Monthly Archives: June 2018

Today’s Scripture – June 29, 2018

Luke 24:28-35 (NIV)

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Cleopas and his companion, both disicples of Jesus, although they were both prevented from recognizing Him as He walked with them and taught them on the road to Emmaus, were completely fascinated with what He was teaching about the Messiah directly from the Scriptures. So, when they reached their house in Emmaus, and when Jesus simply said good-bye and started to continue down the road, the two disciples begged Him to stay with them for the night. Such hospitality was common in Israel, and He agreed to stay.

The first order of business was a simple evening meal, bread and vegetables, with maybe a small portion of meat or a cup of soup. They put the food out, then all gathered on cushions around the low table to eat. Before they started, Jesus picked up the bread, lifted it high, and chanted the prayer of thanksgiving. Then He broke the bread in half and gave it Cleopas and his friend.

As he chanted the prayer, the two disciples could feel goosebumps start to rise on their skin. The sound of His voice and the rhythm of the chant were eerily familiar. And when He broke the bread and leaned forward to hand it to them, He looked each directly in the eye for the briefest moment.

Suddenly they both recognized who it was that they had been walking with and talking with. It was like scales had fallen off their eyes so that they could see. They both leaped to their feet while shouting in unison, “Jesus!” And, at that moment, He simply vanished, leaving only a dent in the cushions where He had been sitting.

The room was as silent as a tomb for several seconds as their minds spun rapidly, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Then they looked at each other, each seeing their own dumb-struck wonder reflected in the other’s face. And then, finally, the words came, spilling out all at once: “That was Jesus! It had to be Him! That was why His words had such a powerful effect on us! He really has risen from the dead!”

In seconds they had grabbed their walking sticks and thrown their cloaks across their shoulders. But their sticks never touched the ground as they set off at a dead run in the fading daylight back toward Jerusalem. The others had to know about this!

When they arrived breathless in the city, they headed straight to the upper room, where they found the whole place already abuzz with excitement. Not only had Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:10-18), He had appeared to Simon as well! They listened closely as the stories were told, their excitement steadily growing as the ramifications of all this sunk in. Then they shared their own experience with the risen Jesus while the rest of the people in the room sat in silent wonder.

Father, it strikes me as I witness these scenes that none of these men and women had taken an evangelism class, and I’m pretty sure none of them had had advanced theological training either. But when it came to sharing about Jesus, none of that slowed them down a bit! All they did was to share their own experience with the risen Jesus. And, in a very real sense, that’s all that You have called us to do as well. Lord, forgive us for allowing a lack of “credentials” to keep us silent. Our only necessary credential is experience with You. And forgive us for allowing ourselves to be intimidated by the idea of being a witness. We don’t need memorized presentations, lists of verses, and answers to commonly asked questions. All we really need is a life-transforming experience with You that we can share. Help us to just rely on that, and on Your loving presence, to help us. Amen.

 

For those of you who enjoy my meditations on the Scriptures, I have compiled, updated, and reformatted the meditations on the entire book of Mark in a single volume. Entitled “When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on Mark,” it is available on Amazon.com (Search for William S. Robertson When We Listen) or on eagerpress.com (no search necessary – it comes up on the front page of the site!).

God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 28, 2018

Luke 24:17-27 (NIV)

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Even though they had been prevented from recognizing Him, Jesus started a conversation with His disicples on the way to Emmaus, asking what they were discussing so energetically as they were walking along. He already knew, of course, but by giving them the opportunity to verbalize the issues with Him, He would have the opportunity to inject some teaching into the situation.

First, Cleopas shared some of the things that they knew about Jesus. First, they knew that He was a genuine prophet, one who spoke the words of God to the people so that they could learn His ways more completely and realign their lives with His requirements. Second, they knew that He was powerful in speech and action. Not only did Jesus do many mighty miracles, the like of which had rarely if ever been seen before, but He taught in ways that broke apart the sterile traditions of men, and literally changed lives.

Then the narrative turned darker as he detailed Jesus’ arrest and murder. He didn’t have to talk specifically about His death – mentioning that “they crucified Him” was enough, because crucifixion was pretty much a 100% effective method of killing someone.

Then Cleopas talked about the real subject of their discussion. They were both troubled and confused by the events of the last three days. Despite Jesus’ clear teaching about what was going to happen to Him, none of His followers believed that He could possibly be arrested and killed. Everything that they heard Jesus say was colored in their minds by their belief that the Messiah was all-powerful and invincible. His arrest had troubled the disciples; His death had caused them to doubt everything they had believed about Him. And, to top it all off, now there was talk about Jesus rising from the dead, visions of angels, and a confirmed empty tomb. They just didn’t know what to make of it all.

The time had come. Cleopas and his companion were frankly amazed when this “stranger” chided them for being foolish and slow of heart to believe what He claimed were the truths plainly contained in the prophetic writings that they should have been very familiar with. To prove His point, Jesus went clear back to the books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), pointing out prophecy after prophecy that detailed who the Messiah was supposed to be, peeling away the layers of opinion and “interpretation” that had accreted over the years, and showing how He Himself had flawlessly fulfilled every one of them.

From there He moved to the prophets, showing forth every Messianic prophecy in all of its clear original text and context. Shed of the years of interpretive decoration and modification, the truth began to shine clearly in the minds and hearts of those disicples, and they could easily see that everything that had happened, the miracles, the teachings, the battles with authorities, and even the arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, were direct fulfillments of God’s portrait of the Messiah painted throughout the Old Testament.

Father, it is amazing to realize that we do the same thing today! We have the same tendency to read Your word, but to interpret it based on our currently-held beliefs and what we have been taught it means. We cover the clear words of Your teaching and instruction with layer upon layer of traditions and “interpretations”, read those layers as if they were Your words, and then sit in darkness and confusion when things happen that seem to contradict what Your word “says”. Lord, clear our eyes as You cleared the eyes of Cleopas and his companion. Help us to clear away the layers, and to simply read Your word as You gave it. Restore to our hearts the wonder and awe of how perfect and accurate Your word truly is. Amen.

For those of you who enjoy my meditations on the Scriptures, I have compiled, updated, and reformatted the meditations on the entire book of Mark in a single volume. Entitled “When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on Mark,” it is available on Amazon.com (Search for William S. Robertson When We Listen) or on eagerpress.com (no search necessary – it comes up on the front page of the site!).

God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 27, 2018

Luke 24:13-16 (NIV)

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

This event happened early on Easter Sunday afternoon. At this point, Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20:14-18), but these two disicples had left before her report had been brought to the others in the upper room.

Now that the Sabbath was over, these two followers of Jesus, one of whom was Cleopas (verse 18), were going home to Emmaus, a few miles to the west of Jerusalem. As they walked, they had a lively discussion about the events that had recently taken place, and about what they might signify about Jesus.

Although not a part of the twelve apostles, Cleopas and his companion were disciples of Jesus who followed Him because they believed Him to be the Messiah. Luke doesn’t include the details of their conversation, but it is easy to surmise the content. There was no doubt that the miracles that Jesus had done validated Him as a messenger who had come from God (John 3:2; 9:30-33). But the popular belief was that the Messiah would take over the throne of Jerusalem as the true king of Israel, and that He would live forever, be completely invincible. But Jesus had seemingly not fulfilled either of those expectations. He had been arrested and killed, so clearly He was not invincible. And He had not made Himself king; the Romans were just a firmly in charge as ever.

Cleopas and His companion wanted to believe in Jesus. They even wanted to believe that He had risen from the dead that morning in fulfillment of His promise. But it was hard for them to come to terms with the seeming impossibility of all of that. So they discussed, they opined, they even argued (the Greek word includes all of these shades of meaning), trying to make sense of it all.

It was then that they realized that someone was walking right behind them. That didn’t puzzle or alarm them. This was a well-used road, and they hadn’t been walking very quickly as they talked. They glance back, but didn’t recognize the man who was strolling along at the same pace as they were going, just listening to them talk. Some have wondered whether it was the sun in their eyes that kept them from identifying Jesus, or whether it was simply the fact that they did not expect to see Him there. Some have even opined that Jesus’ appearance was changed. But the simple answer is given in Luke’s own words: “they were kept from recognizing him.” This was Jesus’ doing. He would reveal Himself to them soon. But first there were some things He had to teach them, and they would absorb them much better if they weren’t at the same time trying to come to terms with the reality of His resurrection.

Father, sometimes we fall into the same situation, arguing about theology or current events without realizing that You are right there with us, able to help us to understand, if only we would be quiet and listen to You! Thank You that You are always with us, able to teach us Your ways, able to help us understand Your word, and able to give us wisdom to see what is going on behind the scenes. Open our eyes, Lord, so that we can see You right there with us. Open our ears so that we can clearly hear Your voice. And open our hearts so that they can be instantly responsive to all that You want to show us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 26, 2018

Luke 24:9-12 (NIV)

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

The women ran from the tomb in fear, and went straight to the disicples, who were lying low in the upper room. Hurriedly, with their words spilling over each other, they shared what had just happened: the rolled-away stone, the empty grave clothes, the light, the angels, and their message of resurrection and fulfilled prophesies. But the disciples discounted their words completely – not because they were women, but because what they were saying was so far outside normal experience. Things just didn’t work that way in the real world!

But Peter, after a moment’s hesitation, got up and decided to check things out for himself. Even if you discounted the story about the angels, something was clearly not right at the tomb and needed to be checked out. (John makes a point of telling us in John 20:3-9 that he went along with Peter to the tomb, even outrunning him!) Jesus had told them all several times that He would be killed by the gentiles and then rise from the dead. On one of those occasions, Peter had rebuked Him, and had been strongly rebuked himself (Mark 8:31-33). But Peter now realized that the first part of Jesus’ prophecy had been fulfilled in spades. Could the other part be fulfilled as well?

When Peter got to the tomb, he walked straight in, and saw exactly what the women had reported: the wrappings were still there, but the body was clearly gone.

As Peter left the tomb, a thousand possibilities flooded his brain. The body could have been stolen, but by whom? And for what purpose? He double-checked the area to make sure that he had the right tomb, but there was no mistake there. So, he simply left the garden, scratching his head in bewilderment.

The only theory that Peter was unwilling to consider at this point was the one that both the empty tomb and the women clearly attested to: that Jesus, true to His word, had indeed risen from the dead, and was now walking around somewhere alive again. Even when that idea popped briefly to the surface of his mind, he swatted it away. It was inconceivable! Things just didn’t happen that way.

Father, Jesus was right when He chided the disicples when He appeared to them later that day: “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25) Even after all that they had seen Jesus do, none of His followers were even willing to consider that He could rise from the dead. They allowed their knowledge of the “real world” to dictate what they would consider possible for You to accomplish. They even discounted the wonders You had done in the past, under the rubric of “God doesn’t work that way anymore.” And, unfortunately, I hear that same rubric today in the Church, hear people putting the same limitations on what even Christians are willing to believe that You can do. Forgive us, Lord, and show us Your power in ways that will open us up to new possibilities. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 25, 2018

Luke 24:1-8 (NIV) On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” Then they remembered his words.

The Easter story has become so well-known among Christians that, for many, it has lost its wonder. But the events of that morning mark a profound break with “the way things always happen,” and have never allowed them to go back to the old way again.

Several of the women who had come to Jerusalem with Jesus had worked until sunset on Friday, the start of the Sabbath, in preparing herbs and spices, and then finalized their preparations as soon as the sun went down on Saturday, ending the day of rest. Their intent was to be back at Josephs tomb in the garden at first light on Sunday, somehow roll the immense stone away from the tomb’s opening, and then unwrap Jesus’ body, bathe it, anoint it properly with the scented oils that they had assembled, then rewrap it more carefully than the short time span had allowed for before the Sabbath had started. It was a final act of respect and devotion for the man that they had believed was the Messiah.

But imagine their surprise when they arrived and found the stone already rolled away from the mouth of the tomb. And imagine their dismay when they went in and found that Jesus’ body was gone. The grave clothes were still there (John 20:6-7), but they were collapsed, lying flat. They ran their hands quickly over them, but all they could feel was the cold stone slab beneath. The body was completely gone!

While they were still wondering, before they had even had time to do more than to cry out in dismay, the tomb was suddenly filled with a brilliant light that threw their shadows onto the wall in stark outline. They turned and saw two men behind them whose faces and clothes shone like the sun, and instantly they recognized them as angels, and fell with their faces to the ground in terror.

But the angels were not there as agents of God’s judgment; they were there as messengers of good news: Jesus was not there because He had risen from the dead, just as He had told them that He would. The fact that they were stunned and troubled by this, the fact that their minds had gone everywhere EXCEPT resurrection when they found the tomb empty, actually caused God Himself to be a little bemused. They so honored and respected Jesus, so honored His teachings, but they completely dismissed His prophecy that He would rise on the third day. God’s messengers accurately communicated that divine bemusement by their question and announcement: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”

Father, unfortunately, I can absolutely understand exactly where those women were in their thinking, because we are still there today. We believe Your word right up to the point where we cease to see how Your promises can be fulfilled in our own strength, or by our own technology or modern science. But we rarely believe You beyond that. We believe that You can heal people from the things that we can treat medically. We believe You can help us to be successful in our calling if we work and strive at it. We believe You can transform lives through education and good Christian counseling. And we believe that You can raise the dead if EMTs are on the scene with defibrillators and it hasn’t been too long. But Your abilities are neither defined nor limited by our knowledge, our skills, or our technology. If You make a promise or tell us that You want to do something, the only thing that can stop it is our unwillingness to believe and act on Your direction (cf. Matthew 17:19-21). Forgive us, Lord, for our small faith. Help us, help me, to believe Your word completely, and to follow Your lead wherever You send us, so that Your supernatural power can work all around and through us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 24, 2018

Luke 23:50-56 (NIV) Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Not everyone in the Sanhedrin had sold out to the leaders’ agenda of hate and destruction. Joseph was a good and righteous man who followed Jesus secretly. He, together with Nicodemus (John 19:39), could not bear the thought that Jesus would be thrown into an unmarked mass grave by the Romans, the normal fate of those crucified. Joseph owned a brand-new tomb in a garden right next to where Jesus had been crucified. He had carved it out of the rock of the hillside for himself and his family, but it had not yet been used.

Tombs in those days were multiple-use structures. The body of the deceased would be laid on a raised stone slab in the center of the tomb, then the stone would be rolled in front of the opening, and the body left there for several months, possibly until the next person in the family died. At that time, family members would open the tomb and gather the bones from the slab and place them in a bone-box (ossuary) that had the person’s name engraved on it. The ossuary would be placed in a niche for perpetuity, and the slab was cleaned and made ready for whoever needed it next.

But before Joseph could bury Jesus in his tomb, he had to ask Pilate for permission to take the body. This was a very gutsy thing to do, because it would immediately identify him as someone who was sympathetic to Jesus and His cause. The penalty could range from being arrested as a co-conspirator if the governor had believed what had been told to him about Jesus, to being persecuted by the Jews, and very likely losing his seat in the Sanhedrin. But none of that mattered to Joseph. Things had gone too far, and it was high time for him to take a stand for the right.

Pilate was amazingly amenable to Joseph’s taking charge of Jesus’ body; he just had to verify that Jesus was really dead before he would release Him to his care (Mark 15:44-45). The sun was setting fast by the time Joseph and Nicodemus got Jesus’ body down from the cross and carried it to the tomb, and when the sun set, the Sabbath would begin. So, the two men had to work quickly. They had brought about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39), spices that would blunt the odor of rotting flesh, and linen cloth. They quickly wrapped the body in the cloth, and packed the spices around Him. Then, just before the sun set, they rolled the heavy stone in front of the opening of the tomb, and wearily turned to go home.

The women who had accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem were troubled as they watched these proceedings. There had been no time to wash Jesus’ body, and the wrapping had been too hastily done. They carefully noted the location of the tomb, then went and prepared their own spices and perfumes. They would rest on the Sabbath in obedience to God’s law, but at sunrise on Sunday they would be back, and would redo everything properly so that Jesus could rest in peace.

Father, it is easy to forget how much these early disicples of Jesus were willing to risk for His sake. The easy thing to do would have been to lie low for a while, to keep their heads down until the emotions had abated. But their reverence for Jesus, even in death, knew no bounds. Lord, fill me with that same passion, that same devotion to Jesus and for his name, so that I am driven to glorify Him the same as they were, even if it is risky. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 22, 2018

Luke 23:44-49 (NIV) It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

After assuring the thief next to Him of a future in paradise, Jesus still had three long hours to hang on the cross. And during those final three hours, between noon and three p.m., the sky went dark. This was not an eclipse. The Passover occurred at the time of the full moon every year – precisely the wrong time for a solar eclipse. And no solar eclipse would make it dark for three hours. Even though many have tried to come up with some kind of natural explanation for this deep mid-day darkness, the simplest explanation is the best: the darkness was a sign from God that something terrible was happening.

There was little talking from those on the crosses as breathing became harder and harder. And the crowd of onlookers and jeerers grew more and more quiet as the darkness continued and grew positively oppressive. There was a sense of awe and dread that grew more and more profound the longer it went on, and several people left to go check on their families in town.

Finally, with a great effort, Jesus pushed Himself up on His nail-pierced ankles and shouted a line from Psalm 31: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” Then He sank back down, and with a deep sigh His head dropped down in death.

At that moment, the earth shook with a strong earthquake that roiled the land so strongly that it rolled the stones away from the mouths of many of the tombs in the area (Matthew 27:51-52). In the temple, the huge curtain that separated the holy place from the holy of holies was torn in half from top to bottom. This curtain was woven in layers, nearly four inches thick, and was untearable by any human means. This was another sign from God, showing that the veil of separation between Himself and sinful mankind had been taken out of the way. And, at the same moment, the darkness suddenly disappeared.

Even though the people at the cross didn’t know about the temple curtain being torn in two, the cry of Jesus committing His spirit into God’s hands, the great earthquake at the moment His head sagged down in death, and the blinding return of the daylight, put a deep fear into the hearts of the soldiers and all of those who had come to mock Him. The centurion’s statement that surely Jesus had been a righteous man, innocent of the charges that had put Him on the cross echoed in the minds and hearts of many of those near the cross, making them look at each other, then hang their heads in shame and strike their chests as they left the site, thinking, “What have we done!?”

But those same signs were a vindication for all of those who knew Jesus and who were watching these events take place from the far side of the crowd. They knew that Jesus was innocent. But that vindication brought only a brief moment of comfort as the truth hit even more forcefully: Jesus, the one whom they had trusted and in whom they had put all of their hope, was dead.

Father, we all go through times when it feels like the darkness has settled in so hard that it will never leave. But into those moments, if we trust and do not lose hope, You can take the opportunity to shine brilliant light into our hearts that will lead us away from the smothering darkness of death into the warmth and light of eternal life in Your presence. Help us to never lose hope, even when our path leads through the darkest valley (Psalm 23:4), but to hold tightly to You until we reach the other side. Amen.

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