WHAT CHANGED THEM? (Easter – Part 2)

But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. … Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” [Matthew 10:17-18,16:24 (NLT)]

rabbitThe Federal Trade Commission is charged with enforcing truth-in-advertising laws so that all advertisements are truthful, not misleading, and backed by scientific evidence. Although drug companies abide by the FTC’s regulations by listing their products’ side effects, between the fine print and the announcer’s fast talk, most consumers don’t understand them. Jesus didn’t resort to fast talk, deceit, or ambiguity when he told His disciples the cost of following him. He was brutally honest and told the disciples they would arrested, persecuted and hated because of Him.

While the disciples may not have comprehended completely, they couldn’t say they weren’t warned and Jesus told them the possibility of losing their lives was very real. Nevertheless, I imagine they thought He was speaking figuratively when He spoke of them carrying a cross. Even though He’d predicted His own death, I suspect his followers really didn’t understand what lay ahead until that fateful night when Jesus was arrested. Once He’d been tried, sentenced, and crucified, I’m sure the Lord’s cautionary words echoed in their minds and they finally understood the reality of that cross they’d be expected to carry! No wonder they cowered together in a locked room. The next step after arresting a revolutionary was to arrest his followers.

It was only John and a few women followers at the foot of the cross and it was a stranger, not a follower, who carried the cross for Christ. Jesus’ disciples, the men with whom he’d lived for three years, weren’t there to carry his heavy load or share his final hours. Rather than His friends, it was a secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, who placed Him in a borrowed tomb. Rather than a day of rest, the disciples’ Sabbath probably was a day of mourning, disappointment, confusion, and fear. Sunday morning, with the Sabbath over, some followers returned home while the rest continued to cower together in fear.

What turned a veritable group of despondent deserters into men who bravely spread the good news of Christ the Savior? These are the same men who fled from Jesus when He was arrested and Peter publicly denied knowing Him three times that night. What caused the two disheartened men from Emmaus to return to Jerusalem and the disciples in that locked room? What turned Jesus’ followers into people who courageously faced persecution and martyrdom? Of the disciples, all but John are thought to have been martyred. They had nothing to gain from a lie but everything to lose with the truth. What turned a bunch of deserters into evangelists? They saw the risen Christ! They spoke with Him, touched his scars, and broke bread with Him. They knew it to be the truth!

We haven’t walked with Jesus, but we’ve read the words of those who have. We haven’t been in the same room with Him, but we’ve heard His voice. We’ve not touched Him, but He has touched us. We haven’t seen his wounds, but He’s healed ours. We didn’t see His ascent into heaven, but we’ve experienced his Holy Spirit. No—we haven’t actually seen the risen Christ but, as Jesus people, “We live by believing and not by seeing.” [2 Corinthians 5:7]

You can kill us. But you cannot hurt us. [Justin Martyr (c. AD 150)]

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. [Acts 1:3 (NLT)]

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” [John 20:29 (NLT)]

WHEN GOD MOVES A STONE (Easter – part 1)

On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside. [Mark 16:3-4 (NLT)]

Easter tombAlthough Jesus repeatedly predicted that He’d rise from the dead, the women didn’t bring clean clothes for a living man that Sunday morning when they went to the tomb. Instead, they brought burial spices of their own with which to anoint His dead body. Because of the Sabbath, Jesus’ burial was rushed and His body laid in a borrowed tomb. Although Joseph and Nicodemus had anointed Him, perhaps the women were concerned that, in the men’s haste to finish before sunset, they hadn’t done a proper job of preparing the body. The spices they brought would conceal the stench of decay and, out of love for Jesus, they wanted to complete the burial rites properly.

Not knowing about the guards Pilate had posted at the tomb, the women wondered how they would manage entry into it. Many Judean tombs were caves. The opening was covered by a large disc-shaped stone set into a groove cut in the bedrock. Getting the stone in place was fairly easy as it was rolled down a slight incline to cover the tomb’s opening. Several men, however, would be needed to roll it up the incline. “Who will roll the stone away?” they asked. Even though the women didn’t know how it would be done, they trusted that it could be done and proceeded in faith.

For a moment, consider that heavy stone at the cave’s opening. It was impossible to remove from within the tomb but it wasn’t removed so Jesus could exit the tomb. The Messiah who raised the dead, walked on water, and healed the sick certainly didn’t need anyone to move the stone for Him. Regardless of size, no boulder could block the way of the one whose resurrection meant that death had been conquered. That stone wasn’t moved so He could get out; it was moved so that His followers could get in, find the tomb empty, and share the good news!

The women didn’t let their reservations about moving the stone stop them from going to the burial site and serving their Lord. What about us? When we are called to serve Him, do we worry about the stones that might block our way and allow them to stop us? Let the Easter story remind us that, just as that stone was removed for the women so they could tell the good news, God will remove the barriers blocking our way from sharing the resurrected Christ!

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” [Matthew 28:5-7 (NLT)]

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You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end! [Luke 1:31-33 (NLT)]

Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” [Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)]

Golindrinas - 14 Station of the CrossSeveral years ago, my mother-in-law was despondent when my brother-in-law’s deteriorating health necessitated hospice care. Parkinson’s disease had taken a terrible toll on him and a mother’s heart breaks when she sees her child’s life disintegrating before him. Yet, that’s what happened to Mary.

My sister was distraught when her son was diagnosed with inoperable cancer; his promising future was cut short and she grieved as she saw him in pain. In the prime of his life, he wasn’t much older than was Jesus when He walked to Calvary. Any mother’s heart breaks when she sees her child suffer. Yet, that’s what happened to Mary.

At a funeral many years ago, I remember the mourning mother speak to me of her child’s death. “It’s not right!” she protested, “I’m the one who is supposed to go first. A mother isn’t supposed to bury her child.” No, a mother isn’t supposed to watch her child suffer and die nor should she witness him laid in his grave. Yet, that’s what happened to Mary.

Like any mother, Mary had high hopes for her special child. The angel’s words more than thirty years before led her to think He’d reign over Israel. That horrible Friday, as her beloved son hung on the cross, did she remember Simeon’s prophetic words and feel that sword pierce her soul?

Did Mary know that Isaiah’s prophecies were about her boy Jesus—that it was her son who would be beaten and whipped, unjustly condemned, “led like a lamb to the slaughter,” and have his life “cut short in midstream?” [Isaiah 53:5-8] Could she possibly have understood how this miraculously conceived son—the infant she nursed at her breast whose birth was heralded by angels, the babe given costly gifts and worshipped by magi from the East, the child Simeon said would be the glory of Israel, the boy smart enough to converse with rabbis, the young man who turned water into wine—would end up dying a criminal’s death?

Standing at the foot of the cross, her hopes for her boy were dashed as He was spat upon and mocked. As He struggled to take His last few breaths, Mary heard his anguished cries and she watched her baby boy die a tortuous death. Her mama’s heart broke as He was placed in a borrowed tomb. Mary didn’t know what Sunday would bring.

When the grief-stricken women went to the tomb that Sunday morning, they didn’t bring clean clothes for a resurrected man; they brought spices for the anointing of a dead body. They weren’t expecting an empty tomb. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, they didn’t know.

He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. [Isaiah 53:9 (NLT)]

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If any of you wants to be great, he must be your servant. If any of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. That’s how it is with the son of man: he didn’t come to have servants obey him, but to be a servant – and to give his life as “a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:26b-28 (NTE)]

tri-colored heronWhile the accounts of the anointing of Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-8 are similar, they are different events and different people were involved. Luke tells of an unnamed woman and John tells of Mary of Bethany. Although both women wiped Jesus’ feet with their hair, the unnamed woman, a notorious sinner, was an uninvited and unwelcome guest in the Pharisee’s home. Mary was a well-respected and devout friend of Jesus and welcome in her sister’s house. Pharisees were present at one and Christ’s disciples at the other. Where the Pharisees saw a sinful woman’s bad character, Jesus only saw a repentant sinner. Where the disciples saw an extravagant waste of money, Jesus saw a woman who offered a gift of love. He defended one woman’s actions by pointing out that she’d done what His host had failed to do. He defended the other woman’s extravagance by reminding his disciples that she was preparing Him for burial.

They were different times and different places but both women humbled themselves at Jesus’ feet. Both women took on a job that belonged to servants and, while most people chased after Jesus because they wanted something from him, neither woman asked anything of Him. Instead, they offered all they had. One woman’s old life died as she washed His feet and the other woman’s brother, who died, now lived. Their generous acts declared the women’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah. We may come to Jesus as a repentant sinner or we may come to him with praise and thanksgiving but, like both of these women, we must always come with a humble heart that is ready to serve.

The most radical act of humility and service, however, occurred shortly after the disciples argued over who among them was the greatest. That night, in the room where they’d gathered for their Passover meal, Jesus (the greatest of them all) knelt at the feet of His disciples. Knowing full well that soon one of them would betray Him, another would deny him, and all would desert him, Jesus humbly washed their feet. That was God incarnate kneeling in front of them and washing their feet but we don’t read of any of the disciples offering to wash His!

Today is Maundy Thursday and several Christian denominations will have communion services in remembrance of that last supper. As a visual reminder that loving Christ means service and there is dignity in serving others, some churches also will observe a religious rite called Washing of the Feet. As members of the Body of Christ, we are to follow His example by serving one another in humility and love. Like the unnamed woman, Mary of Bethany, and Jesus, we must have the heart of a servant.

One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us. [John Wesley]

“Do you know what I’ve done to you?” he asked. “You call me ‘teacher,’ and ‘master,’ and you’re right. That’s what I am. Well, then: if I, as your master and teacher, washed your feet just now, you should wash each other’s feet. I’ve given you a pattern, so that you can do things in the same way that I did to you.” [John 13:12-15 (NTE)]

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The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God!  Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” [John 12:12-13 (NLT)]

All glory, laud, and honor to you, Redeemer, King,
to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
You are the King of Israel and David’s royal Son,
now in the Lord’s name coming, the King and Blessed One.
[Theodulph of Orleans (820)]

palm - ncp7943awWe are people of physical signs and symbols and rituals help us connect with events. As a little girl, I loved Palm Sunday and not just because it meant my Lenten fasting would soon end and jelly beans would be in my Easter basket the following week. I loved the way our liturgical church observed it. The hymns of the day were filled with hosannas (a welcome relief from the more somber hymns of the Lenten season). Typically, the opening hymn was “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” and we children would follow the choir into the church while waving our palm branches. Even as a small child, I knew this day commemorated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Like the people of Jerusalem, I was filled with joy on this day. Having sung that “the wee little” Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to see the Lord, I pictured people lining the streets and jostling one another for the best view as they might for a parade. I wondered if little children sat on their parents’ shoulders so they could see Jesus. Between the palms I waved and the day’s joyful music, I felt like I was there in Jerusalem and watching the promised Messiah approach on his donkey.

Today, in preparation for Palm Sunday, rather that thinking about those joyful cries of “Hosanna!” and the royal welcome given to our Lord, I thought about Jesus and what He must have been thinking. As Jesus neared the city, Luke tells us that He wept. Jesus, however, wasn’t just a little teary-eyed. Luke used the word eklausen which meant to sob or wail loudly, as one who mourns the dead! As He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, Jesus was in tears!

Having already told his disciples He would suffer and die, we know Jesus saw what lay at the end of the parade and it’s easy to think His tears were because of the horror awaiting Him. Those sobs, however, weren’t for Him—they were for His people and the city of Jerusalem.

Jesus knew that, in spite of their hosannas, He would be rejected. The people didn’t want their Messiah to be a Prince of Peace—they wanted him to be a conquering king. As He rode into town, Jesus pronounced judgment on the city that was blind to the true nature of God’s kingdom and prophesized its siege and destruction. Thirty-seven years later, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, the city was burned, the Temple destroyed, and over one million Jews were slaughtered. While palms waved and people cheered, the grief-stricken Jesus saw Jerusalem’s future and sobbed. It would be nearly 19 centuries before the Jews again had a homeland.

On that Sunday so long ago, the Prince of Peace arrived in the city whose name meant peace. The first part of Jerusalem’s name is yiroo, meaning “they will see” or “they will feel awe,” and core of the word is shalem, meaning completeness and wholeness. Shalem is the root of the Hebrew word for peace—shalom. Jerusalem’s name literally meant, “They will see wholeness” or “They will feel the awe of completeness.” That day they saw the wholeness of God but, sadly, they didn’t understand!

But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” [Luke 19:41-44 (NLT)]

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That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. [Acts 16:9-10 (NLT)]

hope cloverI can’t say that I’ve ever had a dream or vision as clear cut as was Paul’s. If I ever did, I’m not sure I’d be as quick as he and his companions were to trust it. In Paul’s case, however, the dream helped him understand why the Holy Spirit previously prevented the men from preaching in the provinces of Asia and Bithynia (modern day Turkey). After hearing the Macedonian man’s plea, Paul finally had a clear sense of God’s direction. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke headed west to Troas, set sail across the Aegean Sea, and made their way to Philippi in the Roman province of Macedonia (northern Greece). Paul’s obedience to that call took the gospel west toward Europe and changed Western civilization forever!

Nearly 300 years later, Irish history was changed when the man we know of as St. Patrick had a similar dream. Born Maewyn Succat around 387 in Roman Britain (Scotland), Patrick was kidnapped by Irish marauders at the age of sixteen. Taken to Ireland, the boy was sold into slavery and labored at herding and tending sheep. According to his memoirs, as Patrick prayed several times a day during his captivity, his faith grew and he felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. After six years of enslavement, he had a dream in which God told him, “Your ship is ready.” The young man escaped, walked 200 miles to the coast, and found some sailors who took him back to Britain. Once home, Patrick had another dream in which he was given a letter titled “The Voice of the Irish.” Upon opening it, he heard the voices of the people who’d once enslaved him calling, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” Initially reluctant to answer the call because of his lack of education, Patrick began religious training. He returned to Ireland about 15 years after his dream and the man known for explaining the Trinity with the three-leaved single stalk shamrock evangelized all over the land for the next thirty plus years. Patrick is said to have converted over 135,000 people, established 300 churches, and consecrated 350 bishops.

While we’re not likely to have such vivid dreams as Paul and Patrick, we should listen for the “Voice of the Irish” and be looking for a “man from Macedonia” in the people who cross our paths every day. They’ll probably look and sound much like everyone else and yet they’ll have a pressing need to know Jesus. May we respond as readily as did Paul and Patrick. We probably won’t change the world as did they, but we surely can change the world for someone.

God’s plan for enlarging his kingdom is so simple – one person telling another about the savior. Yet we’re busy and full of excuses. Just remember, someone’s eternal destiny is at stake. The joy you’ll have when you meet that person in heaven will far exceed any discomfort you felt in sharing the gospel. [Charles Stanley]

For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” [Romans 10:13-14 (NLT)]

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