Sunday, April 20, 2014

Do not fear!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 28:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "But the angel answered and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid'.... Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid...'" Matthew 28:5,10

So often in the Bible, the first words heaven speaks when it encounters earth is "Do not fear. Do not be afraid."

Why is that? Perhaps because there is within those encounters all the fear-producing elements:

Fear: 1] an agitated feeling aroused by awareness of actual or threatening danger, trouble, etc., 2] An uneasy feeling that something may happen contrary to one's desires. 3] A feeling of deep reverential awe and dread 'the fear of God.' 4] A continuing state or attitude of fright, dread or alarmed concern."

Angel encounters are beyond the ordinary, the explainable, and outside usual human experience. Our sinful state and tendencies anchor in reality the fears that come out in such meetings. It is natural to react like Isaiah did: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" - Isaiah 6:5.

The word 'fear' used by the angels and Jesus here is phobeo, defined as "panic that grips a person causing him to run away, be scared, alarmed, frightened, dismayed, intimidated, anxious and apprehensive (compare 'phobia)"  - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1308.

"Don't do that — run away, be scared, alarmed, frightened," say the angels and Jesus at the unveiling of the resurrection. "For this is good news. Now your most basic fear — the fear of death — is conquered."

Imagine how incredible must have been the realization for Jesus' disciples and friends that He was back. But even greater the joy when it finally sunk in what He had accomplished. That what He had said to Martha just before raising Lazarus ("Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die'" - John 11:25-26) was now a reality for them, indeed for all who believe in Him. For us! We do not need to be afraid of our last great enemy - death.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for conquering death in Your resurrection. May the knowledge of what that means for me sink deep into my psyche, helping me life free-fear. Amen.

MORE: Easter! "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" - Steve Green

The Easter Day liturgy begins with this collect:

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Fighting against God

The sealed tomb - artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 27:57-66

TO CHEW ON: "'Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away and say to the people, "He has risen from the dead."' … So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard."  Matthew 27:64,66

How futile to fight against God this way, we say in hindsight, as we read about the precautions the religious leaders of Jesus' day took to guarantee His influence would come to an end. The days and weeks after Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit have more examples of fighting against God.

After Peter healed the lame man and the city was all a-chatter about that miracle, the rulers made another pronouncement: "But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them that from now on they speak no more in this name." To that Peter and John answered: "… we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" - Acts 4:17,20.

A short while later Peter and John made a miraculous angel-aided break from prison and the leaders found them again teaching in the temple. Again the high priest forbade them to teach in Jesus' name, to which Peter they replied: "We ought to obey God rather than men" - Acts 5:22-29.

Finally, the Pharisee Gamaliel came to this rather profound conclusion: "'… keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of man, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God you cannot overthrow it—lest you be found to be fighting against God'" - Acts 5:38,39.

I sometimes wonder what side some of Christendom's current leaders would have found themselves on if they had lived in Jesus' day. What about us? When God works in ways that are biblical but new to us, what do we do? Are we quick to defend our tradition, labeling what we haven't seen before out-of-line, wrong, even demonic? Or do we take a wait-and-see attitude, careful to avoid being in the dangerous position of fighting against God?

PRAYER:  Dear God, help me to be in tune with You and what You are doing. May neither my human skepticism, the fear of man, nor any other thing take me to a place of fighting against You. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Friday, April 18, 2014


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 27:27-56

TO CHEW ON: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" - Matthew 27:46

Jesus and God the Father were always incredibly close. Even at twelve years, Jesus wanted to be in his Father's house and seemed surprised that His parents hadn't thought to look there first when He was discovered missing on their journey back to Nazareth.

At Jesus' baptism the Father, in "a voice from heaven" alerted the onlookers to their relationship: "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

Jesus was always going off somewhere to spend time with His Father. He'd get up early, spend all nightstay behind, go off by Himself  just so He could be with Him.

Again at Jesus' transfiguration, God the Father broke through to the human bystanders in the proud pronouncement: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"

So when Jesus cried from the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" we know something very serious was up.

And why Had God the Father forsaken His beloved Son? Because that Son had become something the Father could not look at. Jesus became utterly abhorrent to God when He took our sins on Him.

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Why did Jesus and God allow that to happen? Because:

"God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life' - John 3:16

Explained eloquently by J. I. Packer:

"God's love to sinners was expressed by the gift of His Son to be their Saviour. The measure of love is how much it gives and the measure of the love of God is the gift of His only Son to be made man, and to die for sins, and so to become the one mediator who can bring us to God. No wonder Paul speaks of God's love as "great," and passing knowledge (Ephesians 2:4; 3:19). Was there ever such costly munificence?" - Knowing God, p. 138-9.

PRAYER: Dear God, Thank You for sending Jesus. Jesus, thank You for enduring the utter desolation of my sin and death on the cross and so that I can be reconciled to God. Amen.

MORE: Good Friday

Today the church celebrates Jesus' crucifixion. We call it "Good Friday."

The Good Friday liturgy begins with this collect:

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Andrew Peterson's song "The Silence of God" portrays how we  feel when it seems God is giving us the silent treatment. At such times perhaps the best thing for us to do is follow Jesus' example and keep praying.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Devilish Judas spirit

Judas before the Sanhedrin - Alexandre Bida
Judas before the Sanhedrin - by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 27:1-26

TO CHEW ON: "Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders."  Matthew 27:3

I have thought a lot about Judas. What drove him to betray Jesus? What inner need was he giving in to?

Our passage today implies (when it says "…seeing He had been condemned, was remorseful…") that he may have thought his actions of betrayal would force Jesus' hand. Perhaps he thought that Jesus would again slip out of the grasp of the scribes and Pharisees as He had at other times. And this time, He would assert Himself as Messiah and show Himself to be the human King of the Jews.

We know that the other disciples had co-ruler ambitions. The mother of James and John asked that her sons have special positions in Jesus' kingdom. How much more Judas, who handled the money and already dipped into their common purse for his own use? In other words. I believe Judas thought his relationship with Jesus was a means to improve his own fortunes.

Are we so different? Don't we also often think of ourselves as the privileged chosen who, because of our relationship with Jesus will escape sickness and money problems, will have good families and successful businesses? What happens when things don't turn out the way we expect? Might we also be tempted to try to manipulate Him to follow our agenda? (You didn't hold up your end of the bargain, so I'll turn my back on You. Pout, pout.)

But Jesus had told them that following Him would include more than blessing and well-being:

"'Assuredly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters of father or mother or wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel's who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—house and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life'" - Mark 10:29,30 (emphasis added).

Let's be watchful over our own motivations, careful to recognize and deal with any selfish ambition that might, if left to grow, sabotage our loyalty to Him when His plans for us turn out to be entirely different than we had imagined.

(Jesus' description of Judas is strong: "…one of you is a devil" - John 6:70.)

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to love and follow You, not for selfish gain but because You are truth and life (John 6:67,68). Amen.

MORE: Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, the church feast that commemorates the Last Supper Jesus celebrated with His disciples. Here is the Collect that begins the day's liturgy.

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stumbling and remorse

"Peter's Denial" by Otto Dix - 1960
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 26:57-75

TO CHEW ON: "And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times!' So he went out and wept bitterly." Matthew 26:75

Peter wept for good reason. Not only had he let himself down, but he had let Jesus down  and this mere hours after declaring, "even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble" - Matthew 26:33.

His trip-up wasn't just a momentary lapse either. When given a chance to reverse his disloyalty he had nailed it down with an oath, then dusted off his colourful fisherman's vocabulary to dance around it with curses and swearing.

When he heard the rooster crow, he remembered. It's almost as if he was temporarily insane. But that cock crow pulled him back to reality and deep, deep remorse.

His story and other instances of remorse following stumbles in the Bible teach us some valuable lessons:

1. Anyone can fall.
David, who was called a "man after God's own heart," indulged in adultery with Bathsheba and then committed murder to cover it up. He felt similar deep remorse. His feelings are recorded in Psalm 51.

2. It's important to feel remorse in time.
Proverbs 5:7-14 and Ezekiel 7:14-16; 36:31 talk about being remorseful too late, when the situation is lost or when life is all but over.

3. Remorse without repentance is dangerous.
The writer of Hebrews talks about Esau (who was full of regret after trading his birthright for a bowl of stew) as having remorse that didn't fruit into anything good (Hebrews 12:17). Neither did Judas's remorse at betraying Jesus (Mattthew 27:3,5).

Fortunately, Peter's remorse took a different path. He and Jesus were reconciled and he was even able to extract from that experience of stumbling a triumphant theme:
" are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple... 
'He is the stone that makes people stumble,
      the rock that makes them fall.'

   They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people..." (NLT from 1 Peter 2:4-10)
I am not immune from stumbles. You probably aren't either. Let's determine, though, to learn from those falls and to return quickly to Jesus with remorse and repentance, knowing that there is for us, like there was for Peter, a place in God's "spiritual temple."

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live alert to situations that would stumble me. When I fall, help me to get up and return to you not only with remorse, but also with repentance. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The stumble trap

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 26:31-56

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to them, 'All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: "I will strike the Shepherd
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered."'
" - Matthew 26:31

Jesus predicts a sobering thing when He says that the disciples will stumble that night.

The Greek word translated stumble here is scandalizo. It means: 1] To put a stumbling block or impediment in the way to entice to sin; 2] To cause a person to begin to distrust one whom he ought to trust and obey so that he falls away, is offended, judges another unfavourably 3] To feel annoyed, displeased, indignant.

Matthew uses the same word:
  • When he quotes Jesus on plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand that makes us stumble (Matthew 5:29,30; 18:8,9).
  • In the parable of the sower as Jesus describes the shallow-rooted person as one who stumbles as a result of tribulation and persecution (Matthew 13:21).
  • As a description of the scribes and Pharisees' reaction to Jesus' teachings: Disciples: "'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended (scandalizo) when they heard this saying…" (Matthew 15:12; also 13:57).
  • To describe what people do who cause children to sin and lose their faith. Jesus: "… but whoever causes one of these little ones to believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck …'" (Matthew 18:6).

It's easy for us to fault the disciples for stumbling after the years they had spent with Jesus and especially after He told them to be alert to this happening. But we are hardly different.

A few weeks ago I broke my hip in a fall down some stairs. My reaction to this was not happy and faith-filled. In fact, I sensed in me some of the reaction of stumbling of the shallow-rooted person who falls away because of trial.

I see several applications for life here:

1. It is important that we are steeped in the truth about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and what our life on earth is about, so we don't have unrealistic expectations and thus stumble when they're not met—like the disciples did; like we so easily do when things don't go our way.

2. We can stumble others—children, our fellow church members, unbelievers—by our reaction to God's dealings with us and with others.

PRAYER: Dear God, I feel warned about having an attitude that causes me to stumble when you allow less-than-pleasant things in my life. Help me to be alert to times when I could stumble or when my attitude could stumble others. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Table Covenant

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 26:1-30

TO CHEW ON: "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Matthew 26:28

Here we have the story of Jesus starting something new or, better said, revealing the next chapter of God's plan that lay within something old.

He and His disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. This was the symbolic meal the Israelites had celebrated since the night before their exodus from Egypt. It is explained in Exodus 12. There Moses instructed the people how to celebrate it. He also told them to eat it yearly from then on, using the various rituals of preparation and menu items as prompts in retelling the story to their children of how God had spared the life of each family's firstborn child the night the Death Angel visited Egypt.

Jesus and His disciples were eating this Passover meal when Jesus took parts of it—the bread and the wine—and gave them new significance. Of the bread He said, "Take, eat, this is My body." Of the wine, "Drink from it all of you. For this is My blood of the new convenient which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

A sidebar article in my Bible explains the significance of what He was doing:

"Jesus used the occasion of the Passover meal to inaugurate the New Covenant. The symbolism of the Passover meal under the Old Covenant was about to be fully satisfied through Christ's crucifixion. In this historic moment, Jesus transformed the meaning of the elements of the Passover meal into New Covenant thought.

The bread now represented His body, which would be given, and the cup His blood, which would be shed for the forgiveness of sins The holy requirements of God and the Old Covenant were about to be forever satisfied.

A new and living way into the presence and provision of God was being prepared through Christ, the Lamb of God. A new and eternal bond was being established by the blood of Jesus Christ. God was sovereignly inaugurating the new and ultimate covenant" - Charles Simpson - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1339.

Though a covenant between two people or parties is an agreement by both sides, a God-initiated covenant is solely His idea. We have nothing to bring to it—no bargaining power or clout of any kind. This covenant, to give us life when we deserved death because Someone took our place, is entirely His gift to us.

As we approach Easter, the realization, again, of the hugeness of His gift is reason for nothing but thankfulness and worship.

(Read more about covenant at Rebecca Writes - Theological Term of the Week: "covenant")

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this new covenant by which I have life when I deserved death. Help me to respect the Lord's Supper, treating it with the solemnity it has as Your initiative, pledge and seal of undeserved favour. Amen.

MORE: "Come to the Table" by Michael Card

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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