Monthly Archives: May 2017

Today’s Scripture – May 31, 2017

Matthew 28:11-15 (NIV) While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Roman soldiers were the best-trained, most disciplined military force of the time. When they were assigned to guard something, even a body in a tomb, they did so knowing that if they failed in their duty, their own life would be forfeit.

These soldiers failed, not because they were remiss in their duties, but because they were assigned to stop God’s plan, to stand in the way of His will, and all such efforts will ultimately prove to be futile. They absolutely could have stopped any human plan to steal Jesus’ body, but they could not stop God’s power from causing Him to come back to life, nor could they stop the angel from rolling the stone away from the tomb.

Some of the guards stayed at their post, not sure exactly what to do since their charge was now missing, but unwilling to leave the scene unguarded. The rest went into town. They did not go to their commander to admit their failure to carry out their duty – death would be the only outcome of that path. Instead, they went to the chief priests, to tell them all that they had experienced.

The priests listened to their story, exchanging troubled looks between themselves. When the guards finished, these religious leaders had two clear options: they could admit that they were wrong and believe in Jesus, or they could try to take control of the situation. The first course would be a rejection of all that they stood for, all that they held as dear and true. To turn to the truth about Jesus in repentance would be an admission that, for at least the last three years, they had not been following God at all, but had actually been fighting against Him. Even though this path was the one that clearly followed the truth, it was too costly to them personally, so was rejected out of hand.

The other course was to preserve both their reputation and their positions by controlling the message. So they concocted a story of these elite Roman soldiers all falling asleep on watch and, while they were asleep, the disciples of Jesus coming through and stealing His body from the tomb. To them this seemed perfect. No one believed that a dead body could suddenly spring to life, so credibility was on their side. Stealing Jesus body to fake His resurrection seemed like exactly the kind of thing His followers would do. And it had the added benefit of putting the disciples entirely on the defensive. Breaking an imperial seal and stealing something that imperial guards were charged with protecting was a capital offense for anyone even remotely involved. The threat of their own crucifixion would keep Jesus’ followers in their holes for months; maybe even drive them out of the area for good!

There was one fly in the ointment: if the soldiers admitted to falling asleep on watch, it would be their own lives that would be forfeit. There was no way that they would be willing to stick to the fabricated story when a swift beheading would be the inevitable result. So they turned to a reliable solution, used by liars for long ages past: they gave the soldiers a LOT of money, and promised that they themselves would explain things to their higher-ups (in this case, Pilate), so that they wouldn’t suffer any harm or disgrace. To a group of soldiers who had fainted at the sight of the angel, and then run away in fear, this option seemed very attractive!

The plan worked as far as getting the corrupting message out. And, of course, those who didn’t’ want to believe that Jesus was the Messiah lapped up these “alternate truths” completely. But the truth is still the truth, even if everyone is taught to believe a lie.

Father, it is amazing to me to see these men, religious leaders, clearly know the truth, and then consciously decide to invent a lie to save their own positions and reputations. This was no instance of being mistaken or uninformed, but of purposefully turning people away from what was clearly true, and making them believe a lie instead. Jesus’ earlier assessment of these men in His parables and denunciations turned out to be altogether correct, and His pronouncement of their awaiting doom was well-merited. Help me, Lord, to never turn away from Your truth, to never seek an “alternate story” in order to save my position or reputation, but to simply cleave to the truth wherever it many lead me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 29, 2017

Matthew 28:8-10 (NIV) So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

This is the first of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to His followers – the first of many. The women, prepared for seeing Him alive again because of the angel’s announcement at the tomb, were not terrified by the sight of Him, but were filled with awe, and fell at His feet in worship.

All throughout Scripture, people, and even angels refused worship offered to them by people as completely inappropriate, redirecting people to worship God instead. But Jesus did not redirect the worship of these women. That is because worship of Jesus is actually entirely appropriate, because He is, in fact, God in the flesh. Jesus’ only response to the worship of these women was to tell them not to be afraid, and to reiterate the commission given to them by the angel: to remind the disciples to go up to Galilee for a meeting that had been arranged before Jesus had been arrested.

In all of this interaction with the women, note the swirling of intense feelings that ran through the whole event: fear, joy, and awe were intermixed, sometimes overlapping, as they often are when people are confronted with the Divine. But in it all, the emotions were overridden by the women’s devotion to Jesus, and their eager obedience to His commands.

Father, I see three things in this encounter that really stand out to me.  First, the women encountered the risen Jesus as they were already on their way to the disciples in obedience to the angel’s command. We, too will tend to encounter Jesus in the midst of obeying Your commands. Second, the appropriate response to Jesus’ presence is not to pull out our demands and our prayer lists, but to bow down in awe and worship. And finally, our actions need to be continually fed by our absolute devotion to Jesus, and our complete obedience to Your commands. Help me to keep all three of these truths at the center of my life, today and every day. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 28, 2017

Matthew 28:1-7 (NIV) After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

The women returned to the tomb as had been planned. The previous evening they had watched the sun dip below the horizon, signaling the end of the Sabbath, and had made a beeline for a dealer in spices, where they bought what they needed. (See Mark 16:1.) Then they went back home to prepare everything for the following morning. By the time the sun was clearing the horizon, they were nearing the tomb, where an amazing sight awaited them.

Just before they rounded the last bend in the path to the tomb, a strong earthquake accompanied by a bright flash of light startled them. By the time they arrived at the tomb itself, the stone had been rolled away from the mouth of the tomb, ripping from its cords the clay seal that bore the mark of Pontius Pilate and the authority of the Roman Empire. And the streak of light had coalesced into the form of a man whose body and clothes shone like lightning. The guards were lying motionless on the ground, their minds shocked into a stupor by the stunning sights and sounds.

The women were shocked, too. Though rooted to the spot in fear, they kept their senses long enough to hear the angel give them the glad tidings: Jesus had risen from the dead. The tomb was empty. Then he pointed a glowing finger directly at them, and commissioned them to go and share the good news with Jesus’ disciples. And then he simply disappeared.

It didn’t take more than a quick glimpse into the tomb to tell them that the slab that had held Jesus’ body now only held the hollow, collapsed shell of the linen cloth that Joseph and Nicodemus had swathed Him in. It really was true! Jesus really had risen from the dead, just as He had promised! And so they turned back toward town.

Father, some good news seems almost too good to be true, even if it is delivered by a brilliantly shining angel. And this news was definitely that kind. Even though Jesus had foretold His resurrection numerous times, and promised that it would surely happen, the minds of His followers refused to accept it until it was delivered in such a way that they couldn’t possibly doubt. Help me to hear anew all of the great promises that You have made to me in Your word, and help me to have an open heart that doesn’t doubt, doesn’t question, doesn’t even try to figure out the whys and hows, but simply accepts your word and acts on it in faith. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 27, 2017

Matthew 27:62-66 (NIV) The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

The chief priests and Pharisees had two big problems. First, they refused to accept Jesus for who He claimed to be, in spite of His mighty and inexplicable miracles, including such things as healing a man born blind (John 9), and resurrecting a man who had been dead for four days (John 11). They fully believed that when God did send the Messiah, He would do things their way, and would fully agree with their own ideologies. Since Jesus didn’t do those things, they rejected Him as the Messiah, despite all of the other signs that He performed.

Their second problem was that they had no idea of what God was actually able to do. The miracles in their Scriptures had become for them more like a mythology since, as far as they could tell, He didn’t do mighty miracles any more. (The miracles of Jesus they attributed to another source entirely – see Matthew 12:24.) Their religion was not a walk with God in power, but had degraded to dry forms, without any power at all.

Therefore, when it came time to deal with Jesus’ prophesied resurrection, the only means that they could think of that something like that could be pulled off in the “real world” was deception. His students could break into the tomb and steal the body, then show people the empty tomb and claim that He had been raised. It never entered their closed minds or hard hearts that Jesus could actually rise from the dead for real.

So they determined to use the best “real world” solution that they could think of: an imperial guard. When the soldiers of Rome were assigned to guard something, they guarded it with their lives. Pilate was easily persuaded to assign a guard. To be honest, he simply wanted all of this to go away. If guarding the tomb for seventy-two hours would stop all of the lunacy surrounding Jesus, then so be it.

Of course, God is not intimidated by earthly guards, or even whole armies or nations. Despite the fact that these Jewish leaders slept well that night, believing that they had done all that was necessary to prevent Jesus’ “resurrection,” before they woke the next morning, Jesus would be alive, the seal on the stone would be smashed by angelic power, and the imperial guard would be running to the city in complete terror.

Father, You are the Sovereign God, and what You determine to do will be done, no matter who tries to stand in Your way! The mightiest force on earth at the time couldn’t stop Your plan, and the mightiest forces on earth now or in the future can’t stop it either. Thank You for Your mighty power, and for Your ultimate unstoppable plan, which includes eternal life for all of Your people. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 26, 2017

Matthew 27:57-61 (NIV) As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

Joseph from Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus (John 19:34), and also a member of the Sanhedrin who had voted against condemning Him (Luke 23:50-51). He took it up on himself to see to the burial of Jesus’ body. If no one came forward, the bodies of the crucified would often be buried unceremoniously in a common grave. But Joseph was a follower of Jesus, and believer in what He stood for, and was unwilling to let His body be disgraced.

So after obtaining permission from Pilate (Mark 15:43-45), Joseph, assisted by Nicodemus (John 19:39-40), carefully wrapped the battered and bloody body in fine linen, wrapping in aloes and costly herbs and spices. They didn’t have time to give the body a proper washing and the normal preparation, because their work had to be completed by sunset, when the Sabbath would start. They cut it close, but thankfully Joseph’s tomb was very close to the execution spot, and they were able to roll the stone across the tomb opening just before the sun sank below the horizon to the west.

Their hearts were heavy as they walked away from the tomb. They were deeply grieved at the corruption that they had seen in the Sanhedrin, supposedly the most holy body of leaders in the world. They had watched the animosity of the group toward Jesus grow as His popularity had expanded, so these two faithful men kept their faith in Him quiet. But they had hoped that Jesus would be the One who would restore, not just international power to Israel, but the presence and glory of God. But now it looked like their hopes were in vain.

As they left, two women, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus’ mother were sitting opposite the tomb watching the preparation and burial of the body. It broke their hearts that the preparations had to be made so quickly and incompletely, but they understood; their eyes were also on the setting sun that would soon signal the onset of the Sabbath. So they quietly made plans to come back early Sunday morning, as soon as it was light, so that they could properly bathe the body, and rewrap it with a little more care. It seemed only right to do so.

Father, so much devotion shown by these people! So many, even among those who believed in Jesus, could watch Him die, and then shrug and walk away figuring that He wasn’t really the One after all. But even though they weren’t expecting a resurrection, these four people still hung around to show their final respects to this man who had meant so much to them. Even today, when people don’t get the answers to their prayers that they expect, far too many simply shrug and walk away, figuring that either You don’t exist, or that You don’t actually answer prayers. Help me, instead, to always be among those who continue to hold on to You, to continue to do all I need to do, and to continue to be entirely devoted to you and Your cause. Then, because I stay close, I will be able to see what else you will do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 23, 2017

Matthew 27:51-56 (NIV) At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Just as Jesus’ dying hours were accompanied by signs the heavens, His death was accompanied by signs on earth. Those who wanted to see Elijah swoop down in a fiery chariot and rescue Jesus from the cross were momentarily disappointed, and then were terrified as the ground beneath their feet began to tremble, and the rocks all along the hills, including those covering the openings to tombs, began to tumble down into the valleys.

At that moment, the thick veil in the temple that shut the Holy of Holies away from view was torn in half, from the top down to the bottom, exposing to the eyes of the regular priests the room that had before been reserved for the eyes of the high priest alone, and that only on the Day of Atonement, when he sprinkled before God the blood of the sin offering. This tearing of the veil, not a result of the earthquake, but actually torn by God’s own hand, symbolized the fact that God had brought the blood of His own sin offering into the heavenly Holy of Holies, thus opening the way into His presence, not just to high priests but all people.

The resurrection of the holy people in the tombs around Jerusalem is only reported by Matthew, but was experienced by many others. These were not zombies, but saints of old who were raised from the dead and came out of their tombs as a sign of the new life and resurrection power that was unleashed by the death of Jesus.

Both the soldiers at the cross and the women who were watching from a distance saw the earthquake and the people walking out of the tombs – the execution site was near some tombs that were carved into the rock cliffs on top of which sat the city. (See John 19:41-42.) And they were terrified. They had no idea what these strange events actually meant, but they knew that the confluence of events was no coincidence. Even the pagan centurion realized at that moment that Jesus had been no ordinary man, and the very idea shook him to his core.

Father, even at Jesus’ death You had the last word, as the response of both heaven and earth bore witness to who Jesus was. The people, even His own followers, didn’t yet get it, but more and more would start to put the pieces together after the resurrection, and they would then put their faith in Jesus. Help me to never lose track of who Jesus is in all of the hectic and distracting moments in life, and let that knowledge inform my every thought, word, and deed. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 22, 2017

Matthew 27:45-50 (NIV) From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

Jesus’ death was a real death. It was not symbolic as some try to make it. But it was accompanied by signs and wonders that demonstrated to any with eyes to see that something was going on here at a far deeper level than what it looked like.

Jesus had been hanging on the cross for about three hours when darkness fell across the land – a deep darkness that lasted for three hours at the height of the day, and terrified everyone’s heart. This was no solar eclipse. The Passover always occurs at the full moon, when the moon is opposed to the sun, making a solar eclipse impossible. This darkness was supernatural, demonstrating to all with eyes to see that the light of the world was sputtering and dying, leaving the world in spiritual darkness once again. (See John 9:4-5.)

Finally, after three hours of darkness, Jesus cried out with the opening words of Psalm 22, which outlines so clearly the suffering that Jesus was going through, physically as well as spiritually. For those nearby who knew that Scriptures well, who had marinated their hearts and minds in God’s holy word, these words instantly evoked the whole Psalm, and drew a gasp of recognition from their lips as the veil was lifted and they could suddenly see the awesome reality of what they had always seen as a figurative and stylized description of David’s suffering. Suddenly, here in front of their own eyes, they saw the whole panorama being played out for real.

But for those nearby who had no such depths of familiarity with the Scriptures, the beginnings of Jesus cry to the Father, “Eloi, Eloi,” “My God, My God,” spoken through thickened tongue and dry, cracked lips, sounded like a cry to Elijah for help. These people, who had gotten over the terror of the unnatural darkness, wanted to see some more cool stuff. Here was the potential to see Elijah swoop down from heaven in a fiery chariot to rescue Jesus from the cross. That would be worth seeing! So they shooed away the compassionate man who wanted to give Jesus a sip of sour wine to revive Him a bit, and sat back, their eyes searching the heavens to see if Elijah would come.

But no such event happened. Instead, Jesus gave a loud cry, “It is finished!” (See John 19:30), and collapsed into death.

Father, the blindness of those surrounding Jesus that day continues to astound me. These people, like so many today, reveled in “the show.” They liked Jesus’ miracles because they were strange and eerie, but His teachings, bounced off their hearts. Even at His death, they wanted to see some miraculous sign, and when Elijah didn’t appear, they went away disappointed. They had no idea that what they had just seen and heard was the greatest miracle in all of creation: the Son of God, God in the flesh, willingly laying down His life on that cross to pay for the sins of all humanity, including their own. It was an absolutely mind-blowing reality that they had no eyes to see. Help me to relive these events in my own heart, and to tell the story clearly and boldly to others as well. Amen.

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