to our own plans.  Amen.

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