Monthly Archives: April 2017

Today’s Scripture – April 29, 2017

Matthew 26:26-30 (NIV) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

This reinterpretation of two of the elements of the Passover meal have been immortalized in the modern sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, celebrated by Christians all over the world. In their original context, though, these were not stand-alone elements, but part of the whole Passover meal and ritual.

The unleavened bread that Jesus broke was a staple of the feast, since all yeast had to be removed from Jewish homes before sunset of the first day of the festival, and not be used for its entire 7-day run. The rabbis sometimes used yeast as a picture of sin, because of sin’s tendency to spread its effects through a whole person, a whole family, a whole society, much like yeast spreads its effects through a whole batch of dough. As such, its intentional removal from the homes of Israel during the Passover was a good picture of God’s desire that His people be holy and pure, intentionally removing sin from their lives, and keeping it out. And, as such, it was a good picture of the sinlessness of Jesus as well.  It really could represent His sinless body that was “tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV) Every time God’s people eat the bread, we are to be reminded that, even though Jesus gave His life on the cross, He did not die for His own sins, since He was genuinely sinless, but for the sins of the world, including yours and mine.

The cup at the feast was filled and drunk four times. The third time it was filled, it was called the cup of redemption, and reminded the Israelites of when God brought them out of Egypt, redeeming them with a strong arm, to make them His covenant people. That covenant was sealed with the blood of bulls, and sheep, and goats, and doves. But Jesus reinterpreted it as the cup of a new covenant, signaling a new redemption, a new deliverance, this time from the power of sin and death. This covenant would be sealed with His own blood that would be poured out for all people.

Jesus’ promise to not drink wine again until the celebration of redemption in the kingdom reveals His clear understanding that He would be dead within 24 hours. The celebration was over, the struggle was soon to start, darkness would follow. But on the third day, joy would sweep every shred of darkness away.

Father, I wonder how many of us mindlessly eat these elements of “communion,” forgetting entirely the deep significance packed into each one. I know that I have in the past. Help me, every time I participate in this sacrament, to do so with sharpened senses, with a real sense of awe and wonder at what Jesus has done for me, at the price that was paid for my sins. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 28, 2017

Matthew 26:17-25 (NIV) On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”
Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray 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.”
T
hen Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.”

This is the third Passover the closest disciples had shared with Jesus, so those charged with preparing it knew how He preferred to do things. Despite all of the predictions Jesus had made, His closest followers were blissfully unaware that the terrible things that Jesus had been describing were now upon them all.

A big part of their unwillingness to believe was understandable. Jesus was riding a wave of popularity just then, having been swept into town a mere four days earlier by adoring throngs. He had shamed His opponents in debate at the temple, sending them slinking away in disgrace. And He had always shown an uncanny ability to foresee danger and to sidestep every trap laid for Him.

So that night, as they walked through the 1500-year-old ritual of the Passover celebration, any thoughts of disaster were far from their minds. That is, right up to the moment that Jesus suddenly declared, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” Then everything just stopped. One of them, His closest followers, would betray Him? How was that even possible? As far as they could see, Jesus had no more loyal supporters than those who were seated around the table.

One by one they protested their own innocence. “It couldn’t be me, Lord…” and then a timorous, “Could it?” Each one sure of their own faithfulness, but afraid that something might happen, or a moment of weakness seize them that could cause a misstep, that in turn could lead to a betrayal. Though it was unthinkable to them that anyone there could intentionally betray Jesus, they were all aware of their many failures in the past.

But Jesus was insistent that it would happen, just the way that He said. Not only that, He said that the whole thing was prophesied in the Scriptures. Psalm 41:9 (NIV) came to their minds: “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” And His statement that, for one who would turn against Him, it would be better for that one if he had never been born, struck fear into all of their hearts.

Judas was the last to protest his innocence, his eyes never quite meeting those of the Master. Jesus’ answer, whether in Greek or Aramaic, “You have said so,” was actually a strong affirmative, similar to the modern English, “You said it!” The traitor had been identified. Everything he did after that moment would be done with the clear knowledge that Jesus had looked deeply into his heart, and saw there a betrayal of the foulest kind.

Father, I am reminded of the Michael Card lyrics, “Why did it have to be a friend who chose to betray the Lord? Why did he use a kiss to show them? That’s not what a kiss is for! Only a friend can betray a friend, a stranger has nothing to gain. And only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.” Jesus let Judas come all the way into His heart, to experience His real love and friendship, knowing full well that he would ultimately turn that intimacy against Him in betrayal. And, at the same time, I am amazed at the hardness of some hearts, impervious to the softening effects of Your love. Help my heart to always stay soft and pliable in Your hands, so that there is no place for the enemy to gain a toehold, no place for any betrayal of You, no matter how small or subtle, to ever take root there. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 27, 2017

Matthew 26:14-16 (NIV) Then one of the Twelve–the one called Judas Iscariot–went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

From time to time efforts arise to rehabilitate Judas’ character. Some claim that Judas was acting in secret at Jesus’ express command to move the plan along the lines that Jesus had determined that they should go. Others push an image of him as well-intentioned, but misunderstood, simply trying to force Jesus into taking the reins of government, which He seemed loath to do.

But the fact is, Judas was a man with a bad heart. Although Jesus chose him, and then elevated him to being one of the twelve, he had a different heart than the other eleven. Even though he had once been given authority to heal diseases and cast out demons (Matthew 10:1), he remained self-serving and focused on his own self interests.

Jesus knew these things about Judas’ character when He chose him – He knew what was in the heart of every person (cf. John 2:25). Jesus did not choose Judas and elevate him in an effort to rehabilitate him. He knew that that would not happen. As strange as it might seem, Jesus chose Judas because He knew that Judas would betray Him.

It is odd that the thing that pushed Judas over the edge, the event that so infuriated him that it provided satan an opportunity to take over the reins of his life, was Mary’s extravagant sacrifice of perfume. As John tells us, Judas had been stealing from the group’s money bag for some time, and in that one moment he saw a huge potential contribution to that fund just fly out the window.

With satan fully in control of his thoughts, Judas went straight to the chief priests and offered to give them information that would allow them to arrest Jesus outside the city, far from the public eye, and thus with no threat of a riot. The price settled on was 30 pieces of silver, a month’s wages, paid directly into his pocket. Later (Matthew 27:9-10) Matthew draws the clear parallel to the prophecy in Zechariah 11:12-13, where the leaders of Israel value their relationship with God at 30 silver pieces, which are ultimately thrown into the temple for the potter.

But with Judas’ betrayal, the wheels were set in motion for Jesus’ arrest and execution, all would reach its conclusion before 48 hours had elapsed, quickly spinning out of the control of those who fancied themselves the movers and shakers, and showing instead God’s sovereign hand at work.

Father, it’s amazing to me that the other eleven disciples, who had lived with Judas for three years at that point, did not immediately suspect him of being the betrayer. Our eyes do not see the heart as Yours do. Help us, Lord, to be always faithful and true to You. Show us anyplace in our hearts that could possibly betray You or Your cause, and help us to give any areas You point out to us to You for Your transformation, so that we will be true always. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 26, 2017

Matthew 26:6-13 (NIV) While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

The woman, who John tells us was Mary, Lazarus’ sister (John 12:1-3) teaches us about the cost of true devotion. First, out of a heart of gratitude for what He meant to her personally, and for raising her brother from the dead, the cost of her act of devotion never crossed her mind. She brought the best that she had to offer, without the merest sense of having to give something up. (Mark tells us that the perfume was worth 300 denarii, or about a year’s wages for the average worker.) All she knew was that even this gift was pitifully insignificant compared to the benefit that Jesus had brought to her and her household. She would gladly have given many vials of perfume had she possessed them.

Next, her actions were not only misunderstood by onlookers, but were actually criticized. All that the complaining disciples (the loudest of whom was Judas – John 12:4-6) could see was a missed opportunity for Mary to accommodate herself to their agenda, to donate to their pet cause. They were being so practical that they entirely missed what was going on here – a singular act of devotion to the Lord. In fact, a case could be made that they were missing entirely who Jesus really was, something that Mary had eyes to clearly see in that moment, a reality that moved her to extravagant sacrifice.

Finally, despite her act of sacrificial love being misunderstood by the masses, even by her fellow believers, they were clearly understood and warmly received by Jesus Himself. In fact, they were received on a deeper level than even Mary herself could see. Mary, like the other followers of Jesus, could not process the idea that Jesus would be arrested and executed, that a mere 48 hours from that moment His body would be lying cold, stiff, and lifeless, in a borrowed tomb outside the city walls. But Jesus knew, and received what she had offered in light of the truth that only He could see.

Jesus’ closing words were prophetic and obviously fulfilled to the letter. Three of the four gospel writers (all but Luke) include this event in their gospels. Obviously her actions, Jesus words, and the events that transpired over the next two days all made a powerful impact on them.

Jesus’ heart sees the hearts of all those who bring their offerings to Him, whether that offering is worldly goods, worship, a song, or, what He values most highly, our hearts. And we never have to worry that our offering will be spurned, rejected, or devalued, no matter how large or small, as long as it is given from the heart.

Father, it is that way all throughout the Bible. A prize bull offered with a hard and calloused heart was rejected by You, but the widows mite, given out of her love and devotion to You, was warmly accepted, and even praised. (Luke 21:1-4) Help me to always bring my best, but help me to always bring it with a heart that is completely devoted to You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 25, 2017

Matthew 26:1-5 (NIV) When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away–and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

Jesus had a far better grasp of the way things would roll out than those who were supposedly in control of the situation. From the beginning, God had decided that the Messiah would be sacrificed at the Passover, and that ultimate sacrifice formed the basis of the symbolism that He included in the first Passover event (Exodus 12:1-13), not the other way around.

Jesus knew that He would be sacrificed on Friday, only two days away, to fulfill all of the Scriptures. But the chief priests and elders shied away from doing anything to Him during the Passover festival, because they had seen the adulation of Jesus by the crowds, and reasonably figured that merely arresting Jesus, let alone trying to execute Him, would cause a riot.

They couldn’t see that early the very next day, one of Jesus’ own disciples would knock at their door, extending an offer to betray Jesus into their hands at His camping spot on the Mount of Olives. That would enable them to arrest Him out of the public eye, and have Him tried and condemned before most people were out of bed.  It would be an opportunity that would change everything, and that they would jump at, completely oblivious to the fact that it was God Himself who was orchestrating the timing.

Father, You are the Sovereign of the universe, and Your planned timing will always come through, no matter what roadblocks we mere humans try to throw in Your path. Help us to fit ourselves into Your plan, instead of breaking ourselves against You by trying to resist it. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 24, 2017

Matthew 25:41-46 (NIV) “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The fate of those on Jesus’ left, the goats, is not positive at all. Jesus’ initial words to them are to depart into eternal fire, the fire that had been prepared for the devil and his angels. This probably shocked the goats. Like most people, they probably would have described themselves as good people, perhaps not “holy,” but as good as anyone, and better than some.

But Jesus doesn’t grade on a curve, with some hypothetical cutoff point, so that a certain percentage of people get through no matter what. His standard is righteousness and love that are driven by a relationship with Him.

The same examples of opportunities are given as He had presented to the sheep. But in this case, the opportunities had been missed entirely. These people had passed by Jesus when He was in need of food, clothing, and shelter. They had ignored Him when He was sick and in prison.

Just like the sheep, the goats were confused. They had passed by several people in need, but they were sure that they would have never passed by Jesus if they had seen Him in need. But Jesus took neglect of those in need as neglect of Himself, because that neglect betrayed a lack of love in the hearts of these people, which in turn betrayed a lack of relationship with Him from which agape love naturally flows.

As with the sheep, the actions (or lack of actions) by the goats shows their character, and their character determines their destiny. They are doomed to an eternity separated from Jesus and from all that is good, in stark contrast to the righteous, who are rewarded with eternal life.

Father, how many of us go through our days heedless of what is going on around us, and of the opportunities to show Your love and Your grace that You provide on all sides of us. And how many of us stop to realize that our awareness, our decisions to act or to not act when we do see needs, have eternal consequences. Give us eyes that truly see, and hearts that are immediately responsive to the people and needs around us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 23, 2017

Matthew 25:31-40 (NIV) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

This is one of the clearest pictures Jesus ever painted of the last judgment, which will take place immediately after Jesus’ return. The dead will be raised (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and those who are left will be brought together with them before the throne of Jesus for His judgment.

All of the people of the world will be gathered before Jesus, but they will immediately be divided into two groups. This division will be based, not on what each person professes, nor on what they claim to believe, but on the basis of their character, as clearly demonstrated by their actions. (Also see Revelation 20:12-13.) A person’s actions, both in public and in private as seen by God Himself is a valid basis of judging a person’s character, because it is by the fruit of a person’s life that they can be truly known (Matthew 7:20).

The judgment that is received by the “sheep” at Jesus’ right hand is fully favorable. Their lives have demonstrated their solid relationship with Jesus by the way that they have treated Him when they saw Him in need. This list of needy situations is not exhaustive, but gives a clear picture of who these men and woman have been in their earthly lives. They have been generous, sharing food, drink, and clothing with Jesus when He lacked those things. They have been hospitable, opening their doors to Him when He had no place to stay. And they have been caring, visiting Jesus when He was sick and in prison.

Of course these sheep are confused by Jesus’ pronouncement. They have done these things of course, but the people that they did them for weren’t Jesus as far as they knew. They were Mary from down the street, and Phil who lived next door, and the Clement family who was passing through town. They are sure that they would have recognized Jesus had they seen Him in need, and they definitely would have stepped up if they had seen Him. But the people that they had helped were just ordinary people, so they were afraid that there had been some mistake.

But Jesus’ simple answer put away all doubts, all fears. Just as Jesus saw mistreatment and persecution of His people as mistreatment and persecution of Himself (cf. Acts 9:4), so He saw and received ministry to one’s neighbor, even to the poor and strangers, as a direct ministry to Himself. The fact that these people loved “the least of these brothers of mine,” showed that God’s love really was in them, and that they would have undoubtedly loved Jesus in these very tangible ways if they had seen Him in need.

Father, we need to remember that You always do see us, even when no one is around. You clearly see our thoughts and actions that no one else will ever know about. And You see our kind and loving actions toward others, even if we do them anonymously, or swear the other party to silence. May my actions, both public and private, always show Your love so clearly that there will be no ambiguity when I stand before Your throne. May my actions throughout my life show that my relationship with You through Jesus is so real and so strong, that I end up on the sheep side of things with no question. Amen.

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