What Jesus Said: “The Expectations of the Master” – Matthew 5-7

If you breeze quickly through social media like Facebook, you may see how little has changed over the centuries in regard to what gets people “wound up.” Imagine if there were social media outlets at the time of Jesus. What would you read about? I suspect posts would have highlighted concerns, and perhaps even voices of outrage at the following realities:

Economic Inequity: The world seemed very economically divided between those who possessed the best things this life could offer and those who had hardly enough to survive, or were living paycheck to paycheck. In the shadow of Tiberius’ residence in Rome, starving Romans passed through the streets. Among those scratching out an existence in daily labor, many felt their efforts were being sucked off into the purses of the rich and they itched for a justice they couldn’t seem to get through the economic system in place at the time.

Political Intrigue: Political leaders flopped from one crisis to another as they fixated on the head of state and his personality. How Tiberius felt and whether or not he slighted some Senator would have been all the rage. Politicians jockeyed endlessly through a never ending series of internal divisions to gain or hold some sense of power. They weren’t sure what the Emperor would “tweet” next. They didn’t know who was “in” and who was “out” on a daily basis. Rumors swirled. All they could do was align themselves with strong political allies and hope their party would gain or hold power long enough for them to build a successful political career. They cared about their world, but they were much more invested in holding onto their place than standing firmly on big issues – since those who stood on principle often ended up floating in the Tiber River.

Theological Incoherence: Religious leaders were vastly separated into different “faith” groups, and they didn’t really attempt to venture out of their little “kingdoms” and encounter one another. There were no great conferences to bring together the long established cults of the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) and blend them with the more “contemporary cults” (like that of Isis). Off by themselves in corners of many cities were the followers of the God of Abraham, and many of their leaders were clinging to arrogance and steeped in minutiae of their own theological debate, while their culture spun out of control around them. Add to that, many of the followers of the God of Abraham could be found to living quite differently than the ideals they taught.

Does this sound like things have changed all that much? I didn’t think so either.

One day truth came like a piercing light into a pitched dark room… When it flashed, it hurt the eyes of people who had grown used to cynicism and dark thinking. Jesus came. He walked among men. He looked humble, but possessed the greatest of wealth. He sounded plain-spoken, but offered the richest truths of mankind’s Creator.

The Gospel according to Matthew followed the saga of Jesus pressing against the political power machine, the confused religious establishment and the raw demonic attacks as the light of truth pushed into a well-fortified castle of darkness. Many were captive there, and God wasn’t content to let darkness prevail. Consider what Jesus did:

• He came to bring truth that would settle people in times of crisis.
• He came to fill the emptiness with real substance.
• He brought satisfaction to those who longed for deep truth.

In this lesson, we begin a short memory of the story unfolded, from its beginning to the first sermon of Jesus recorded in its pages. There is a truth that will become clear:

Key Principle: Jesus’ message made clear his expectations for the character, the commitments and the choices of a true follower.

To grab that truth, we should set the first sermon, found in Matthew 5-7 in the context of the book.

Look for a moment at the opening of Matthew’s Gospel. What do you see? It is a long list of names, a genealogy. In your mind, or in your Bible, write the word “Promise.” The opening verses should remind us that Jesus came in response to a long-revealed promise, and part of a long-blessed family line. His coming included God’s use of unexpected people, as in a group of Gentile women like Rahab and Ruth are found on that list – and none of us would have made a plan that included them. God isn’t like us! (Matthew 1:1-17)

Go to the last part of chapter one (Mt. 1:18-25) and add in your margin or mind the word “Miracle.” It took Divine intervention to bring a child to a womb without a father, but God knows how to make an entrance and enjoys dropping surprises into His story. This was a child born of miracle.

Move on to chapter two, and place beside the narrative the word “Dignitaries” to remind yourself of the story of the arrival of the Magi from the East, when they brought unexpected honor to a meager couple because they recognized the significance of the Child’s arrival (Mt. 2:1:12). At the same time, you may write the word “Reaction” beside the last part of the chapter because His come coming was met with a violent, bloody reaction from those who clung to the power of darkness (Mt. 2:13-23).

Turn to chapter three, where John the Baptizer was preaching from the Jordan, and mark the word “Announcements” because the arrival of Jesus was publicly broadcast by John even as a thundering voice from the Heavens by God Himself proclaimed His satisfaction on His Son’s coming (Mt. 3:13-17).

Now drop your eyes to Matthew 4, and write the word “Temptation” as you note how Jesus stared down the enemy face to face in a direct contest (Mt. 4:1-11). I would add a second word, “Message” beside the summary where He fired a warning shot in His message of life change (Mt. 4:12-17), and mayb e a third word “Disciples” at the point in the text where He gathered close companions (Mt. 4:18-22) to charge into the small villages of the Galilee encountering the sick and demonically abused (Mt. 4:23-25).

We have the story of a fulfilled promise, a miraculous birth, powerful dignitary visitors and brutal political reaction. Jesus emerged from the shadows with the endorsement announcements of a godly man and God’s voice. He faced His enemy, gathered His first followers and began His ministry… now, what did He teach first? That is our lesson…

Matthew chapter five opened the preaching message of Jesus beyond the summary words “He preached repentance and the arrival of the Kingdom” from chapter four.

We shouldn’t be surprise that Jesus knew the kind of followers He was looking for, both then and now. Though the Gospel of Matthew is thematically arranged, this sermon of Jesus was clearly offered early in His earth ministry, and had these three major parts:

• The Expected Character Traits of a True Disciple (5).
• The Expected Commitments of a True Disciple (6:1-7:12).
• The Expected Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-29).

This first major sermon offered the truths about what Jesus expected from His followers.

First, He expected “Character Traits” (Matthew 5)

The first part of the message can be grouped generally into four major character traits Jesus pressed His disciples to exhibit to be a true follower:

His opening remarks offered this: “You cannot be about YOU and ME (5:1-12) at the same time!” Jesus expected His followers to be “other person centered.” Let’s take a look.

Jesus began with words that separated those who were ready to fulfilled and blessed from their countrymen. Promises of blessing were woven into the lives of people who followed His teaching (Mt. 5:1-12). These opening words are called the “Beatitudes.” The setting was a hillside on the north of the Sea of Galilee, where Matthew noted:

Matthew 5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and [began] to teach them, saying…

A rabbi normally stood for the reading of Scripture, but they sat down when they were about to offer their key teaching. Jesus sat, and the disciples gathered close to hear. He said:

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when [people] insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In essence, Jesus said He expected His followers to run from self-reliance into His arms, depending on His strength, not their own. He said: I am seeking one who is:

• Look at the word POOR and read: bankrupt in their own spirit, and not self-dependent (3),
• Look at the word MOURN and see one empty enough to mourn their own insufficiency, not self-secure (4),
• Look at the word GENTLE and see one worn enough to lose a sense of self-reliance (5),
• Hungry for a righteousness denotes they don’t have, and are not self-satisfied (6),
MERCY reflects an attitude that is caring enough not to be unduly self-focused (7),
PURE IN HEART suggests an openness that is vacant for God’s use and not divided into other loyalties (8),
PEACEMAKERS show someone kind enough to release self-serving agendas (9),
PERSECUTED set them apart as patient enough to endure hardship and not become easily self-defensive (10),
INSULTED shows they were compassionate enough to be patient while unfairly taunted (11-12).

We fire back at people when we aren’t Jesus centered, but feel the need to protect our own weakness. Jesus isn’t weak. He doesn’t require my feeble voice to protect His strength.

In short, a Jesus follower must become “other person centered.” Paul later said it this way (when addressing Jesus followers):

Philippians 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus wasn’t done. In addition to relying on HIM, they would need to grow to rely on ONE ANOTHER. He said His followers needed to act in concert and not plan to stand ALONE (5:13). This emphasized the loyalty of the believers together in their “salt”. He said:

Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?

In the Near East, the salt was a symbol of loyalty. Mark 9:50 finished the saying this way: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Add to that Jesus’ expectation that we would not come to Him and then hide it. He said: “You cannot remain anonymous!” (5:14-16). You will not be hidden, for you are not called to be hidden! His expectation was this:

Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus then, made clear He wanted God-reliant, team-oriented and openly outreaching people to be His followers. He expected that.

The Manual of Behavior for a Jesus Follower

It is important that we also understand where the standards of discipleship that Jesus set before the crowd originated (5:17-48). The Law of God was His given standard, (5:17) but only when truly understood with His true intent (5:18-48). Listen to what Jesus said about the Law:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Jesus had no desire to render the Law void, neither by “keeping it and thereby retiring it” nor by cancelling it. He wanted His followers to recognize the intent behind it. That is why we teach the principle approach to the Scriptures. All Scripture is profitable, but much of it was written NOT TO ME but rather FOR MY BENEFIT. Let me explain:

Jesus offered a series of six “You have heard it said…” type quotes ranging over five issues. Most of them were “word for word” lifted out of the Hebrew Scripture (though not all). He included sayings about:

• Murder
• Adultery
• Divorce
• Revenge
• Enemies

They heard ‘You shall not commit murder’ – but Jesus argued that His original intent was not to limit the scope of harm to a knife or a club, but to include “murder by mouth” and other kinds of wounds to the heart. The Law appeared to say you were not in violation as long as they were still breathing – but that wasn’t the point of what God intended. As Jesus explained, the point of “Do not murder” was to place the weight of another person’s well-being on your shoulders, and make us care about what we say and do to hurt or hinder one another.

They heard ‘You shall not commit adultery’ and thought God wasn’t upset until they were caught in the sack together. Jesus said God’s real intent was to keep our eyes from roving and our thoughts from fantasizing about physical rendezvous with another that was not our spouse. Adultery occurs in the head, not just the bed. That was God’s point.

They heard ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’ and thought God was fine with them making a covenant of marriage and then finding an excuse to walk out on that covenant. Jesus argued forcefully that our words before God matter, and the covenant promises we made in marriage matter. He went on to press the case by saying, Don’t make complicated arguments to get out of things you promised. Just say what you mean and mean what you say.

They heard ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ and thought God was legalizing revenge. The law of the scales was intended to establish that a punishment was to fit the crime, not license revenge at all. Jesus turned that desire upside down and told His followers to hunger to be helpful instead to hungering to get even.

At that point, Jesus left the words of Scripture and moved to the words of some rabbis who had influence on the crowds, but weren’t accurately reflecting God’s intent at all. He said they heard: ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Jesus made clear that wasn’t even what God SAID, let alone what He INTENDED.

What God DID say was this:

Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

Exodus 23:4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.

Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

Here is the point: Jesus said the standard for His followers was His Word, set properly in its context and filled out with the principles behind what was written.

It wasn’t just a set of memorized rules – the Law provided a mindset, an understanding of the bigger things God cares about.

Without the Law, Jesus followers will seek other standards to follow Jesus. They will either get used to walking without the knowledge of what pleases Him, or they will fill in the blanks with things they care about and make it sound like Jesus had the same cares.

List what Jesus said He cared about. It will sound like this:

• I care about people – their feelings, their needs, their success.
• I care about purity – our heart, our inner integrity, our authenticity.
• I care about promises – keeping our Word, particularly when promised before God.
• I care about passion – letting how I feel govern what I do when others hurt us.
• I care about practice – showing love to others and not keeping account of wrongs of others.

Jesus offered eight areas of commitment (Regular Practices) in which His Disciples would regularly engage (6:1-7:12)

We can’t look deeply into these in this lesson, so I am dedicating the next one to these eight intimate practices of a Jesus follower. Here is what we can say to help hold the message together…

The first three practices all focus on ONE VALUE, that of a personal, intimate authenticity that avoids SHOWMANSHIP. Our faith isn’t a public show – our heart is connected to God on the most intimate level.

• Giving for God’s eyes only (6:1-4).
• Praying for God’s ears only (6:5-15).
• Fasting for God’s attention alone (6:16-18).

Next Jesus turned to issues of our genuine trust in God. This second set of practices focused on the temptation we all have to operate life apart from resting in God’s power. He said:

• Save for your “Heaven account,” not just retirement (6:19-24).
• Trust God for things we don’t control and things we THINK we do (6:25-34).

The final set of teachings show our confidence must be in God’s power, not ours. In practice, we should so value the Word, that we guard the truth of it in our daily practice. We should be people of grace, looking to help a neighbor but discipline our behavior as an example to others.

He offered these three more practices…

• He called His followers to judge people properly (7:1-5).
• He called His followers to guard carefully truth vigiliantly (7:6).
• He called His followers to seek God’s provision regularly (7:7-12).

We will take more time here, but don’t miss the key points.

Jesus told us to avoid the temptation to put on a show with our faith – because in the loss of authenticity we become acting hypocrites.

Jesus told us to intentionally place our lives at His command and disposal, and not see ourselves as “un-coached free agents.”

Jesus told us to deliberately seek God’s blessings of provision, and be neither presumptuous nor ungrateful.

Do you see what ties them all together? They are about attitude and they are intentional. Let me say it plainly, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you won’t be able to think like everyone else, and you will need to deliberately open yourself to allowing the Spirit of God to deal with your attitudes. All of us must make the effort, and our attitudes will show how effective we are becoming at following Jesus. It won’t be our service alone, because we can put on a show. Our following of Jesus will show up in the inner attitudes of the heart that we know we won’t let go, and let God change. It comes down to active choices…

Four Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-27)

When it came down to it, followers of Jesus were, and are measured by our choices to do the unlikely and often unpopular thing – we follow Jesus. We make daily choices:

• He told of two gates (7:13-14): A true disciple must choose the path less traveled, opting to forego the way “everyone else” seems to be going! You have a choice!

• He told of two fruit trees (7:15-20): A true disciple will be careful to watch the fruit of a teacher before following their message (7:15-17). He will recognize the fruit exposes the type and usefulness of the tree (7:18-20). You must evaluate my teaching as true!

• He told of two confessions (7:21-23). A true disciple won’t just speak as though they know me, but will live according to My teaching (7:21). Some will even be self-deceived into thinking they experienced My power in places where My presence was not even found (7:22-23). You must submit to obeying My words!

• He told of two foundations (7:24-29). If you hear and then follow My word you are building well (7:24-25). If you hear my teaching but don’t allow it to transform you – you are setting yourself up for a future collapse (7:26-27). My teaching must be transforming you!

Jesus ended His message with four choice statements. Will you choose to follow Him even if it is not popular? Will you choose to follow a world that is killing the fruit that was so abundant when we took His Word more seriously? Will you pretend to know Him, but not obediently listen to Him? On what will you build your life.

Jesus expected us to choose His way over the way of the crowd, the way of convenience, or the way of casual acquaintance. He doesn’t want fans – He wants followers. He made clear the character, commitments and choices He expected in a true follower. It shouldn’t surprise us to know that Jesus knew what He was looking for in a follower. The question is: Are you truly seeking to be one?

Dr. Haddon Robinson writes: “Some people are attracted to Christianity because they have a leaky faucet that they want God to fix. Perhaps they struggle with a destructive habit and they would like to tap into God’s power to help them break it. Or maybe they have broken relationships that they want God to mend. But they learn from this Sermon on the Mount that God is not a plumber. Leaky faucets are minor league stuff to Him. God wants to tear the plumbing out entirely and deal with the well from which the water flows. He wants to change what comes out of the faucet, not merely stop its leak.” – The Solid Rock Construction Company, pg.122

Jesus wants to go deep inside of you, and change who you are. He has the power to do it, and the expectation that you will let Him.

Resurrection Sunday: “The Evidence” – Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 21-22

Resurrection Sunday is a time of celebration every follower of Jesus anticipates. I think it is easy to say this is the single most significant day on the calendar of Jesus followers. Each year on this Sunday we recall some stories of a forty-day period of time that took place in and around Jerusalem some two thousand years ago – all that began with a sad trip to a cemetery just before sunrise on the Sunday morning following Passover, during the days of Unleavened Bread. When you hear the report put that way, it doesn’t sound all that compelling… but if you will allow us a few moments of exploration from the Christian Scriptures, you will easily see why those days are remembered to this day.

At the heart of the assertions of Jesus is the one where He claimed to be the One and only way to the Father in Heaven. Jesus openly exclaimed He was ONE with God. He claimed to SPEAK for God. He claimed to be the EXCLUSIVE DOOR to God. If those claims are found to be true, they cast aside literally millions following other religions and other truth claims about the afterlife and reduce truth down to one option. That sounds pretty heady, and such a claim requires more than just blind acceptance.

Just because His followers have long bought into those claims – that doesn’t prove them. Many who live in our time do not agree. Let me politely but pointedly ask: “What are the chief evidences for those claims?” The evidence couldn’t matter more when you make claims that affect the life, death and eternity of someone! Let me illustrate in a small way, if I can:

Anyone in our country who was alive or even semi-conscious in the 1990’s knows the face of OJ Simpson. Orenthal James Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, and later was endowed with the nickname “The Juice.” He was a talented and accomplished American football running back, a well-known broadcaster, a Hollywood actor, and now he is inmate number 1027820 at Loveland Correctional Center in Nevada. He is serving time as a convicted armed robber and kidnapper. In the eighties, Simpson rode high in public life and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Retiring from football, Simpson began new careers in movie acting and TV football broadcasting. In 1994, Simpson was dramatically chased and arrested after the body of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and that of her friend Ronald Goldman were discovered. A lengthy and internationally publicized trial (referred to by some as a “circus in court’) followed. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, but the families of the victims filed a civil suit against him, where the court eventually awarded them a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson for the victims’ wrongful deaths. Because the threshold of evidence in civil court was considerably less than that of the criminal court with a jury, American jurisprudence found him both innocent and guilty. In one court, there was insufficient evidence to convict. In the other, there was more than enough and he was held liable. In both cases there were counter stories, but in the final analysis, it is still not completely clear what exactly happened. The point is that evidence matters. What the court allowed submitted mattered. The threshold of judgment used matters.

If you cut out half of the evidence from submission at trial, the verdict will probably change. If you require every submitted testimony to match “word for word” in order to be included as part of the case, the verdict will likely change.

This is one of the great problems with how people evaluate the Resurrection claim.

It is a fact that some who looked at the evidence presented of the Resurrection have concluded that Jesus was not raised. Some call it a hoax. Others simply dismiss the record as old and religious – inherently unreliable. The challenge of the Resurrection message is this: it is incredibly hard to believe a dead man was raised if we don’t see proof. What evidence should be offered? Clearly a missing body is not enough. The chief evidence of the Resurrection cannot be merely an empty cave. It cannot be merely a few witnesses of some unexplained events. That is enough to keep a conspiracy theory alive… but not enough to change an Empire.

I submit to you the confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection is overwhelming, if you allow us to include all the key evidences and you are fair with their examination. The Gospel writers tell us of an empty tomb, but they tell us much more. In fact, they leave us with this truth…

Key Principle: The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

The evidence for the Resurrection was found in changed hearts and transformed lives of thousands who remained steadfast in the face of tremendous pressure and persecution to deny what the claim.

Go back to the beginning of the story…The Bible records many post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus of Nazareth. The collected accounts stand squarely against the idea of some “mass hysteria” or that His followers cleverly fabricated evidence concerning the risen Jesus. They go to that first Sunday morning, to the earliest appearances recorded to have been on the first day of the week after the Passover in what we celebrate as “Resurrection Day.”

Before we look at the story, it is worth thinking about what would have been the “normal” course of events for one who died as a Roman criminal, as Jesus did in the first century story.

Most Romans were cremated after death. Jews, normally rejecting cremation, buried in an “articulated burial,” that is, they buried the whole body in a shroud in the ground. They didn’t all get their own hole, but rather a hole was opened to place the body into a plot where others were buried beneath them. Through the past of humanity, most people were “gone without a trace” of them. Jews prepared a body for swift decomposition by spicing and wrapping a body in degradable oils which caused the body to break down faster.

Jesus was in a borrowed tomb. He didn’t belong to the 5% of the wealthiest that had rock-cut rolling stone tombs, and His family tomb would have been in Nazareth or Bethlehem – certainly not in Jerusalem. The fact is, the women who went to spice the body after they borrowed Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, thought His body would be placed in the ground at another spot. God interrupted their plan.

Four Writers Blended

Because there are four accounts, I took the time to piece together all four and carefully connected the sequence of the story in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. It appears to be this:

The Soldiers

It was the first day of the week after the Sabbath. Matthew’s account recalls the first people to know something was wrong were the guarding soldiers. A severe tremor shook the ground, and the stone was dislodged and seal broken on the tomb. After being paralyzed with fear, the guards apparently fled the scene. The tomb had likely been sealed with a large stone that was “cork-shaped” and wedged into position, as opposed to a massive rolling stone. The archaeologist Urban C. Von Wahlde pointed out for the readers of Biblical Archaeological Review a few weeks ago:

It may very well be that people rolled the ‘cork-shaped’ stones away from the tomb. Once you see the size of a ‘stopper’ stone, it is easy to see that, however one gets the stone out of the doorway, chances are you are going to roll it the rest of the way.

The Women

A bit later, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, and a few other women brought spices and came to the tomb having left home while it was still dark, but arriving just after sunrise. They were discussing how to unseal the tomb (Mark 16:3) when they arrived and discovered the stone already moved. The women entered the outer chamber where the body should have awaited spicing, but the body was not there (Luke 24:2). About that time Mary Magdalene decided to go and tell Peter and John something was wrong, for the body of Jesus had been removed from the tomb (John 20:1-2). After she walked away from the ladies, Jesus’ mother and the other women stepped outside the tiny chamber, shaken by the missing body and the open tomb. It didn’t make sense! Something attracted them, perhaps a light flashed inside the chamber, and Mary and the women looked back inside and were greeted by two angels who appeared inside the preparation chamber where the body once lay (Mark 16:5-7).

Initially they fell down before the angels because of their terrifying brightness (Luke 24:4-5), but after a recovery time, they composed themselves and were instructed to go and tell the disciples what had transpired. Further, they were to tell them to meet together, and in a few days journey to the Galilee as Jesus had previously told them (Matthew 28:4-7). The careful explanation of the need for the Crucifixion and Resurrection helped the women to understand what they had just passed through, and why it was essential (Luke 24:7-8). A little while later, the women departed while pondering all the words that were spoken and offered no words for passers-by, for they were utterly astonished at what they just encountered (Mark 16:8). They returned to the disciples with the angel’s message (Luke 24:9-11).

Mary of Magdala

During the time the angels were instructing the women at the tomb, Mary Magdalene (who had already departed) started toward the disciple’s common chamber, but slowed because she was apparently overtaken in emotion. She began to weep and sob. There had been so little time for grief, and she didn’t want to upset the others. While she cried, she was approached by a man she thought to be the gardener and talked with Him for a few minutes. Jesus revealed Himself to her and she grabbed Him and cried for joy! After a few minutes with the Savior, she ran to the men to tell them she saw Jesus (John 20:13-18).

At the Disciples’ Chamber

Staying away from sight in Jerusalem, the disciples were hurting and trying to figure out what the Crucifixion meant for their future. The women returned from the tomb astir from the scene and rattling off the words of the angels. Mary Magdalene returned claiming she saw the Lord in person. It all sounded like nonsense; some of the disciples decided to add a rational voice to the mix.

Peter and John at the Tomb

Peter and John chose to run to the tomb and see for themselves. They arrived at the tomb and saw the grave wrappings, but no body (Luke 24:11-12). They apparently left without seeing Jesus or an angel, and Peter went to his own lodging (not back to the disciples gathering) perplexed by the scene (Luke 24:12). It wasn’t until much later that day the Lord chose to show Himself to Simon Peter, without the other men around (Luke 24:34).

At the Temple

Likely in the temple precincts, the soldiers of the temple guard reported what they saw at the tomb. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the captain of the guard decided it best to pay a sizeable bonus to the men to withhold their account and begin a false story about “body theft” at the scene (Matthew 28:11-15).

On the Road

On a road leaving Jerusalem to a nearby hot spring, (Emmaus or Hammat mean “hot spring”) two disappointed men journeyed to the house of Cleopas (one of the two) and were joined by a stranger who seemed “out of touch” with the sadness of the past few days. Cleopas invited the man home and He shared the meaning of the events (Luke 24:13-35). When He prayed, they knew it was Jesus, and He disappeared from them. They reported the scene back to the disciples.

The Twelve

By nightfall that Sunday of the Resurrection, the news was spreading. Some were saying Jesus had risen. Others were saying (because they were paid to spread the news) that His body was stolen. Mary Magdalene saw Him, but the disciples (apart from Simon Peter) had not. Jesus came to Peter, but we have no information as to what happened between the two of them. The men gathered in a room to try to discern the next steps, and Jesus appeared to the ten of them who were present. (Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-24). Thomas was missing at the time (John 20:24). Jesus asked to eat with them, and shared with them the meaning of the events of that week.

Over the Next Month

Jesus came again to the men some eight days later, when He appeared while Thomas was with them. The Master had a conversation with Thomas in front of all the others (John 20:25-28). The men were told to leave Jerusalem and go to the Galilee, probably back to Capernaum.

A few days later, Jesus again appeared. Over the next month, He was seen a number of times. On one occasion, the eleven were assembled privately on a hill where Jesus had previously instructed them to gather, and Jesus met them. He offered to them the words of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-19). Other accounts tell of a few times Jesus met individual followers like His half-brother James and some others (1 Corinthians 15:7). On some occasions He met large crowds and was seen of them – like the five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6). Another important occasion is recorded to help us see how Jesus mended the fractured group of disciples when seven disciples met Him after fishing on the Sea (John 21).

His final appearance was forty days later… Jesus then appeared again in on the Mount of Olives before the disciples (Lk. 24; Acts 1) at the Ascension.

Those are the accounts.

There were virtually no rich people, no people of profound political influence, no incredibly famous first century people who were included in the story. Jesus was seen repeatedly, and taught a number of recorded lessons – but no one of influence was a part of the whole account. That begs the question…

“How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the Roman world?”

Three hundred years later, all the Empire proclaimed Jesus as their true King! How could such a message spread? Consider what we DO have…

First, the tomb guards knew the truth; for they saw what happened at the tomb was not by human hands (Matthew 28:1-4).

Even though the enemy planted early counter-stories, the message would not die.

Matthew included both sides of the story of the guards. First, he reported what happened:

Matthew 28:2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

A few verses later, he made clear how a counter story was started:

Matthew 28:11b “…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.

These men were Roman guards, but likely attached to the local High Priest. That wasn’t a unique arrangement. The Romans tried to intertwine their authority structure with the local one. The bottom line was this: they were told to lie. Money changed hands. They knew what happened, and they knew what they were told to say. Which do you think lasted until THEIR death bed? In the end, if the men had any sense and thought what they saw could help them in eternity, the lie wouldn’t last. As the message of Jesus spread, the widespread stories about His appearances led people to suspect a cover-up. Like many seedy such affairs, the truth won out.

Second, the women who loved Jesus knew the truth; for two angels carefully explained it to them (Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:7-8).

How could one explain Mary, the mother of Jesus, moving from such painful despair, to peaceful confidence right after His death? She changed because she saw something. She had confirmation that He was the very One Who was promised by the angel at the beginning of the Gospel story.

Even though the scene of the Crucifixion, with its gore and disgust, made little sense to people at the time, the truth fit the prophecies. Can you not see how Mary would read these words and think of the hours spent with her little boy, long before she saw Him wince at the piercing of the nails. She knew these prophesied verses:

53:1 “Who has believed our message? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground…3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief …4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried… 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

Those words came from a prophet seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Mary knew them. She knew the troubles would come. She knew because she heard the whole prophecy given to her. Do you remember? She was walking, so long ago, with Joseph into the Temple. Jesus was a baby in her arms. An old prophet named Simeon stepped out and said over the baby:

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Mary knew Jesus would bring about change. She knew her heart would be broken. She knew God would unmask the cruelty of her religious leaders and her political superiors. She DIDN’T know that God would demonstrate life-giving power like that of the Resurrection! She heard about Lazarus, but now she saw this power for herself. Her eyes dried. Her confidence returned. Her ears listened and her heart was full. Her Son was not dead!

Third, Mary Magdalene, who followed and honored Jesus knew the truth; for she saw, touched and spoke with Jesus (John 20:13-18).

Even though it seemed like the followers of Jesus were abandoned by God, He would show them tenderness and care and help them keep going. She grabbed Him, and He told her that He had a mission to complete from His Father in Heaven. She came that day expecting to wash Him, placed on His broken and lifeless body the spices. She came to mourn. She came to finish something. Then she met Him. He wasn’t done! He had things to do, and she needed to get busy.

Imagine the posture she had walking toward the tomb early that morning. Imagine the sadness in her heart, the redness in her eyes. Imagine the bewilderment as she tried to discern what, if anything, was the forward plan? BUT… then she saw Jesus! She grabbed His robe. She heard His voice! She KNEW He was alive. The gate of her walk changed. Her smile returned. Her heart was mended. Anyone who saw her later that day saw a new woman… Her Master was STILL at work!

Fourth, the traveling Cleopas and his friend knew the truth; for they visited with, and prepared to eat with Jesus in their home (Luke 24:13-35).

Even though it seemed like none of the events worked toward a bringing people to God, it could all be carefully explained if people would listen to Jesus. Cleopas got a front row seat to God’s seminar on the need for the death and new life of Jesus. Imagine finding a follower who was in the city, but didn’t seem to know what happened! As people scurried about, the man must have walked unconscious of the day. How could that be? Yet, the stranger Cleopas met on the road didn’t seem to have a clue about his sadness. Here is the thing: the man knew the events – but he didn’t agree that they were sad ones.

The death of Jesus, as gruesome and horrid to watch as it was, offered life to the dead. The Lamb died, but the followers could now live. This was not an end; it was a new beginning. God gave access directly to Him apart from the Temple, the priests and the altar of burning flesh. The Lamb died, once for all.

Fifth, His disciples knew the truth; for Jesus appeared to them to answer their questions and eat a meal with them (Luke 24:36-48, John 20:19-24).

Even if it felt like there was no one who could carry the movement forward, Jesus had a plan. At first it was just Peter who saw Him. Then James the half-brother of Jesus met with the Risen Savior. By nightfall, all the Disciples save Thomas (who must have kicked himself for being busy and missing the meeting) saw and heard the Risen Master. He ate with them. He had the marks of death, but the look, feel and sound of life! The movement wasn’t ended… it was just the beginning!

Finally, great crowds of followers knew the truth; for the Lord especially appeared again to show Himself to them (1 Corinthians 15).

Jesus appeared to the crowds a number of times to validate the message that He was alive! He didn’t want the whole proposition to rest merely on a handful of encounters. He was public about His power. People saw Him. They learned from Him again…but that only explains the encounters. That isn’t the whole story….

How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the whole Roman world? If it weren’t by people of influence, how did the message spread?

In short, it spread by means of people who were so certain of what they saw, no one could talk them out of it – no matter the bait or the threat to them.

First, the people were changed by encountering the Risen Jesus.

Years ago I shared with our study a story about a woman who had a son fighting for his country. One day, much to her horror, the War Department chaplain showed up and her door and told her never to expect him in her arms again. He was gone. Her heart was broken. Friends began to gather, when another chaplain showed up and asked to speak to her alone. She sat out of the porch, a house full of friends inside. The chaplain told her that her son was, in fact, alive. He was part of a prisoner exchange that was to take place two days hence. She could not tell anyone or her son and the whole of the exchange, would be uncovered and perhaps scrapped. To save his life, she could not let on her son was alive. In days, he was home. Newsmen came and stood on her front steps as she told the story and said: “The hardest part was continuing to appear to mourn when I knew he was alive!” I have never forgotten that story! It is hard to mourn when you know the truth. Dear ones, the Son is alive. He is alive INDEED.

Second, His followers clung to one another and shared all that Jesus taught them.

Perhaps at no other time in Christian history did love so completely characterize the church as it did in the first years. Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!

Justin Martyr wrote:

We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.

Clement of Rome described the believer:

He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother.

Third, each follower felt responsible to share with anyone they could the life changing truth of the Risen Savior!

When a plague devastated the ancient world in the third century, Christians felt themselves the only ones qualified to care for the sick (since it only carried the risk of physical death).

Read the history of people changed by encountering the message of Jesus, and His transforming power. They reached their neighbors…

• They did it by caring for the sick.
• They did it by helping the poor.
• They did it by intense learning and searching of the Word.
• They did it by living out the truth in their families.
• They did it by offering Him their lives.

Let me close with a story that may help illustrate what I am saying… It isn’t a new story, but it makes plain what Jesus does in a man or woman who meets the Risen Christ.

Theodorot was a fourth century bishop from Syria, and he wrote a number of commentaries and stories. One of them was the incredible story of a monk named Telemachus…President Ronald Reagan told the story at a Prayer Breakfast in 1984, and since he was a better story teller than I will ever be, I will just quote his version:

[There was a] monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance – [his name was] Telemachus, [he lived] back in the fourth century. Then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome, and believing that he had heard, he set out. Weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot. It was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths, and he followed a crowd into the Coliseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” He realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” and his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Coliseum. As the games began, he made his way down through the crowd, climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” They thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first, they were amused. Then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. As he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body, and as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Coliseum. Then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. In the dead silence, everyone left the Coliseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Never again, did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult, “In the name of Christ, stop.”

In a few years, the message of Jesus went from being despised to being accepted. How?

It happened when people LIVED the change Jesus made in them. It happened when the truth that He conquered death led them to listen to what He taught them, and become unashamed to testify, despite the tainting and persecution. The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

Following Jesus: “Famous Last Words” – (Matthew 27, Luke 23, John 19)

Because I am privileged to shepherd people, I have often been in the room of one when they are leaving the body and entering into eternity. The last words they utter aren’t always brilliant or meaningful, but sometimes they tell us something about the person that uttered them. Consider some of these as they lay dying.

Some people show what was most significant to them in that moment. For instance:

Joseph Wright was a linguist who edited the English Dialect Dictionary. His last word? “Dictionary.”

• Composer Gustav Mahler died in bed, conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was, “Mozart!”

• Nostradamus still showboating his supposed predictive ability exclaimed, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right.

• Convicted murderer James W. Rodgers was led in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”

• When Harriet Tubman was dying in 1913, she gathered her family around and they sang together. Her last words were, “Swing low, sweet chariot.”

• The poetess Emily Dickinson’s last words were, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”

• But I found particularly touching and dedicated to his craft, the words of surgeon Joseph Henry Green who was checking his own pulse as he lay dying. His last word: “Stopped.”

For some people, their last words may well show their attitude toward life and the people they shared it with:

• Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau objected to a song sung at his bedside. He said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.”

• As Benjamin Franklin lay dying at the age of 84, his daughter told him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. Franklin’s last words were, “A dying man can do nothing easy.”

• Actor Michael Landon, best known for Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven, died of cancer in 1991. His family gathered around his bed, and his son said it was time to move on. Landon said, “You’re right. It’s time. I love you all.”

• John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

• Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.

• Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When he daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”

• Actress Joan Crawford yelled at her housekeeper, who was praying as Crawford died. Crawford said, “Damn it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me!” (adapted from mentalfloss.com)

It isn’t a stretch for us to recognize that people can utter important things as they leave this earth. The same was true of our Savior. In fact, if you examine the words He spoke from the Cross (as recorded by the early Apostles and Gospel writers) you will note one significant truth…

Key Principle: The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.

It is important for us to remember that our view of the death of Jesus 2000 years later is very different from the view they had that Friday long ago. The people around the Cross likely had little concept of what they were seeing.

• Some, no doubt, thought a “trouble maker” was being “put down” and peace would follow.

• Others who were more politically minded may have felt this was just one more in a long series of injustices that unjustly punished their people by an occupying force.

• Some close to Jesus likely had broken hearts over the terrible personal loss as Jesus hung dying.

All of the things people felt as they watched Jesus suffer grossly seemed very real to the people on the scene, but they were but a pale view of what was truly happening.

God was effecting full payment for the sin of mankind by exacting the price of a perfect sacrifice. Few, if any, could have really understood the work, despite God’s long standing promises to offer this gift.

In this lesson, we want to look at two passages that describe the day of the Crucifixion. First, we want to see the people who gathered and consider what they saw of the event (though we have already admitted they were likely all missing the point). After looking at those standing around, we want to consider the last words of Jesus on the Cross, and what they revealed to those who listened then, and those who will listen now…

Go back to the edge of the walled city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and stand amid the olive tree grove watching a public execution early one Friday morning. Who was there? What were they doing? What were they like?

Take a moment and turn to Matthew 27, and you will see them…

Hard to miss among the crowds were the Roman soldiers:

The words introduce them almost as a natural part of the city, though they were nothing close to “natural.” Matthew recorded:

Mt. 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him…33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37 And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Look at these men! Like many people in our world, these soldiers:

• Exuded confidence and felt they were important people handling considerable power that felt no need of God in their lives (27:27).

• Seemed totally unfeeling toward Jesus and took no time to consider His life or claims (27:27b-29). HE was irrelevant to them.

• Shoved Jesus where they wanted Him (27:33), gave Jesus what they wanted Him to have – and thought nothing of it all (27: 34).

• Grabbed from Jesus what they thought they could get (27:35), and then were content to stand back and watch Jesus (27:36).

• They didn’t mind placating other people’s weak needs for a leader – but they didn’t feel they needed one! (27:37)

You know people like these guys. They are people who think they are powerful, God is irrelevant or inconvenient and they can handle things without Him. They own life. They live perfectly within the illusion of control, nearly limitless youthful energy, and nothing ahead but a future they forge with their own hands. God could get nothing they weren’t willing to give, and they weren’t interested in hearing what He wanted from them. They see only what they know. Theirs is not the world of nursing homes. They don’t do sickness and hospitals. They have life by the tail…

Then the dark days come.

Reality knocks, power wanes, the new kid is now climbing the ladder and is about to get your corner office. Health fades. The self-sufficiency illusion begins to fade. They get closer to the end than the beginning of life. Their strength can no longer get them what they want. People stop listening; stop following. Throughout life they thought they could “handle God”. They weren’t thinking of the future when the ride neared its end.

Matthew spoke of others at the scene. Some were forced into being there…I am thinking of Matthew 27:32. Take a look…

Compelled to be a part was Simon the Cyrene:

Matthew reported: Mt. 27:32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.

He is not unknown to historians of the New Testament. We could easily compare this to Mark 15:21 and read about his family as well.

Mark 15:21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.

Every indication in the narrative leads us to the conclusions that:

• Simon was not intentionally trying to find Jesus, nor follow Jesus – but Jesus was thrust into his path.

• Simon was abused by virtue of some blatant racism and mistreated out of prejudice.

• The experience changed him and his family. They followed Jesus and his children became leaders among the believers. Mark declares that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus- two well known Christians of the first generation of followers after the Cross. Many believe (though it is impossible to know for sure) one was referred to at the end of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in:

Romans 16:13 “Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.”

Perhaps you know someone who was passing through life abused by others, bruised, and perhaps even the subject of racism or other gross injustices. They weren’t looking for Jesus, but suddenly they saw Him crushed unfairly in front of their eyes. They found in Him One who understood their pain and was intimately familiar with their inner hurt. They were compelled to follow Him, and they took others with them because of their testimony.

Maybe that isn’t a story close to you. Maybe it took MORE for you to really grab hold of Jesus. Maybe you were just too busy to stop and really seek Him. You were more like those in Matthew 27:39…

Mocking Shoppers:

Matthew set the Cross before a busy street scene outside the city wall…

Matthew 27:39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Jerusalem was at its busiest at Passover. Many people were:

• So busy with the holiday season they really couldn’t stop and listen to the truth when it was right in front of them!

• Even without examination, they were sufficiently sure that what they hadn’t carefully considered wasn’t true or worth the time – so they had no need to carefully consider it.

• They hurled accusations at One they did not understand and did not honestly care enough to carefully consider His claims.

All the people of this group thought they were busy doing important things. They thought they knew enough (having picked up “seeds” of moral truth along the way), but they knew only enough to do what they wanted. In the end, they urged Jesus to save Himself – the very opposite of what they truly needed. They needed Him to die for them – but they didn’t take the time to understand God’s Word beyond the sound bites – so they didn’t know it.

I can’t help but notice the…

Temple leaders:

Matthew offers a brief nod to their mocking of Jesus as they piously stood in judgment:

Matthew. 27:41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Isn’t that the way those who prefer religion over God look at things? They were:

• Religious men, “professionals for God” dressed in easily identifiable by their garb. They didn’t blend into the crown – they were better than that!

• They had a system that worked out to care for all the eternal issues, even though it was not in step with God at all. They didn’t walk intimately with Him, and there were times the coldness of their heart showed in the cruelty of their lips.

• They accused Jesus of impotence (while He patiently suffered – “cannot save Himself”).

• They accused Jesus as making false claims (“king”, “trusts in God”, “delights in God”, “Son of God”) but did not show the hearts of those who would desire brokenness and intimacy – for that is not the religious way.

Surely you have met them. A bit of theology mixed with a bit of homespun morality and “poof” – there is a religious mind made up to teach you what God SHOULD want – even if it isn’t what His Word says concerning what He DOES want. It usually has a misshapen Jesus Who fits into their already preconceived notion of righteousness. For the religious mind, God must fit their theology – and He must do only that which they deem important. There is a thick skin of the heart that religion forms – often making it impossible to touch the tender heart of God – or have Him touch us.

Move away from the crowd for a few minutes and move closer to the Cross. Luke 23 includes half of the words of Jesus at the Cross….We need to listen closely for the last words of a dying Savior. He has something to reveal. He will tell us why He came. He will explain what His life meant. He will also make clear what His death would accomplish.

Meet Jesus at the Cross. Listen to His words… whoever you are.

This was the place of finality. It didn’t seem like it. It looked like another injustice, another tragedy, another loss. That KEPT happening long past the Romans…. but this was a place of finality despite the appearance. The Cross was the dramatic signature event where Divine character and compassion overcame the consequence of human sin. It was the place where eternal love was demonstrated in temporal sacrifice.

Jesus went to the Cross in order that we, through his death and the marker of the acceptance of the payment at the Resurrection might have a permanent and personal relationship with God. In the weakness of His body, Jesus brought us the POWER of God to save us.

When Jesus followers speak of “the Cross”, we’re not thinking a rough piece of wood attached to a stump of tree and chained together; it is much more than that. For us, “the Cross” is our family “shorthand” expression for the death of Jesus.

The Cross is the place “where Heaven’s love met Heaven’s justice”.

On that Cross, Jesus spoke. Seven times His words were recorded in history.


Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

It is not out of character that Jesus cried out to the Father in Heavene to “Forgive them.”

Was He referring merely to the soldiers who stripped Him and nailed Him to that tree? Was He asking on behalf of mocking shoppers who passed by? Was He asking on behalf of those pious but pompous religious slanderers? Did His call for forgiveness include Pilate who sentenced Him?

Jesus forgave all of those who had no idea what they were doing. It was for their forgiveness the plan was being fulfilled.

• He did it for every professor or religious teacher who hated Him.
• He did it for the men who bribed Judas for a false testimony.
• He did it for every disciple who cheated on Him and lived out fear instead of faith and self instead of service.
• He did it for the ones who promised they wouldn’t deny Him and did, and for the ones who yelled, “Kill Him!” because they lacked any sense of the One about whom they spoke.
• He did it for Pilate and for every person in power who is deluded enough to believe that power in this life translates into power in the next.

Jesus called for the Father to forgive them all… What does this tell us?

It revealed a wonder from the Cross. There is forgiveness. There is MORE than temporary abatement of God’s wrath that was available in the blood of bulls and goats. There is complete forgiveness in ONE sacrifice.

Here is the truth: Only the One paying the price can truly reveal why He is doing it, and part of what He told us is that He wanted the Father to forgive the guilty by means of the payment of the Perfect.

Jesus wanted forgiveness for all who have lived a life for self. Can you honestly say you haven’t? I can’t! The old Negro spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I was. So were you. So were many who never stopped to think about it. What is clear from the words spoken from the Cross is this was a place of profound forgiveness.


Dr. Luke picked up more important and revealing words from Jesus on the Cross…

Luke 23:43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The first word dealt with the world, but the second dealt with one needy and perishing criminal. Isaiah promised the One coming would be “numbered with the transgressors” (53:12). Jesus was. He was placed between two men. One derided him for not getting them all free. The other identified his own guilt, and turned to Jesus humbly. He knew what He needed and He identified Jesus as able to provide the forgiveness He had proclaimed for those around Him.

Jesus promised the man “Paradise” the English version of an ancient Persian word for a “planned and walled beautiful garden”. Persian kings were noted for offering friends the opportunity to walk in their lavish gardens. Jesus promised a filthy criminal, blood stained, with profuse odors of fallen humanity all about him – the opportunity to join Him in the garden of His Father.

What does that tell us?

The man offered Jesus nothing but putrefaction. There was nothing of fortune, fame, power or pleasure the man could offer Jesus. He gave Him nothing but himself – and that was all Jesus needed to make the promise of Paradise!


John 19:26,27: Jesus said to his mother, ’Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple ’Here is your mother.

Jesus was not removed from our human experience. He was fully God, but fully man as well. His relationships here were not just “His ministry” they were dear to Him on the highest level of emotion. What do I mean? His mom mattered.

Sure, He taught us that “compared to our love for God, our relationships of this world – mother, father, sisters and brothers, children and even spouses – are a distant second. That didn’t mean He didn’t value them. It meant He placed His Father first, and we are to do the same.

In Israel, I make the point to my traveling students that Jesus’ relationship with His family wasn’t as positive as many people dream. It was hard for Him to do the will of His family and clan, and do the will of His Heavenly Father. That brought tension. At the Cross, He reached across the divide of those who struggled to get together in life, and He connected the broken relationships at the place of reconciliation.

This Third Word from the Cross is about relationship – and that is what began the whole story of the Bible. God desired to express relationship. That is why He created. He is relational, and He desires that connection with us. Jesus didn’t discount the value of our love and emotional attachments here.


Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Darkness fell on Jerusalem that lasted three hours and as the sins of the world, the awful legacy of the man’s mutiny was laid upon Jesus. Paul later noted:

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

In the same way the scapegoat of the Hebrew Scriptures was forcibly banished from Jerusalem, so our Savior bore the sin of the world alone – literally. Theologian Abraham Kuyper wrote it this way:

“Christ’s self-emptying was not a single act or bereavement, but a growing poorer and poorer, until at last nothing was left to Him but a piece of ground where He could weep and a Cross where He could die.”

We need to keep this word “forsaken” in mind. When Jesus promised He would never leave you nor FORSAKE you – this must be contrasted to the way He paid for our sin. He was alone so that you and I will NEVER have to be again. His Spirit will be our companion here, and in His presence we will know union of a magnitude unknown in this life. Alone is not a Christian idea, nor a Christian word – not now and not in the time after time to come.


John 19:28: “I thirst.”

When the Psalmist prophesied that our Lord’s punishment would be graphic and torturous, he wrote:

Psalm 22:14-15: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

The idea of payment in blood was no more a theological and theoretical exercise to Jesus than it had been for bulls and goats for generations. This was punishing suffering of body for cleansing of souls.

Why include Jesus’ request for something to drink? After taking literally thousands of people along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, I am convinced it was to help with a huge problem with Jesus followers. We tend to see Jesus in theological terms and not as an actual man. God addressed that by reminding us the same pains we feel, he felt. Sin is costly. His death was real.


John 19:30: “It is finished.”

Hanging on the tree, forcing breath in utter agony, Jesus’ body was poised against the darkness. His broken body still offered a voice that carried from that rocky hill and pierced through the skies of Heaven and the depths of Hell as He cried, “Tetelestai… the Greek term for “It is finished!” Jesus cried out to end a long cycle of sin and blood. He paid everything necessary in His death. His work was done.

• The atonement blood of animals was no longer necessary.
• The unanswered mutiny of man was now reversed by a new Adam Who died for any who believe what God has said.
• There is no work we must do, no class we must pass, no power we must muster – He did all.

Ours is only to believe. We need nothing more, but can offer absolutely nothing less. We must believe, or the death is without profit to us. To walk with God, we must trust Him, and believe He is Who He says He is. We must trust what Jesus has done. No man comes to the Father but by the Son. In Him, it is all finished.


Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

This final exclamation of Jesus from the Cross was a quotation from Psalm 31:5. David wrote the words in a time of tremendous conflict, and simply showed that he trusted God with everything. Jesus paid for sin and knew God would deal with His dead body. He would see the Father in a matter of moments. Any fear of death, natural to the state of a man, was offset by an overwhelming trust in His Father in Heaven.

That is what the Centurion did at the Cross when HE trusted Jesus. Matthew reminds us:

Mt. 27:54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!

That is what the thief on the cross beside Jesus did when He trusted Jesus for salvation.

Luke 23: 39 “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

There are some who come to Jesus only minutes before they die. Though they did not love and serve Him in this life, their life was not a waste. Jesus knew that our present existence in this body is but a short preface to a never-ending eternity. Because that is true, then thief’s life was not wasted; he was only just beginning an eternal life of endless praise!

Strip away all the noise and listen to the words of the Savior to the thief. Jesus trusted the Father, and He called all others to trust HIM.

• He demanded we get past the covering mechanisms of selfish pride.
• He called us to set aside our sarcasm we use to cover deep hurt over how life has worked out. We are all called to trust Him, and in Him we will find mercy.

Jesus said all He needed to say.

The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.

I am frankly glad that this life isn’t all there is. If it were, I would never be able to face the utter unfairness and the incomplete brokenness I see here.

Emma Reynolds from Australia published a story two days ago that explains what I am trying to say. She wrote:

When she took Nolan to the hospital for the last time, after he had battled cancer for more than a year, he had not eaten or drunk anything in days and was continually vomiting. On February 1, the oncologist sat them down to hear the terrible truth. The four-year-old’s cancer had spread and large tumours were compressing his bronchial tubes and heart just four weeks after open chest surgery. The cancer was no longer treatable. The anguished mother walked into her son’s room, where he was watching YouTube.

Me: Poot, it hurts to breathe doesn’t it?
Nolan: Weeeelll…. yeah.
Me: You’re in a lot of pain aren’t you baby?
Nolan: (looking down) Yeah.
Me: Poot, this Cancer stuff sucks. You don’t have to fight anymore.
Nolan: (Pure Happiness) I DONT??!! But I will for you Mommy!!
Me: No Poot!! Is that what you have been doing?? Fighting for Mommy??
Nolan: Well DUH!!
Me: Nolan Ray, what is Mommy’s job?
Nolan: To keep me SAFE! (With a big grin)
Me: Honey … I can’t do that anymore here. The only way I can keep you safe is in Heaven. (My heart shattering)
Nolan: Sooooo I’ll just go to Heaven and play until you get there! You’ll come right?
Me: Absolutely!! You can’t get rid of Mommy that easy!!
Nolan: Thank you Mommy!!! I’ll go play with Hunter and Brylee and Henry!!

Nolan slept for most of the next few days. His mother made sure things were in order. “I cannot explain to you what signing an Emergency Responder ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order for your angelic son feels like,” she wrote.

When he woke up, Ruth had his things ready to go home for one more night together. But her son was still putting others first. “He gently put his hand on mine and said ‘Mommy, it’s OK. Let’s just stay here OK?’ My 4 year old Hero was trying to make sure things were easy for me …

“So in between sleeping for the next 36 hours, we played, watched YouTube, shot Nerf Gun after Nerf Gun and smiled as many times as we could. An hour or so before he passed he even filled out a ‘Will’! We laid in bed together and he sketched out how he wanted his funeral, picked his pall bearers, what he wanted people to wear, wrote down what he was leaving each of us, and even wrote down what he wanted to be remembered as … which of course was a Policeman.”

At 9pm, while watching Peppa Pig in bed, Ruth asked if she could leave Nolan for a shower. “He said ‘Ummmm OK Mommy. Have Uncle Chris come sit with me and I’ll turn this way so I can see you’. I stood at the bathroom door, turned to him and said ‘Keep looking right here Poot, I’ll be out in two seconds’. He smiled at me. I shut the bathroom door. They said the moment the bathroom door clicked he shut his eyes and went into a deep sleep, beginning the end of life passing. “When I opened the bathroom door, his Team was surrounding his bed and every head turned and looked at me with tears in their eyes. They said ‘Ruth, he’s in a deep sleep. He can’t feel anything’. His respiration was extremely labored, his right lung had collapsed and his oxygen dropped.

“I ran and jumped into bed with him and put my hand on the right side of his face. Then a miracle that I will never forget happened…. “My angel took a breath, opened his eyes, smiled at me and said ‘I Love You Mommy’, turned his head towards me and at 11:54pm Sgt. Rollin Nolan Scully passed away as I was singing ‘You are My Sunshine’ in his ear.”

Nolan loved his family and friends with a fierce devotion, and brought people from across the world together, Ruth said. “He was a warrior who died with dignity and love,” she added. Alongside the bereft mother’s heartfelt letter to her son, she shared a memorable photo of Nolan lying on the bathroom floor, showing how her son was too terrified to leave her side even when she showered.

“Now I’m the one terrified to shower,” she wrote. “With nothing but an empty shower rug now where once a beautiful perfect little boy laid waiting for his Mommy.

Jesus died to give all of us the opportunity to see the world healed, sin destroyed, and death rendered inoperative – because He gave eternal life. Won’t you trust Him? This isn’t all there is. It truly isn’t!

Mother’s Day: “The Mother of the Perfect Child” (Mary in the Gospels)

Mothers-DayToday we openly thank God for the one person in life that was most used to form the body we live in – our mom. We celebrate the office of mother, even if some of us lost mom long ago to eternity, and even if some of them were not all they could have been in our lives.

When a first child leaves the womb, two people are born. First, there is the baby. Second, there is a young woman who leaves being all that she was, and becomes a mom. She faces painful challenges bringing the baby into the world, and those pains are but a tiny reminder of the pains she will have in her heart over her life as she cares and nurtures her child, desperately trying to prepare them to face a world that is not always hospitable and kind. Let’s admit it: Motherhood is both a blessing but it is also an incredible challenge!

I remember someone relating the story from another Pastor about a mom he saw in the market:

This dear mom was pushing a shopping cart through “Stuff-Mart.” Her daughter was riding in the shopping cart but continually screeching and screaming. Apparently there was something the child wanted and mom denied the request. The mom kept offering words in a soothing voice: “Now Calm down, Ellen. It will be all right, Ellen. It’s almost time to go home, Ellen.” One of the checkout clerks observed the scene and how the mother remained calm in the face of the child-storm. To encourage the mother, she said: “Ma’am, you are to be commended! I am amazed at how patient you are with little Ellen.” The Mom looked up from the child and said to her: “Lady, I’m Ellen!”

We would be kidding ourselves if we tried to project motherhood as some kind of state of loving bliss. If you hang out with moms, you know they can have the angelic voice of one who whispers Brahms’s lullaby to a baby drifting into sleep, but can shout down a crowd at a baseball game when her child is at bat. Being a mother includes developing a range, both of abilities – and of octaves and decibels.

Year after year, motherhood changes. It is always in a state of change…because a child grows and changes how they relate to their mother. Someone wrote:

• At age 4, we say… “My mom…. can do anything!”
• At age 12, …”Mom doesn’t know Everything.”
• At age 14, …”Mom doesn’t know Anything!”
• At age 18, … “Mom is out of step with the times.”
• At age 25, ….. “Well, mom…. knows a few things.”
• At age 35, …… “Before we decide, let’s get Mom’s opinion.”
• At age 45, …… “I wonder what mom would say ……about this?”
• At age 65, …. ” I wish I could talk ….. with my mother.”
(Original author unknown).

In some ways, motherhood is a test to learn to see the unseen. Good moms develop great intuition. In my experience with the two women I have known best – my mom and my wife (the mother of my children) I know this: It is difficult to get something past mom. There is an old saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mom.”

Let’s talk about Mary

Today I want to look briefly at the story of one of the most famous moms ever to live on the planet. Her task was unbelievably difficult. She was the mom of a perfect child, but she wasn’t a perfect mom. She appeared in about a dozen passages in the Gospels, and they reveal a truth that I trust will be an encouragement to you in this lesson. Here is the truth of God’s Word…

Key Principle: God can use anyone who is willing to be used. Even the mother that bore a perfect child wasn’t a perfect mom – but God used her mightily.

We have much material on Jesus’ mother. Mary was specifically mentioned in a dozen scenes in the Gospel accounts.

What Mary Became in Church History

Though obviously a wonderful woman used of God, it is important to recognize that Biblically speaking, Mary was a part of the fallen human race, not somehow born immaculate (without the curse of the sin nature) and not given the ability to somehow remain sinless throughout her life. In fact, in the “Magnificat,” the song recorded in the Word, she sang the word, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!” I think it is fair to say the familiar national salvation (a staple theme of her people) seemed to include a personal need to be rescued in her words.

Titles for Mary like “The Door of Heaven”, “The Queen of the Apostles, Confessors and Martyrs” or “Queen of Heaven” and the like appear nowhere in the Bible. They are a later invention of what appeared to be a wayward church that eclectically bonded fertility cults of ancient Rome into the traditions of Christianity. If you take the time to search the Scriptures carefully, you will find that Mary never magnified herself, but pointed ever to her Lord. Further, the early record of the Book of Acts doesn’t place her as some kind of door to eternity, but as part of the group of early Jesus followers. Let us satisfy ourselves with this portrayal of the mother of Jesus: she followed the words of her Son who that man has access to God only through Him and His work (John 14:6).

Who Mary was as seen in the New Testament

Just over half (seven) of the stories that are prominent in her life include the early Gospel accounts in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 and the pre-ministry “growing up” experience of Jesus. Most of these were events are very familiar to most students of western culture because of the artistic renderings of the Renaissance – and are well-studied parts of most students of the Gospel accounts. We talk about them, sing about them, and occasionally, like in this lesson, stop to consider what the snapshots teach us:

The Annunciation

Take a moment and consider the lessons from the earliest record of Mary in the text, the story of the Annunciation (Lk. 1:26-38) when Heaven broke into the life of a young woman and Mary was told by the angel Gabriel Messiah would be born through her womb. Luke recorded:

Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. …34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In that snapshot of this young woman, we see several important traits that God viewed with great favor in a woman. We cannot claim we don’t know what makes God happy – since He made it clear both by instruction and in models. Here are a few things you may notice about her:

• Verses 26 and 27 show us that she appeared to be at the wrong stage of life to be used by God for the task to which she was assigned. Unmarried virgins don’t normally get tapped to be mother to God’s promised ones. Yet, verse 28 makes clear God wanted to use her. She was God’s choice.

• Verse 29 and 30 remind us that she didn’t feel emotionally prepared to take on the task God assigned – since her first responses were perplexity, pondering and fear. Yet, verse 31 makes clear that God has a plan. She was God’s called.

• Verse 34 and 35 clarify the fact that she wasn’t gullible. She didn’t just take what made no sense and flitter off in fanciful belief. She questioned how such a thing could happen. Her faith needed more than fanciful promises – she needed facts. Yet, verse 37 explained that God was at work. She promptly listened and prepared to be obedient. She was God’s container.

To people who don’t know God, the idea that we would surrender even the most intimate parts of lives seem like an affront to our freedom and individuality. That is because they define absolute freedom as selfishness, whereas the Bible defines freedom as the opportunity to become what we were made by God to be. Mary knew that. She wasn’t perfect, but she was used by God because she willingly INVITED Him to do so. Let me ask you something. Has God heard from YOUR lips words like: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” as you invite Him to use your life, your choices and your things? If not, that is the place to begin!

The Visit to Elizabeth

Next, Luke recorded Mary’s journey shortly after her pregnancy to visit her second cousin Elizabeth (Lk. 1:39-45) near Jerusalem. Her song that followed was later termed by the church as the “Magnificat” (Lk. 1:46-46) and may be the only portion of Scripture actually stemming from her own heart – perhaps composed by her and passed to Luke for publication. Some scholars think this was the fruit of her pondering in her heart the truths shared by Gabriel. Mary’s song is about what she learned about God!

She praised God for WHO GOD IS in the giving of the great gift. That is the heart of one who has met and experienced God. She praised God for HIS UNIQUENESS.

God is HOLY. Never does the Bible say God is love, love, love. Never does it say God is light, light, light, truth, truth, truth, mercy, mercy, mercy, wrath, wrath, wrath. But it does say that He’s holy, holy, holy.

To “be holy” means to be separate – utterly distinct from all others – unlike any other. Mary understood this according to the record of her ancient lyrics. She knew God was distinct.

1. She proclaimed that His PERSPECTIVE is unique – He is an “All-seeing God” (1:48a). God saw Mary differently than anyone else in her day.

Luke 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.

In truth, no one and no place is God forsaken, He misses nothing on earth… and He rates IMPORTANCE in an entirely unique way.

From where God sits, people are measured:

• By their surrender, not their victories.
• By their brokenness not their power
• By their belief what He says, not their influence in what others do.
• By their giving, not their accumulated wealth.
• By their compassion, not their accomplishments.

Truly, God’s view is not man’s view, and God’s measure is not man’s measure.

2. She understood His PATIENCE is profound (1:50).


Consider this: God observes and recalls those who are faithful in their worship and walk – so be not weary in well doing! Yet, even more…

  • God is faithful even when His people do not obey Him.
  • God is faithful even when they turn their faces to other agendas that are not His.
  • God is faithful – because that is an essential part of His nature.

3. She proclaimed that His POWER is unique – He is an Innovative God (1:51a).

Luke 1:51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

We must constantly recall that God is not limited to the options we can see or even conceive of! (God loves to make surprise endings!) He can and does reverse the normal order of things!

4. She recited that His PROMOTIONS are unique – for He is a Just and Gracious Judge (1:51b-52).

Luke 1:51b “…He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.

God is ready to bypass those who are proud but elevate those of humble estate. This little story on the dangers of PRIDE made me smile: Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.” The pastor replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake.”

5. She made clear His PROVISIONS are unique – He is a Merciful God (1:53).

53 “HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed.

Isn’t it true that God fills those who hunger but have been left by another unsatisfied (cp. Ps. 107)? It is the one who does not count on themselves to provide fulfillment that receives serenity from God!

6. She loved the fact that His PROMISES are unique – He is a Faithful God (Covenant-keeping God, 1:54-55).

Luke 1:54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy. 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

God always does what He promises, no matter how long it takes or how hard the circumstances. He overcomes the ages and the dark clouds. He gets it done… EVERY TIME! He promised a Messiah would be:

• An actual man – not just an age or movement: (In Genesis 3:15, He said the seed of a woman would be wounded by the enemy, but crush the enemy’s head.)

• A tiny village: Micah 5:2 promised His coming to Bethlehem of Judah

• A specific lineage: God promised Messiah through Abraham’s loins (Gen. 22:18 “In your seed will all the nations.”)

• In that same way, God promised a specific kind of mom for Messiah: Isaiah 7:14 He would be born of a virgin.

Mary celebrated God’s promises because Mary trusted God’s direction. May I ask you: “Are you truly looking for God’s direction in your life?” If you are, have you been asking Him for it, or inviting His approval of your own self-made plans? Can you honestly celebrate where you are going, because God is taking you there?

The Birth of Jesus

I wish we had opportunity in this lesson to deal with Mary from the infamous story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, where she plays an obvious star role. (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 2:1-7). The visit of the shepherds on that very night was no doubt an important authentication of her thoughts to help settle her.

Let us simply recall this one well-established fact from verses you have known since Linus recited them on the TV Christmas special for us: God placed Mary in a very uncomfortable and easy to be misunderstood position in order for the Holy One to bring about His plan. Let no one pass by that story without recalling this truth: When you surrender to God your life, your plans and your body – your comfort is part of the package. Many are willing to follow Jesus as long as He leads them to swift victory, easy riches, and fulfilling relationships. The question is this: “Does God have your permission to lead you into the uncomfortable places to serve Him?”

The Presentation of the Baby Jesus

A fourth story is told of Mary when she took Jesus for His first visit to the Temple in Jerusalem when He was just over a month old (Lk. 2:22-38) for the Baby’s presentation and her purification. A month of living with the family of Joseph, who likely still struggled to believe Mary and Joseph’s word that the Baby was implanted by God’s Spirit gave way to the story of a trip that validated the Child’s identity through the prophetic voices of the elderly Anna and Simeon (Luke 2:22-38).

Simeon said: 2:29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed, the text recorded. Was she amazed that God was doing what He said through Gabriel? I don’t think so. I believe she was amazed that God was busy telling other people what He told her. Call is one thing; blind confirmation is yet another. Mary learned that when God called her, comfort may fleet away for a time, but God has a way of adding strength and confirmation in what He called you to do.

Let me ask you to do something as you seek God and believe He has given you direction. Spend intentional time with wise people who know God well. God’s direction and confirmation will more often be found in the voices of God’s friends – not in places that do not acknowledge Him. Are you taking the time to listen to the confirming voices of wise saints of God? You should.

The Visit of the Magi

Mary’s fifth appearance can be found in the story of the visit of the Magi (Mt. 2:1-12). Do you remember the story of the time when the Baby Jesus was an older infant or perhaps even a toddler, still living in Bethlehem, and God brought astrologers from the east seeking the new “King of the Jews?” God provided through the gifts of the Magi the means for Joseph and Mary to take the journey to Egypt when the time came.

We cannot take apart the verses in this brief pass over Mary’s life, but can we not readily see the truth: Where God guides, God provides? His provision may come from afar, but that is not something too tough for God. How long will we worry and not seek God for guidance and provision? The Magi are a good reminder that our answer comes from God, not our resources. He can supply in ways we cannot imagine. Would I be off base if I suggested that Mary probably didn’t think she would get such a visit the day before it happened, nor did she know what God was preparing for her. A journey was coming, and God was bringing in the money to pay for the ticket.

The Flight to Egypt

Obviously the next (or sixth) story where Mary appears is that very story of the Holy Family’s evacuation to Egypt. Joseph’s obedience to the warning he got from a dream pressed him to flee to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-18) with Mary and Jesus.

Here is a story where momma needed to follow daddy’s fervent following of God’s direction. Men, she could do it because he didn’t lead her in rash and selfish ways. Ladies, she did what was hard – and isn’t that lesson enough? It isn’t easy to follow a man in a marriage – but in God’s economy that is what a marriage produces – people who submit to one another and listen as God tugs the heart of your partner!

Losing Jesus at the Temple

The seventh story was the tale of the family’s visit to the Temple when Jesus was near His “coming of age” (Luke 2:41-52) – an uncomfortable account of the time Jesus was left behind by His parents. The story began with simple words that remind of an important principle:

Luke 2:41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast…

Can you see it? The words “every year” capture the principle. Mary and Joseph consistently came to worship together as a family, year after year.

“Big deal!” you might say. After all, it was only an annual thing. Actually, it wasn’t. There were three times they needed to come to Jerusalem to keep up with the command of Deuteronomy, or they could pay a stand in for that purpose. That isn’t the point. I could say something like: “One hour and a half a week!” and you would feel differently about it. The point is this: Worship and obedience to God’s Word was a priority that drove their choices That is either true of you, or it is not.

Personally, I find it difficult to accept as authentic those who claim a vibrant faith but don’t show it in their life choices to obey the Scriptures. I am not able to determine who has real faith – but I am able to see who has no clue how to show it if they really do have faith. For instance: How FRUSTRATING it is to see those who post in social media a wonderful “Jesus is Lord!” statement, and then follow it up with posts that show blatant profanity and ungodly actions as “liked”. Consistent choices of honoring God produce children that know the appearance of true obedience. If you raise them perfectly, they may NOT follow God, but they will see that such a walk is possible and choose whether or not to follow what they have seen. Remember, we don’t do right to get the results we want – we do right because it honors God.

People do wrong often because they don’t know what the pattern of doing right truly looks like. If more parents did right consistently, more children would have a fighting chance to make a good choice. You never choose comfortably from a menu if you have never seen the product. Good choices normally have to be modeled first – and Mary and Joseph accomplished that well.

Motherhood is an opportunity to live the Word and model a life. Mothers can leave a wonderful imprint on the lives of their children.

Four pastors were discussing the merits of the various translations of the Scriptures. One liked the King James Version best because of its simple, yet beautiful English prose. Another liked the New International Version because of its modern language. A third preacher liked the “Message” Version even better and felt more relevant teaching from a simple paraphrase. For a while in the little debate, the fourth pastor was silent. When asked to express his opinion he replied: “I like my mother’s translation best.” The other ministers asked, “Your mother translated the Bible?” He replied: “Oh Yes, she certainly did! My mother translated the Bible into her everyday life and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw.

The balance of the stories capture views of Mary during the ministry of Jesus. They include the wedding at Cana (#8), the Saviors’ spurning by Nazareth (#9), His refusal to meet Mary and His brothers (#10), and the shattering day she watched Jesus suffer on the Cross (#11).

After the Gospel accounts were ended, rounding out the dozen actual or inferred appearances, there is a mention of Mary after the Resurrection of Jesus, as one who was binding together the followers of Jesus after the Ascension. She was one of those devoted to prayer and unity in the upper room (Acts 1:14) who heard Peter’s call to replace Judas and begin to organize the group.

All of these stories are powerful but our time is limited. Let’s look for a few moments at one more brief account – this one at the wedding scene in John 2, where we can gain some insights into Mary the MOTHER.

The Wedding at Cana

The eighth account of Mary in the Gospels came from the early period of the ministry of Jesus, when He performed the first recorded miracle of John’s Gospel – turning water into wine (John 2). Look at the beginning of that story for the interaction between Jesus and His mom:

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus *said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Look at the description of the event, and it will be apparent that there had been a wedding at Cana, and Jesus’ mother was already in attendance when Jesus arrived with His first followers (2:1). Jewish tradition suggests that weddings were most often set on the third day of the week, when God said twice in the Creation account, “It is very good!” This day has been considered the “double good day” perfect for marriages.

This was the first introduction of Mary in the Gospel of John, but she was well-known to the people to whom John was regularly preaching. John understood the encounter at the Cross to mean that he was to care for her for the rest of his days. At Ephesus the “House of Mary” tradition is relatively recent, but the notion that John and Mary were attached in a familial way at the Cross is an old one.

Jesus and His family and friends were all invited (2:2), but Jesus was delayed and arrived (apparently) at the end of the customary seven day wedding feast. It was due to His late arrival and the fact that He did not come alone the host ran low on wine provisions. When the wine ran out, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3), explaining they had run out of wine. She was evidently confident that Jesus was able to meet the need in some incredible way.

Jesus got there and there was a problem. It was Mary his mother’s problem, or at least she felt it was her problem…Watch in the text what she did. She identified a problem and then she thrust HER PLAN for the problem on Jesus. Now I realize that Jesus was, at least from an earthly perspective, her son. Yet, think carefully about what the story can show us about the way we, as believers, act toward Jesus in our lives and with our problems.

Did you notice the text doesn’t reveal that Mary dropped to her knees and sought God concerning the difficulty? In fact, she didn’t even consult Jesus on what should be done. MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN and she wanted her plan cared for by Jesus.

Can I ask: “Did you ever do that?” Did you ever decide that you knew what God SHOULD DO about something and then tell Him how it would honor Him? She was a good mom, but not a perfect mom.

Yet, here should be a note of warning… We dare not tack Jesus on the plans we have. We are called to make Him our Master, not our Holy errand boy. We don’t tell Him – He tells us! I recognize the problem of her being his mother makes this lesson more strained than many, but I trust that you recognize the tendency of a believer to fit God into his plans, and not wait on God to direct the plan. Have you ever wondered: “Why didn’t she ask Him?” I think the reason she didn’t ask is a familiar one – because she is like all of us who believe we have a plan so good that even God should recognize it.

She wasn’t perfect, but she was willing to be used by God. Remember the key principle of this lesson…

God can use anyone who is willing to be used. Even the mother that bore a perfect child wasn’t a perfect mom – but God used her mightily.

I don’t know what you remember of your momma. I don’t know if, like me, you think of screen doors banging in the summer time, the wafting aroma of cookies or bread out of the oven, or the smell of our potato soup on the stove. Those, in my mind, are the smells of love and acceptance, protection and being loved.

Mom made home that way. Few things are more powerful than the tears and the prayers of a mother. Few things are more tender than a mother’s hug. Few things are more healing than mom blowing on a skinned knee. Mom doesn’t have to be perfect to be just right for us. Sometimes it is their ornery nature that we cherish the most…

A little girl was sitting and watching her mother wash the dishes at the kitchen sink. She looked closely at her mom and noticed that her mother had several strands of grey hair sticking out that she never saw before. Inquisitive, she asked: “Why are some of your hairs white, mom?” Mom replied, “Every time you do something wrong one of my hairs turns white!” Looking across the room, she smiled and asked “If that is true, then why are ALL of Grandma’s hairs white?”

Happy Mother’s Day (2016)

Following His Footsteps: “All Roads Lead Somewhere” – Matthew 27:54-28:20

Two-paths“All roads lead somewhere.” That is a stupid saying, isn’t it? Not really. It is important that we recognize that our choices have consequences, and that any path we choose will inevitably bring us to the place toward which it was designed. In this lesson, I want to talk about two paths that lead to two very distinct places. You have been hearing about them all week – because the world sings loudly about one of them…but you may not have picked out the significance of each path, and you may have thought little about their destination. Let me set the scene for a moment…

The other day I sat across from a picture at the Accademia Art Museum in Venice, staring at a picture that captured the cruelty on the faces of Roman soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross. It was a profound picture, painted in the period of the Venetian Renaissance, and I wanted to take in all that was in the frame. As I sat, what caught my attention was not only the sad and gruesome picture, but the nonchalant way people viewed the horror of it. It was as though it were just a remembrance of yet another misguided man who was cared for by yet another government program. “Did they not know what the scene portrayed? Didn’t they care?” I thought. To be fair, it is a museum, and there are many wonderful pieces of art – so perhaps this one piece, and its message, was simply “drowned out” like a lone YouTube in the sea of the modern internet.

After a few moments, a tour group came through. The guide was obviously well versed in the paintings of the gallery and I thought this would be an opportunity to hear a different approach. She stopped before the painting, and though my view was blocked, her words were clear. She spoke of the brush strokes of the master painter. She gave the date and the time it was painted. As she began to explain the contents of the horrifying picture, she digressed into the story of the painter and his lascivious lifestyle and rampages of sin during the time he was commissioned to paint the scene. She noted that the women before the cross had the faces of prostitutes he knew. She noted the Roman soldiers had faces of men he lost to in gambling. What she never noted – not for a second – was the story that was being portrayed. It was as though the payment of man’s sin by Jesus was an incidental matter when compared to the scintillating details of the playboy lifestyle of the painter, because to her – it was. I felt robbed.

Ravi Zacharias told a story several years ago that illustrates this same phenomenon (I am paraphrasing by memory): “A musician in Scotland used to travel to churches on different special occasions to play his bagpipes. Since it has become in some ways a dying instrument (though recently seeing a bit of a revival), the man found himself in demand at weddings, funerals and other special moments. One day a priest of the Anglican church who knew the man phoned him up and asked him to come to play at a pauper’s funeral. He explained the man had no family or friends to speak of, and that he would no doubt be there alone with the priest at the grave site. The problem was that the graves for paupers were in remote places, and the man who was to play the pipes got lost on the way to the cemetery. Try as he may, he could not seem to find the place. By the time he came to the hill where he saw the hole, the priest was long gone, and there was nothing more he could do. He was broken and hurt. This poor man! No one came to his funeral. He looked about and spied only the men standing about with shovels. He looked into the hole and saw only a cement top, and knew he was too late. What came next was all he could think to do. He took out the bagpipes and began to play. He played and played. The trees shook and the man could almost feel the touch of angels as “Amazing Grace” bellowed from the pipes. The men dropped their shovels and began to weep. The musician wept. They all felt a profound tug on them on that lonely hillside that afternoon. Spent, the wet-eyed musician began to put away his instrument without a word to the men who gathered about. As he walked away, he heard one of the grimy workers utter, ”I have never seen anything like what I saw today, and I have been putting in septic tanks for twenty years now!

There is nothing like being so completely stirred about something spiritually significant on the wrong occasion before the wrong crowd. You may feel God move in you and want to share it – but when you look about, you would surely be casting elegant pearls amid the milling hillside swine. Some of God’s greatest works not only go uncelebrated by men – they are scoffed at by them. Let me encourage you – that story happened to our Savior as well. Jesus was shoved forcibly to the ground as nails were driven through His flesh – and walking by were busy people with such ambivalence it defies imagination in such a human and painful scene. Add to that, there were those who had never cared for the sick, much less healed them – but they were ready and waiting to be found openly mocking the One Who came to give them hope and life.

I want to take you back to the Cross in this lesson in Matthew 27, for it is where our last lesson in the study of the journey with Jesus ended. I want to remind you that Matthew’s Gospel offered a gripping account in which, just as Jesus’ flesh was torn before the eyes of a crowd, many seemed unaware of the profound nature and power of the scene that was unfolding outside the city gate of Jerusalem that morning. A man was being killed between two others – but there was much more happening there. The very Creator of the universe had put on skin, and was – by an unparalleled act of self-denial – making full payment for the sin of mankind. For most passers-by, He might as well have been a common thief getting his just deserts.

Matthew set the scene to make the point people are walking on two dramatically different trails and these paths are leading to two very different places. Let me say it this way:

Key Principle: God sets men free to discover bankruptcy within and truth in HIM, while the enemy coaches men to find truth within that leaves them in bondage.

Before we talk around the Scripture, let’s first take some encouragement about those who follow the path of the Savior. We need to know something critical – not all believers look exactly the same. The path toward a transformed life appears different in different people. Let me show you what I mean from the Word: Stand at the foot of Calvary. You’ll hear the voices of mockers and the jeers of passers-by. Yet, if you take a moment, you will see people moved and changed by what they saw. They seem to be three different “types” of people.

Immediately Vocal

First, God transformed an unlikely and hardened man to become immediately vocal: The Power of the Resurrection convinced a seasoned Roman field soldier to believe – and he became an immediate vocal witness.

Matthew 27:54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

This guy didn’t need a theology course or a Bible primer – he simply stood back and observed Jesus in action. He saw the darkness fall on the landscape. He listened as the scoffers attacked and as Jesus asked His Father to forgive them in the face of their hatred. He took it all in and simply saw the truth – Jesus was exactly Who He claimed to be.

Some people are caught in a dramatic moment in life and God gets their attention. He snags their heart in a profound way, and they cannot help but be shaken to their core. They may be broken because of a loss, or hurt because of a setback – and God shows tenderness and love to them. They come to Jesus, and they become immediately vocal about what God has done for them. They are a blessing to the church, and these conversions are often the most talked about – but they are only one kind of transformed person.

Quietly Practical

Next, if you scanned the scene at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, you would notice at least a trio of ladies who loved Jesus and were quietly practical. The gentle and loving touch of the Master caused some tender-hearted women to follow – even though their discipleship was quieter and more of a practical nature. Matthew wrote:

Matthew 27:55 Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. 56 Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

These are the many who aren’t highlighted in the journals – they are the quiet followers of Jesus who just meet needs. They love Him deeply. They are wounded when they see the cruelty of people toward God and His Word. At the same time, they don’t talk as much… they DO to show love. Mary Magdalene was delivered of demons earlier in her life, and she was ever grateful to Jesus. Mrs. Zebedee saw her boys changed by the teachings of Jesus, and she couldn’t believe how even “sons of thunder” could learn to keep their mouths shut. These women followed Jesus faithfully, supported Him financially and materially, and cared for the practical needs of the group of disciples daily. You don’t think God would have left the practical needs of the movement in the hands of a group of men who aspired to be budding theologians, do you?

Some followers are quiet. They LIVE their witness. They show up, they do the work, and if asked they explain their love in verbal terms – but words aren’t their first approach. They live the Gospel, and preach it with their hands and feet. The church cannot ONLY have them, but we cannot live without them. Someone must keep the practical side working…

Overtly Courageous

Third, if you keep looking at the cross, you will see a man Matthew carefully remembered…there was a man who didn’t respond out loud, as far as we know, about Jesus, until he suddenly became overtly courageous in front of his peers. The profound truths presented to a learned man caused him to believe in Jesus and become a brave disciple in the face of Jesus’ opponents. Matthew wrote:

Matthew 27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given [to him]. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.

Joseph was well known in his community. Following Jesus cost him. It cost him friends. It cost him respect and stature. When the time came, Joe had enough of the religious farce, and he threw down the pretense and declared his allegiance to Jesus. Sometimes it takes an injustice or an intense event to bring the quiet believers out to the fore. Joe believed, and in the end it didn’t matter if people knew it or not.

Thank God for Joe. We need a few of them to step out right about now. We need some on the floor of the Congress, and in the Senate – a few on the court that will unashamedly say that faith is not a dirty word and the bullying of the people of faith must end. We need Joe to step up and stop hiding!

Matthew wasn’t finished his story. He made it clear…painfully clear.

All three stood alone against the flood of criticism – as believers are often called to do in hostile times.

Each person encountered Jesus and became what God gifted them to be. Each responded differently, because each was gifted differently. Each had different burdens, and so each responded according to what God laid on their heart.

It wasn’t easy to follow a Crucified Savior. Remember our last lesson when Jesus encountered mockers at the Cross (27:1-53)? They including soldiers, onlookers and even a fellow condemned man… each hurled insults and made the point that Jesus looked weak and broken. Yet, that wasn’t the whole story then. It isn’t the whole story now. Even today, there are men beheaded on beaches who had little physical strength, but their testimony is emboldening other believers.

There they were without Jesus. He left them. He died.

He promised He would, just as He promised us that in the last days difficult times would come. People, though, are sadly very selective hearers. The account closed with two stories – one in the garden of the burial, where a woman sat crushed before a closed stone tomb, and the other scene was a back room deal off stage where priests attempted to make sure this was the “end of the line” for this Jesus movement. Matthew weaves both stories together:

Matthew 27:61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. 62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, After three days I [am to] rise again.’ 64 “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it [as] secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.

Wait! The story doesn’t end with a sealed tomb. The story doesn’t end with a Crucified Savior. The story ends in LIFE.

Last week my wife was in a Venetian glass blowing shop. She was trying to find a cross that could hang on the wall, but all she could find was a Crucifix, and no cross without Jesus’ lifeless body hanging on it. She asked the man if he had any like that, and he went to check. When he came back, he politely asked me if we “Didn’t believe in Jesus.” I made clear that we did, and that we know the He died on the Cross. Then I told Him that we choose to focus, not simply on His DEATH – which we know was essential to deal with our sin, but with His RESURRECTION – which is how the Bible ended the story. He smiled and said he understood. It was a matter of “focus”. He evidently hadn’t thought about it that way before.

Watch as the Gospel moved out in Matthew 28. Look specifically for how God worked in the people:

To the soldiers, the angel of God was a reason to quake in fear. To the women, the same angel was the messenger of love, hope and encouragement!

Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first [day] of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples.

Don’t miss this truth! The very same Scriptures that bring us HOPE seem like CONDEMNATION to those who do not know God. The coming of Jesus EXCITES us, but (if they truly believe it) would SCARE them. That is why Paul wrote that the fragrance of the Gospel is life to us but death to them.

Look at these two groups: a contingent of strong soldiers and a group of peasant women carrying spices…

• In verse one the women gathered early in the morning and brought the preparation spices to the grave.

• In verse two they saw the effects of great power and observed a now open tomb, with a messenger sitting on top of the stone. In verse three, he was obviously not a nearby hobo or stray wanderer – this was someone who knew how to make an entrance!

• Skip verse four for the moment, and look at verses five to eight. Listen as the angel gave instructions to the women. They were to put off fear. They were to believe Jesus’ prior promises. They were to confirm He was gone and tell the disciples.

Now stop and look at the fallen soldiers on the ground. A couple of peasant women encountered the angel, but were sent with a mission. A group of soldiers encounter God’s emissary and were paralyzed and struck down. God was at work in power – and it wasn’t dependent on the ability of the women, their station in life, or what they could accomplish without Him. God’s work NEVER is dependent on the raw material – it is always about what God can do with us – NOT WHO WE ARE WITHOUT HIM.

Notice the women OBEYED, and as a result, God gave them something MORE. Jesus came to them because they were already following what He sent ahead for them to DO. It is in obedience that we get a greater grasp of truth. It is in surrender that we see more and more of the Savior! Matthew continued the story:

Matthew 28:9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

Jesus took these surrendered women and started a “wave” of testimony that continues around the globe today! They didn’t look like much. Two peasant girls sticking their arms in the air hardly seemed like an auspicious beginning. Here is the thing: Don’t count out small things when God is involved. Don’t make the mistake of putting your money on the soldiers and betting against the peasant girls. With God, the whole equation changes! Jesus took the small and made it great, the powerful and made it a quivering mass.

Stop for a moment and look at the dark side of the story.

Matthew wanted you to see more than just Jesus’ side of the story…He wrote:

Matthew 28:11 Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, [and is] to this day.

Here is the dark side. A shadowed room was filled with sullen faces making plots to stop the spread of something that could threaten their power plans. Men don’t want to kneel – we are stubborn and self-strong.

These men knew what they wanted, and truth wasn’t going to stand in their way. Over and over you will read a slick presentation of this same old tired philosophy that can all be summarized in a single sentence: “Do whatever makes you feel most comfortable, Live whatever way you think you will be happy.” That is our world. It isn’t rooted in truth – it is rooted in the lie that attempts to convince people that chasing after their desires is more important that recognizing the Truth. Our world rages against anyone or anything that dares to attempt to block their headlong race toward whatever carnal pleasure is the flavor of the month.

Look at verse eleven. It started with a report of what happened. By verse twelve it was time for a “pay off” and by verse thirteen a LIE was put in place of the truth. Verse fourteen cemented the back scratching “here is how we will cover for you” part of the lies. The scene closed in verse fifteen with heart-warming loyalty and fidelity among a lying bunch of creeps and scoundrels.

That is the picture of the enemy at work. That room. It isn’t IGNORANCE that is killing mankind. It is rebellion. It is self-will. It is denial of a Creator to get what is His – our worship, our praise, our service. It isn’t just happening in pagan places, strip joints and bars… it is happening in Christian homes and wayward churches. Jesus called us to follow – and many are following something else.

Let’s end the story on the HAPPY NOTE that Jesus gave us in the Word – the work He does in people who DO CHOOSE to follow Him!

The disciples slipped back up to the Galilee. Matthew omits some of the story because he was attempting to get to the “punch line” of the end – the instruction of the Savior to move out and advance into the darkness with His presence and power… Matthew recorded:

Matthew 28:16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.

Again we see this truth – they heard from Jesus because they obeyed Him and went where He told them to be. How many believers spend their lives wondering why Jesus won’t tell them MORE, when they willfully deny the part He already told them? Matthew continued:

Matthew 18:17 When they saw Him, they worshiped [Him]; but some were doubtful.

Showing up is PART of what we are called to do. Listening to Jesus’ instruction makes a great BEGINNING. At the same time, we must come to the place where we BELIEVE what Jesus said. We must BELIEVE Who Jesus truly is. We must decide that we are willing to have Him direct our lives. He made it clear, as Matthew ended the account:

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Look at the words of Jesus closely. He said the Father placed ALL AUTHORITY in both the physical realm and spiritual realm into His hands. We must understand there is NOTHING that is beyond His grasp to accomplish.

He continued with a simple statement. The sentence is not well translated. There is but ONE VERB – one action only. The statement was “In your going” (mathetousete) – MAKE DISCIPLES. We must understand the task is not merely to offer the truth to the world, but to richly, intentionally and powerfully invest the truth in those who respond to God’s call.

He made clear that the discipleship process was to be world-wide, and include people once estranged from God after the post-Ark scattering. We must be investing in both local outreach and world mission.

He explained the process of discipleship as the careful and systematic teaching of all of His Word, based on those who make known their declaration of faith in the Lord Jesus. They are to recognize that God is One in essence, but multiple in personality – and publicly be willing to stand for that truth. We must be openly expecting people to practice what Jesus told us to do, and not to be wary of obedience to every part of His teaching.

We teach. We baptize. We explain His Word – and He promised that He would be here with us. We aren’t alone in what we do! We don’t have to rely on the sum of our abilities or wallets to get the message out. Jesus knows how to make powerful soldiers drop to their bellies and peasant women walk in power. He can feed a village from a boy’s lunch. He isn’t short on resources – only real servants.

Look at the contrast we have seen.

The enemy pulled men into self-protection, lies and protection of their chasing of their own lusts until they are driven by works of the flesh. They lied without guilt and covered up the truth – as if that was “best” for all concerned. Listen to the words of Paul to the Galatians, and you can see the connection…

Galatians 5:17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. … 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The problem is, the poison of these deeds is so pervasive, we get used to them everywhere. Darkness ends up looking normal, because our eyes adjust.

In ancient Pompeii, the water pipes that supplied the city were bonded with lead that slowly poisoned the population. The first symptom of the lead poisoning was that it took away their ability to truly taste things, so the profound spices were being dumped in to keep it tasting like anything at all. Life in our world is like that. People dump in things to try to bring back sensitivity to taste buds that have been crippled by poison.

Look at the other side of the coin.

God sets men free to discover the truth about love, sexuality, freedom, responsibility, family, community, tenderness, selflessness, true riches – He isn’t holding back! Galatians continued:

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

God frees us to be who He created us to be. The grand message of the Bible can be summarized into one thought: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no place or person to turn to for true refuge beside Me.'” God has never been embarrassed about His role in the world, and has never felt He needed the affirmation of the masses to be Who He is. We don’t have the answers inside us – because we are broken until we have Him. Here is the truth…

God sets men free to discover bankruptcy within and truth in HIM, while the enemy coaches men to find truth within that leaves them in bondage. These are the two paths we can choose in life.

Every choice leads somewhere…

Following His Footsteps: “That Pesky Jesus Problem” – Matthew 27:1-54

J104162401One of the traits I truly admire in great leaders is their ability to remain calm in the face of extraordinary circumstances. The “best of the best” have been able to withstand enormous pressures, often without showing much of the wear it had upon them. Whether it is a jovial smirking face of the cigar-laden Winston Churchill, or the calm but tired look of Abraham Lincoln – history sometimes yields little snapshots of great men with resolute faces of quiet confidence. Think about those two men for a moment… Can you imagine finding yourself responsible for the course of your country in such dire circumstances? Lincoln was watching the Union he loved dissolve and fragment over decades old conflicts. Churchill was watching his world renowned, well-ordered and prosperous society of England pummeled into rubble by Nazi rockets and bombs. Both were faced with enormous pressures, but both responded with confidence… At least, that is what the pictures show.

Have you ever been in a situation in which you were absolutely unprepared for what was expected of you? I admit that I am a bit of a compulsive planner, almost neurotic about being unprepared, which is probably my version of a personal nightmare. I want to be ready for what is expected – and I want to deliver MORE than was expected. That desire must be kept in check, because it can drive me if I am not careful. Over the years, I have come to realize a problem in life: the things which catch me by surprise are often some of the most critical things to get right in my first response. (Ask the Honorable Mayor of Baltimore if she would like to have had more time to prepare some of her remarks this past week!) Knowing what to do in grave circumstances and before critical people in a pressured moment is a skill that must be honed, tested and practiced. One thing is certain: From all we can tell from historical documentation, Pontius Pilate didn’t have those skills on the ready. He had a moment of his leadership remembered in history – and it is a moment where he not only failed to lead, but was completely “rattled” by the crowd. He was a man who appeared confused by the stresses of leadership.

How do I know? In the Gospel account, during the last hours of Jesus earth ministry before He was crucified, the Savior stood before that leader – Procurator Pontius Pilate. Pilate stood in the toga of an equestrian Roman, a man bred into the upper class of society, and proudly surrounded by the might of Rome’s soldiers, but he didn’t sound the part. Pilate asked a critical question to the leaders who brought Jesus before him. Matthew 27:22 recorded it this way: “Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” He was the de facto leader on the scene – but he was a man with a terrible perplexing problem, and seemed to be seeking advice from the people he was called to lead. What should he DO? …Indeed. Consider this truth for a moment…

Key Principle: What we DO with Jesus determines what we DO with our own lives and our own destiny.

Historians differ on approaches to Jesus. World historians view western history around the coming of Jesus – because more than the calendar changed. The impact of the message and people of Jesus was obvious to any who are truly open to studying western history. At the same time, much of the historical work doesn’t really expose Jesus – but rather those who followed Him. In my life, I have found…

People DO many things with Jesus:

Consider for a few moments some of the people in the narrative of the New Testament, particularly in Matthew 27, where we are treated with an interesting view of what a variety of people “DID” with Jesus. They are more than just memories. I would suggest they are almost archetypes. Let’s take a look:

Leaders bound Jesus

Matthew opens with Jesus in custody, and the rising of the sun…

Matthew 27:1 Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death; 2 and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor.

The Jewish leadership could tolerate no more of Jesus, nor of those who followed Him. In essence, those who could not control Him, sought to silence Him. Is that not something we have seen, over and over in history.

Think about the church’s objections to moral redefinition today. Think about the unshaken nature of the church in relationship to the unborn. We don’t seem flexible – because we follow an unchanging God when it comes to moral precepts. For generations, leaders of our country (many who can be evaluated by the works of private biographers) unashamedly quoted from the Bible, called upon people for counsel like the Reverend Billy Graham, and thought of the Biblically unmovable fences of morality as a GOOD THING. Yet, as the tide of public opinion turns – because it has been deliberately engineered by forces bent on re-shaping our moral frame – these same leaders quietly offer tacit approval to creating an environment that silences the words of the Scripture on subjects now found unpopular.

Let’s be wise: When so-called “leaders” cannot control Jesus and His message, and they cannot co-opt it for the purpose of gaining popularity – they choose the third option… to silence it by whatever means necessary.

Hollywood has tried to remake the image of Jesus and cut and paste His words to make Him inoffensive – but that hasn’t worked – because God preserved the text and its pages stubbornly reveal their antics. Educators have tunneled under the Scriptures and tried their best to offer such complex criticisms of the Holy Writ that students would be left plagued with doubts about the veracity of the narrative – but students who do the work will find that the Bible is filled with details that have been unearthed by archaeologists. Even more, those who are walking with Jesus have watched His Word take apart the strongholds of evil within and woo us to obedience. The power of the Word by those who have truly encountered it, is hard to silence in a life transformed.

Go back to Matthew 27, and look at the opening words. The men “conferred” together about what to do with Jesus. He Who sought no advice from them, was now at the mercy of committee rule. They weighed whether stoning would be an option, but with the Galileans in town for the feast – a group among whom Jesus was quite popular – they thought imprisonment or death would bring an uprising. Some suggest, from time to time, that the leaders couldn’t have killed Him without being defiled. Yet, on close inspection to the Gospels, these men seemed quite capable of ordering a death along with a lunchtime salad – and continuing through the day with punctilious religious ritual. I suspect the need to keep the crowds settled was the deciding factor – not the morality of the command to kill. They decided to trade Jesus to the Romans and seek His death through the courts. In the event all things went poorly, they could hope that only Pilate would be the loser.

Here is the truth: If leaders can’t USE Jesus for their ends – they may well move to SILENCE Jesus and His followers. We have passed through decades of attempts to align the followers of Jesus with a political party – and we are now seeing the truth. We will be discarded and silenced if we don’t bend with political winds. This isn’t the first time – it has been going on since the Gospels…

Judas betrayed Jesus

Judas also had a decision to make about what to DO with Jesus. Matthew recalled:

Matthew 27:3 Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See [to that] yourself!” 5 And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. 6 The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” 7 And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; 10 AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER’S FIELD, AS THE LORD DIRECTED ME.”

Let’s say it this way: The one who did not face the beckoning of conviction faced the dead end of the wall of guilt. Scripture defined the difference between “Godly sorrow” – what we call “conviction” and “ungodly sorrow” – what we call guilt. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote:

2 Corinthians 7:8 For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it…9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to [the point of] repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to [the will of] God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to [the will] [of] God produces a repentance without regret, [leading] to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Paul had previously written to them about one who was walking in sexual sin (1 Corinthians 5) and their arrogance in boasting that they “loved the man” in spite of the sin. Paul told them to separate the man from their midst. He upset them. He may have even written them a second time (some scholars feel) with even sterner words. The words hurt their feelings and made them face the sin.

Why is that important enough to mention? We now seem to live in times when people have become convinced that preserving their feelings are of supreme importance in life. For the world, this is to be expected, but even many Christians don’t seem to recognize that obedience to God is far more important than “how I feel about an issue”. Some of us don’t seem to grasp that it is no vice to call sin what it is (God’s prophets made a living doing it) and it is not wrong to require believers to face what they are doing when it is contrary to God’s Word. That isn’t “judgy” – it is the loving work of a brother of sister who truly wants you to become all that God made you to be!

Some have forgotten that Paul made clear some sorrow is GOOD – if it leads one to conviction, and that sense in turn leads the wayward back to the arms of God in obedience. On the other hand, there is such a thing as ungodly sorrow – an insidious guilt that helps us erect a wall and block our return to God in obedience. Let me suggest that although the call to face sin can be delivered badly, it is not usually the major problem. The bigger factor seems to be the heart of the one to whom the appeal is made. If we care more about what we want than what God has directed, we rebuff conviction – we will harden and recoil. We may attempt to place the blame for a guilt wall on the messenger who called us to repentance, but the mortar of rejection was mixed in the unyielded heart of the one who cared more for their feelings than for their Lord.

In the Gospels, Judas had remorse – guilt – but did not allow that to soften him to conviction. Though he turned on Christ behind the scenes – others turned on Christ right in front of Him. Peter’s rejection led to conviction; Judas’ led to guilt. Peter found a forgiving Christ; Judas found a rope. The difference wasn’t the sin as much as the response to the prompting of God about what they did.

We must grow to understand that our feelings must be subservient to God’s Word – regardless of what the feelings are about. God didn’t give us commands to harm us, and the enemy and the fallen world don’t beckon with temptation us to truly help us. We must not blame the Scripture, nor the one who points out our error from it – we must accept the responsibility to soften to God’s inner conviction – or we will harden into sinful patterns that kill.

What we know about Judas is this:

• First, his name suggests either that he was a man from Kerioth in Judea, or that he came from the upstart political movement of the “isacarii” or “dagger people”. In either case, he was different than the average Galilean follower of Jesus. He was very likely a southerner in a group of northerners.

• Second, Judas complained about the use of funds, and was scolded by Jesus. Perhaps he was truly interested in the poor at one point, but it is clear by his interest in personal payment by the priests that he had become greedy. He was about to receive the price of a slave’s life (thirty pieces of silver, cp. Exodus 21:32) for testimony against his rabbi.

• Third, it appears that Judas struggled inside with his own chosen commitment to follow Jesus. The Master said and did things he didn’t always agree with – and he hadn’t truly surrendered to following what the Master wanted. He followed when it made sense to him – but held back his heart when it didn’t. Judas isn’t the only follower who ever reserved his heart for his own ultimate control.

Let me suggest that I am not at all certain that Judas saw any of what happened playing out the way it did. I don’t believe he saw himself on the end of a rope, until guilt and shame boxed in his life and squeezed the air from him. He had been the treasurer of the group – an insider. Now he was a disloyal and untrustworthy traitor. He couldn’t face himself, let alone the other men he had traveled with along the way. Tell me he didn’t replay that kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane a thousand times as he walked to the side of the Hinnom Valley and tied up the rope to the tree…

Judas heard the gentle voice of Jesus. He sat beside Him for several years. He knew the Master’s laugh, and even saw Him weep for people. He saw Jesus forgive a woman overtaken in adultery, a man caught up in slimy taxation and greed – yet Judas missed something. He missed Who Jesus truly was. He missed His deep desire that NO ONE would perish distant from God. He missed the grace of God – the undeserved mercy of the Holy One to the broken and dirty. He got far enough to feel conviction, but all he could do is read it as condemning guilt. He died without peace, and faced an eternity without mercy – because he turned his face from the mercy of God right in front of him!

Pilate bargained with Jesus

The Roman governor’s exchanges with Jesus highlight another way some people try to “handle” Jesus…

Matthew 27:11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “[It is as] you say.” 12 And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” 14 And He did not answer him with regard to even a [single] charge, so the governor was quite amazed. 15 Now at [the] feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people [any] one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him [a message], saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. 21 But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Crucify Him!” 24 When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see [to that] yourselves.”

Let me offer a simple idea about Pilate’s exchanges: He who could not maneuver politically, surrendered immorally. We mentioned Pilate at the beginning of this lesson, but there is more here than just a question – there is a record of a man who looked like a leader, but was actually a trapped follower.

Think of the conversation recorded in Matthew’s account. We know that Pilate was a politician and a man of some significant wealth in his day. We know that he was the ranking official on the scene representing the Emperor. Yet, his maneuvering got him nowhere… In the beginning, he asked questions to Jesus. Two are recorded: “Are you the King of the Jews?” and “Can’t you hear their accusations against you?” As you keep reading, Pilate addressed the delegation that came to see him – and he also did it with questions: (twice) “Whom do you want me to release to you?” and later: “What shall I do with Jesus called the Christ?” If you look closely at the account, Pilate offers nothing to the crowd in logic or direction – but simply asks people what they want, and then gives it to them. No wonder he could claim innocence – he had done nothing to show any decision making ability!

Pilate would probably do well in a modern leadership role. In the absence of values driven men and women, we find ourselves increasingly following people who poll test their “values” and choose the path of their “leadership” based on the more popular notion of the crowd. Let’s be clear: that isn’t leadership – it is being a follower with a leader’s title. In the absence of heartfelt values, many who would lead are much more readers of polls than leaders of people…and it appears that has been true, at least in some, for many years.

Bold leaders know right from wrong, and use their place of leadership to attempt to persuade people who need to be led. Bold leaders don’t need the crowd to tell them what is moral, and what is just. They are moved, much more by needy people, then by popular opinion. Pilate was clearly NOT a bold leader. In the middle of his dealing with Jesus, Matthew included that he even got instruction from him wife to walk away from the trial. The poor man: everyone weighed in on his decisions! There was a reason. When leaders don’t show the courage of conviction, they invite an assault on them by the strong winds of opinion around them. Pilate asked questions and took advice, but he offered little more than a stuffed toga to the proceedings. In the end, his lack of conviction and leadership allowed him to both commit immoral acts (hand a man over for death he deemed innocent) and feel fine about doing so (since he was simply giving people what they asked for!)

It should come as no shock that politicians use Jesus routinely. They quote (and often misquote) Him in order to add some legitimacy to their position. They skip anything that may not be regarded as “all-loving” and “all-accepting” – and they cut and paste His words into their speeches with little regard for the context of His true ethical frame. Some people simply USE Jesus to try to get what they truly want – acceptance of a certain crowd in a certain occasion. I have seen men who mouthed Jesus words to get a woman to like them. I have seen young people mimic words of Jesus to keep parents off their back. Some people just USE Jesus.

The crowd bade for Jesus’ blood

There are others who have no problem cursing Jesus openly…

Matthew 27:25 And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

People’s sense of “justice” can easily be warped. In fact, a crowd of people who lose sensitivity to the truth become swiftly a cold and inhumane lot. We don’t have to move past the shattered streets of a fractured city that destroyed homes, cars and businesses out a sense of outrage. Many people stood up for what seems to be injustices committed against citizens. They stood with the courage of conviction in non-violent protest, and made the world hear them. On the other side of town, people took full advantage of the situation and trashed their neighbors – a scene that is becoming far too common in our time.

Go back to Matthew’s account. Can you see the crowd mentality involved in their words? They seemed to take responsibility as a group for a decision that virtually no one was going to individually accept the weight of – for they were making an immoral decision to release a known criminal while publicly condemning an innocent man. They watched as a One Who did NOTHING wrong was stripped, beaten, and tortured. What kind of people could do that? The answer is simple: people who had lost a sense of real justice, and only embraced her cousin: outrage.

The soldiers belittled Jesus

Bored Roman soldiers also weighed in to the scene…

Matthew 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole [Roman] cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and [began] to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the [scarlet] robe off Him and put His [own] garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. 32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting [it], He was unwilling to drink. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they [began] to keep watch over Him there. 37 And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Can we not see it? Those with an illusion of their own power find dominance something easy to play with. Roman soldiers believed themselves to be the power in the courtyard that morning – and they used their power to act out in unjust and intemperate ways. They PLAYED with Jesus –as many people do. They felt dominant. Look at them! Jesus was beaten, His head down, blood running everywhere! They stood strong, arrogant, in control of their lives. Many people do. In the end, they recognize the illusion of that control, as their physical prowess slips away, and the number of their days draws short.

When we don’t recognize the ultimate power of the Savior, we belittle Jesus. We puff ourselves up and appear strong in our own eyes – supposing God to be aloof and un-observing or disengaged. We don’t get it. We will all stand before the Judge Who created us. There is no escaping it. It is appointed for all of us to face the end of our lives, and then know God’s real view of us. Jesus came to make grace available – not to offer unending license to our selfish behavior. He came to triumph over sin, not to be belittled by convicted sinners. He allowed the mockery of these soldiers, because it served His end: to bring salvation by death on a tree – as promised by prophets long before.

The crowd berated Jesus

Along with the soldiers, the crowds mocked the Savior…

Matthew 27:38 At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who [are going to] destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking [Him] and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE [Him] now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 44 The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.

Let’s say it plainly: Those who spend little time considering a serious matter often speak most freely about it. The people who hurled accusations were not a serious part of the discussion of “Who Jesus was” – they were “passersby”. Today, they drop into to social media and offer sniping and rude comments about Jesus. They explain how the Bible is filled with inaccurate and even immoral advice – using a metric that is made up on a napkin. They hurl about accusation on the Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos, thinking little about what they are even saying. We see it growing as the time draws later, but it was present when Jesus was walking amongst us.

The centurion believed in Jesus

In the face of all those who used Jesus and even mocked Jesus, it is worth noting that there was still a note of hope – some saw the truth…

Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” …50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!

Some people respond only when the power of God is made plain in their eyes – but they respond. What a great sign of hope – no matter where they have been in their lives. No matter what they have said, or what they have done – when they encounter Jesus, and look at what He has done… hope remains that they will respond properly, and recognize Him for Who He is. The centurion did it… and so can you and I. It changed his life from that day forward – just as it did for many who are walking through this lesson together. Jesus changes us when we open our heart to Him! The reason what we DO with Jesus makes so much difference is because of WHO Jesus is.

He is the Alpha and Omega. He is the Privileged Son of the Creator. He is the agent of salvation. The whole picture of Who Jesus is cannot be seen in this single story from Matthew.

If Jesus had only come to earth, He would have been a mere visitor – God on a holiday, cruising about His creation. If Jesus had only died at the hands of these wicked men, He would be yet another mere religious teacher – marked by martyrdom, but little more than others who offered ethical teachings like Buddha or Mohammed. The whole story of Jesus didn’t begin at His trial, but at earth’s creation. The story of His earth walk didn’t end at His Crucifixion, but at His Resurrection. His dealings with men didn’t end at His ascension to Heaven, but in the moment they stand before Him in judgment. That is why…

What we DO with Jesus determines what we DO with our own lives and our own destiny.

Following His Footsteps: “A Child of Two Worlds” – Matthew 26

spiritual worldOne of our local high school teachers posted a question the other day on their Facebook page that was perfect for an introduction to this lesson. He wrote: “Christians are often asked how there can be a God with so much evil in the world. How does the atheist explain all the evil in the world?” An university student who claims to be an atheist responded with the classic language of a modern thinker:

First, he wrote: “Define evil.” He went on to explain: “Did you know that there is a parasite that burrows into the eyes of children in developing countries? Is the parasite evil? No, of course not! It’s trying to survive. Murder, rape, and other atrocities are a part of human nature, just as they are a part of other animals’ nature. Being advanced, social primates, we can identify that these atrocities cause great harm to the receiving individual, and we would not want that to happen to us, so most people would not want to hurt others. Hitler was not an evil person. He was a mentally ill psychopath who had an awful childhood. Understanding the causes for horrid behavior can help us provide care and medicine for those who might be more inclined to commit such acts. Saying that there is some kind of supernatural evil behind it won’t get us anywhere. If I killed someone tomorrow just for the fun of it, and it was only because a tumor was altering my thought process, would I be evil? No. Good and evil is a man-made concept.”

He sounded intelligent, but he is completely clueless. He was unable to distinguish between animals and man – those led by instinct and those with an implanted conscience. He was unable to see anything beyond the material world, so by simply eliminating the existence of evil, he can dispense with any of the worthless and meaningless attempts to thwart evil! The grand theological wrestlings of Thomas Aquinas have now been uncovered as a complete waste of time. Immanuel Kant – you were a mere lightweight thinker, you should have taken more science in school! You see, with the ultimate clarity of science, we can now see our error – we thought evil existed. Hitler was simply misunderstood! Lest you think his explanation an anomaly, hear a professor from Yale published this week:

As intelligent agents we are compelled to believe certain things, most importantly that our will is free, that we are selves that persist through time, that there are moral truths that can be universalized, beliefs which as individuals committed to science we yet know to be false.“–Karsten Harries, Yale University philosophy professor

Are you still asking doubtfully how another holocaust like that of a “Great Tribulation” could be again embraced by a culture? Here is your answer.

We as a culture will explain away evil and see morality as a mere social construct that can be bought by a media outlet to change votes. The explanation fits a naturalist narrative – that there is only ONE world, and that is the one that can be measured in man’s vaunted sense of science. Biblically speaking, that isn’t just naïve, it is foolish and quite dangerous – but it passes as scientific education in the elite schools that shape our future Presidents and Senators.

It occurs to me that the Deceiver’s work is best done when his deception is hidden in plain view and not acknowledged as even existing. Both of the quotes I shared express beautifully the prophetic words of the Apostle Paul recorded in 2 Timothy 3:

2 Timothy 3:1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, … 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these [men] also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith…”

Here is the truth: The Bible made clear that there are TWO stories running in the background of your life – one physical, and one spiritual. Your life is bigger than you may have believed. You play a role in things eternal – even from your backyard in your little town.

Long ago, when a simple shepherd named Jacob didn’t make that connection, God made it clear in the dream of a stairway that connected Heaven and earth – so that he could be clear on this truth. For many of us, when we met Jesus on life’s journey, we became aware that the spiritual world not only existed, but it had a tremendous influence on the physical world. Today’s lesson emphasizes this truth. We live in a split screen of two worlds – the spiritual (permanent and real) and the physical (temporal and ephemeral). Knowing that helps us make sense of much of what happens in life. Here is the truth…

Key Principle: We are children of two worlds. We have an enemy that is hiding and working to thwart God’s transformation of us – but God is greater!

As we continue to walk with Jesus through His earth ministry, we find the narrative of Matthew 26 reveals this truth of the two worlds in a “split screen” presentation. On the one hand, we have what Jesus was doing – and on the other, the work of evil behind the scene. Consider that as you view the “back and forth” nature of the two scenes in Matthew 26. There are four stories:

• The first is a simple story that illustrates two understandings of the world – either the physical world is all there is, or there is a spiritual world behind the actions of the physical world.

• The second is a record of two meetings – one with people who recognize God and His work among them, and the other with people unaware they are carrying out commands from the world of spiritual darkness.

• The third is a record of two interactions in prayer meetings in the Garden of Gethsemane. One record regarded Jesus’ prayer time with the Father, the other recalled the disciples unable to remain awake during a time of prayer.

• The final story was of two testimonies – one presented by Jesus before the Elders of the Congregation of Israel, and the other by Peter at the fireside in the court of the house.

Let’s begin with the first story…

The Story of the Two Understandings

The story begins on “stage right” with…

Jesus and Disciples

Matthew 26:1 When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is [to be] handed over for crucifixion.”

Jesus was completely aware of the two agendas – He was at work preparing the men for Jesus’ departure while the enemy was at work to blunt their grasp of what was going to happen. This is one of the enemy’s main works – to hide the urgency of the hour of our listening and learning.

Next on “stage left”, running simultaneously was another part of the scene…

Chief priests and elders

Matthew 26:3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; 4 and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. 5 But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.”

Jesus made His men aware of both worlds, while the enemy was stirring the pot with men who were unaware of his presence. They, no doubt, thought they were doing something good and they were protecting the nation. Yet, note the verbs: they “gathered”, they “plotted” and even they “considered” the problems of the reaction of the people. The writer used words like “stealth” and “seize” to give you a sense of the kind of individuals they were and the nature of their work. The work of the enemy is often done behind closed doors – secret from the rest of society. On the surface, these were polite men. They were “helpful” and “publicly gentle” men. Behind closed doors they desperately wanted control and plotted to do what they wanted – but in the dark and in secrecy. The enemy uses men that are often polite, kind and community minded on the surface, but they have a different agenda if you could follow them into the meetings in the shadows. We don’t want to believe they are evil. We want to believe they are what they present to us. The clear fact of Scripture is that some are not what they appear – they are working for evil purposes. Our inability to see them clearly is part of the rouse of the deception at work. We must be harmless, but not naïve.

Step back and look at the two agendas: God wanted to prepare His people for the troubles ahead. The enemy wanted to find a way to trap the unsuspecting – that is a perfect reminder of how the evil one is at work, and what God is doing in you. God wanted His people to be ready in a way that would help them deal with trouble – so they could be unafraid. The enemy wanted to stir trouble and push the leaders by their fear of the crowds.

The second story is that of…

This second story tells of the “Two Evening Meetings”…

A woman pouring “thanksgiving” at Bethany

Just after (according to Matthew) Jesus’ warnings to the men of His impending death, the group stopped at Bethany for a time of preparation for the days ahead. Jesus was still exposing the coming work of darkness to the men, and a woman began to do something that was probably a bit awkward. She took an expensive alabaster container and broke it open, so that she could expend its aromatic oil on Jesus, beginning at his head.

Matthew 26:6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined [at the table]. 8 But the disciples were indignant when they saw [this], and said, “Why this waste? 9 “For this [perfume] might have been sold for a high price and [the money] given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. 11 “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. 12 “For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

There are several details about the story that help us understand the importance of this simple event in the life of Jesus.

• First, the woman was an invited part of the dinner, probably well known to all of the disciples. Her direct access to Jesus denoted the men were comfortable with her presence in the setting.

• Second, she approached Jesus with the small “alabastros” – a delicate stone-cut vessel of porous material in which very expensive contents are stored on a very temporary basis. She brought it to use the essence oils it contained on Jesus.

• Third, such expensive anointing oil was generally used for the dead as an extravagant gift – a show of the deep emotion of the loss of the loved one.

Note that she began to anoint Jesus’ head – as you would a dead person. Since Jesus was reclining at the table, this was not a spa treatment – but the private act of preparation for a great time about to be revealed – His coming death. This was the kind of practice performed for a prince before donning a royal robe and being presented to the crowd at a banquet. Don’t miss the significance here: Jesus was just quoted as preparing the men for His death in no uncertain terms. This woman was anointing His head, as one would a dead man. Did the disciples understand the action? No! The disciples saw this as a WASTE. Here is the lesson: Jesus saw the events ahead and saw the value in the woman’s response of worship, thanksgiving and honesty. The disciples saw only the temporal value of the oil and couldn’t understand why the woman was pouring out this expensive oil. When disciples don’t see beyond the physical world, they respond the wrong way to God’s work in people.

Judas spewing betrayal with elders

Split away from that setting, but on the same night, Matthew tells of another meeting…

Matthew 26:14 Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. 16 From then on he [began] looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. 17 Now on the first [day] of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” 18 And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near; I [am to] keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”‘” 19 The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.

The enemy moved into Judas and had his way in his heart. Perhaps it was the waste they just witnessed – for John noted that Judas specifically complained “because he kept the purse”. Perhaps the rebuke of Jesus was the last straw! What we know for sure is that Judas was SELF-INTERESTED. He was willing to auction off his loyalty to the highest bidder. That is the fingerprint of the enemy – one who chooses SELF over OTHERS. The scene ended with both sides in the same place…and Jesus showed a knowledge of both worlds… physical and spiritual…

All together: “Remember I know both worlds!”

With all the men in the room – Jesus took the time to let the men know exactly what would happen in the coming hours.

First, He announced the PLAN of His death would come by betrayal:

Matthew 26:20 Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining [at the table] with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” 22 Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 And He answered, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. 24 “The Son of Man [is to] go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Second, Jesus made clear to the PERSON who would become the betrayer that He was not ignorant of the plot:

Matthew 26:25 And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus said to him, “You have said [it] yourself.”

Third, Jesus made clear the PURPOSE of His coming death:

Matthew 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took [some] bread, and after a blessing, He broke [it] and gave [it] to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave [it] to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

Here we must not pass too quickly. The enemy would have Judas believe that this was a mere human dispute between theologians. He wanted to switch sides, but it was little more than the singer’s words: “there ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys, there’s only you and me and we just disagree!” The devil wanted morality to be hidden. He wanted Judas to be fine with betrayal – because he does his best work when people think they are HELPING solve a problem, when in fact they are executing a DARK COMMAND.

Jesus spoke out on the purpose of God “signing off” on this evil plot’s seeming victory – because God was establishing the means of reconciliation long promised by the prophets. His body would be broken and His blood spilled. It would not be so much the enemy’s plot and the Father’s secret fulfillment of a promise. The enemy cannot see the future, and he doesn’t believe the Word of God as truth. As a result, he keeps making the same mistake: He underestimates God’s ability to make something right that he bends.

Fourth, Jesus offered a PROMISE of a future celebration:

Matthew 26:29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus told the men His kingdom would not die with Him at the cross. It would be born there- and it was!

Finally, Jesus offered insight into the PROBLEM of the next few hours:

Matthew 26:30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ 32 “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 But Peter said to Him, “[Even] though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this [very] night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.

One of the great problems with disciples that can see only vague glimpses of the darkness is this: we believe ourselves to be too strong! We think we can overcome our old nature, beat into submission the enemy’s work within, and get the world to see the truth by our sheer force of will. We cannot! A spiritual battle exists at a level beyond our ability to fight without the resources of the Holy One.

Think about it for a moment…From “Two Understandings” and “Two Meetings” we saw that there are two ways to look at life – and that the object of the enemy is to operate unseen in the physical world when he is at work. God’s object is to make people aware that the two worlds DO exist, and that one is at work behind the other.

Now the narrative moves quickly on with the interaction between our physical world and the spiritual one in an intimate portrait of two kinds of people – Jesus and His followers.

This third story tells of the “Two Interactions”:

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer

Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” 39 And He went a little beyond [them], and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

How well Jesus understood that things physical were dependent on things spiritual! He told the Father what He wanted to happen – but then quickly noted that in the flesh His desires may not serve the highest eternal purposes. He wanted what the Father wanted. He wanted to serve the true spiritual purposes of the Heavens. Yet, as Jesus prayed, He wasn’t actually alone. A short distance away in the tiny olive grove there were others…

Disciples asleep in Gethsemane

The sound of Jesus’ prayer to the Father, agonizing before Him, was drowned out by the snores of spiritually insensitive and physically tired men.

Matthew 26:40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you [men] could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

If you take a moment, you can see Jesus prayed a second time in Matthew 26:42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And the Disciples slept a second time: Matthew 26:43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

Jesus prayed yet a third time in Matthew 26:44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. The Disciples slept a third time: Matthew 26:45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!

Here is the truth: When the spiritual world is hidden from the followers of Jesus – they become more moved by physical desires than sensitive to Spirit moves. Some will sit in church this Sunday worried about the economic stress of Monday – and miss the gentle voice of God. Some will be distracted by a beautiful person they want to date in the next row, and miss God’s major statement of direction for their life. It is a fact: Christians that focus on the physical world become desensitized to God’s work in the spiritual realm. We don’t want to be “spooky”, but nor do we want to become utterly insensitive to God’s work in our lives and community.

All Together: Jesus’ Betrayal and Arrest

In flooded the men to arrest Jesus in Matthew 26:47-58. Don’t miss the scene!

On the one hand, there is a faking follower, Judas, who uses a “kiss of peace” to initiate a betrayal in Matthew 26:47-50. Don’t forget that Satan often uses someone who poses as a follower to do his greatest damage!

Next, there are the ego-filled followers who have decided to protect the work of God with the metal sword in Matthew 26:51-54. They raise the protest and fight in the courts. They wrestle with powers without prayer nor with the Savior’s urging. They come to defend God. Note that Jesus rebuked His own followers for the defense, not the world for its offense. Why? Because He needed to remind them of His own power in Matthew 26:53 “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, [which say] that it must happen this way?”

Let’s be honest about this. Prayer-less protesting believers make good Americans, but often progress without any understanding of the power of God to move the story. Jesus doesn’t need me to save people – He has the power and the army behind Him already. If He allows a loss, it is not because He was beaten – but because it plays into His plan.

Drop quickly down a few verses to the next short story…

This fourth story tells of the “Two Testimonies”:

If you took the time to read all of Matthew 26, you would see the end contains the scene of “Jesus Questioned”:

Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. … 63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it [yourself]; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” … Then the striking began! They were incensed by Jesus’ claim that He was EXACTLY Who they charged Him with being!

Move out in the corridor of the same house, and a completely different questioning was ongoing…

Contrast the questions to Jesus with that of “Peter Questioned”. Look at a word that keeps popping up in the narrative…

Matthew 26:69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied [it] before them all, … 72 And again he denied [it] with an oath, “I do not know the man.” … 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed.

Here is the truth: If we do not recognize the fundamental truth that we are in a spiritual battle – and not simply a physical struggle surrounded by “interesting coincidences,” we will never represent God well when trouble comes. We need to recognize that…

We are children of two worlds. We have an enemy working to thwart God’s transformation of us – but God is greater!

A colleague offered this true account from their recent travels: One of our men, an incredible Christian leader among men — we’ll call him Steve –was traveling recently by plane. He noticed a two seats from him thumbing through some little cards and moving his lips. The man appeared to be a professorial with a goatee and graying brown hair, and Steve thought him to be about “fifty-something”. Guessing the man was a fellow-follower of Jesus, Steve leaned over to engage him in conversation. He said: “It looks to me like you’re memorizing something”. “No, actually I was praying,” the man replied in a “matter of fact” voice. Steve leaned over to introduce himself and said: “I believe in prayer too!” “Well, I have a specific assignment,” said the man with the goatee. “What’s that?” Steve asked. “I’m praying for the downfall of this list of Christian pastors.” Though taken back, Steve didn’t miss a beat. He replied: “I would certainly fit into that category, Is my name on the list?” The man looked at him and said: “Not on my list.” That is when it struck him – I may well be on SOMEBODY’S LIST today.

Let’s not get spooky, but let’s not be naïve about the enemy’s work, either. I have been set up in situations designed to put my name in doubt. Thankfully, the Lord provided a way of escape each time. We must be ready – the battle is real. I leave you with one story that may offer an encouragement to engage now…

Recently National Geographic ran an article about the Alaskan bull moose. The males of the species battle for dominance during the fall breeding season, literally going head-to-head with antlers crunching together as they collide. Often the antlers, their only weapon are broken. That ensures defeat. The heftiest moose, with the largest and strongest antlers, triumphs. Therefore, the battle fought in the fall is really won during the summer, when the moose eat continually. The one that consumes the best diet for growing antlers and gaining weight will be the heavyweight in the fight. Those that eat inadequately sport weaker antlers and less bulk. There is a lesson here for us. Spiritual battles await. Satan will choose a season to attack. Will we be victorious, or will we fall? Much depends on what we do now–before the wars begin. The bull-moose principle: Enduring faith, strength, and wisdom for trials are best developed before they’re needed. From: “Common Ground”, Vol. 10 No. 7.

Don’t be deceived into lax living in this hour…We are children of two worlds.

Following His Footsteps: “A Call to Watchmen” – Matthew 24-25

Young man, standing on the top of the hill.There are calls for change in the church all around us. My mailbox is filled with them, as is my inbox. “Get busy feeding the hungry!” cries one organization. “Stop shouting at the protestors against your moral agenda and show love!” says another. We seem to be in a time when direction and agenda are shifting. It seems practical that I would sort these calls out and maybe dump the ones that are superfluous, but I am not going to do that. Instead, I want to go back to the Master’s voice on the hillside of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and ask those who care to listen to His voice to consider the call Jesus gave us as His return draws near.

Before we look at those words in Matthew, I want to be clear. I understand the Bible to teach two events in the future that involve a “return” of sorts by Jesus. The first, I believe is supported well in a careful study of 1 Thessalonian 4:13-18, and is commonly called the “rapture” of the church. It is a specific event in which Jesus will return in the clouds, and the dead in Christ (that is, believers who are with Him in spirit but have been separated by earthly, physical death from their bodies that remained on earth) will be re-embodied. Following that, believers alive on the earth at that time will be taken from the earth. I understand the Bible to teach that event is imminent – that is it could come at any time.

Further, I understand the Bible to teach that Jesus will return in a second event TO THE EARTH in a subsequent time after a period of Great Tribulation to rescue the estranged wife of His Father – Israel. That event is about Jewish rescue, and regards Jews that right now show little or no interest in Jesus – but will again revive hopes of a Rescuer when the troubles surround them and antisemitism pushes them to desperation (Revelation 19:11ff). I believe the events described by Jesus’ sermon on the Hill of Olivet regard the latter return – because of the clear regard of the message to Jews and because the question was posed by Jewish followers about their own people. This isn’t the only time they asked about this. Later, after the Resurrection of Jesus, Acts 1 records these words:

Acts 1:6 “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

Notice the attentiveness of the Jewish followers of Jesus to the needs of Israel. They were Jewish, and their end times view wasn’t about the church, because they didn’t see a Gentile outreach that was on the horizon. Jesus told them to focus on what was about to happen and stop worrying about the distant horizon. Here then is a question: “Why should we be any different? Why should believers care about the end times when there is so much to care for in the world today?” Some believers will go so far as to say it is just not relevant in a world in need of the Gospel. They sound pious and caring, but there is more to it than loving and sharing… we have another facet to our mission. The answer to the question is simple, and it is our key principle for this lesson..

Key Principle: Obedient believers were told by the Master to be attentive to the signs concerning the future, and to be clarion voices of those signs when training other believers.

If that is true, then the issue is as much obedience as some prophetic curiosity about the developing signs of our day.

Go back to the message that began in Matthew 24 for a few moments. Six events are marked out as signs of the end by Jesus in that passage:

• The time Jesus is speaking about includes the destruction of the Temple: but about two other events as well. Included in the passage are the return of Jesus AND the end of the age. The point is that it isn’t just about a building and its destruction – but a terminal point on the timeline of history when Jesus will make all things right (24:1-3).

Troubles will increase and be pronounced before the end. Such troubles will include a defection of people from the truth, increased fear because of a news network turned to a rumor machine (unreliable reporting and fear mongering), ethnic strife and armed national conflicts, as well as an increasing sense of uncontrollable natural disasters (24:4-7). These are the end, but signs of its nearness (24:8).

Unthinkable cruelty and discrimination will fall on the Jewish people, with deception and lies that will routinely pass as truth in the public square. Natural bonds of decency and care will fall away, as heartless cruelty will become so commonplace on the news, people will be desensitized to the sight of extreme cruelty (24:9-12).

• The Gospel will continue to move forward, even as people suffer for adherence to it (24:13-14).

Specific overtures will be made in Jerusalem, where a much warned symbol of man’s rebellion will be established in the place of God’s Temple. Believing Jews will see it as a time to run and hide underground, as an even greater and focused time of trouble will thrash them. Some will beckon them to come out of their hiding to follow a rescuer – but it will be a mere deception (24:15-28).

Around the world life will be disrupted. Nature will not cooperate and cosmic events will terrorize people. This all precedes the return of the Savior (24:29-31). His return will be marked by signs, and those who follow Him should be trained to see them and recognize them (24:29-35). They shouldn’t think they control the events, for that is the Father’s work – but they should learn that it will come when most people think it I was just a myth from long ago (24:36-41).

Key Command

After that point in the message, Jesus closed in on the key command of the message in Matthew 24:42:

Matthew 24:42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

The command was “grēgoreúō” or literally, “Stay awake!” This was the word for those on guard duty around a garrison. Those passing through the time of trouble will have their focus on survival, and be tempted to drift from focusing on the coming Savior.

Why would people fall asleep on the watch? I can think of several reasons:

• First, we are called to be concerned with so many things that it is difficult to really focus on any of them all that well. A Christian Pastor has been held in Iran since the summer of 2012 and on January 27, 2013, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, “reportedly on charges of undermining national security” because of Bible study meetings in Christian homes. We are outraged that our government can meet about all kinds of agreements with Iranian officials, but can’t find a way to bring one of our own fellow citizens home. We pray. We write letters, but we don’t seem to affect the outcome. We have to stay vigilant, but it is hard. I cannot keep up with the Supreme Court, the State Department, the President’s initiatives, the mandates for schools and the next big sin agenda in the street – not if I want to actually live my life unhooked from media. Do you think it will get to be LESS in the days ahead?

• Second, the sign of Jesus’ coming includes so many things that are hard to understand. Are we experiencing more natural disasters, or do we just know more because of global news today? Are there more wars, or does it just seem like there are?

I guess I can understand why believers during the Tribulation would have difficulty watching for Jesus by these signs – since we have trouble listening for the trumpet in all the noise of our day. If it is hard to let peace reign in our day – how much harder will it be in the days of greater persecution and tribulation of the future? Nevertheless, the command of our Master is both simple and straightforward – believers are to remain vigilant. We must fall asleep, and neither should they – when their time comes. The command may be for them, but it certainly applies to us as well.

Key Problem

Jesus made the point that His arrival would be largely unexpected, like someone who “breaks in” to the world, despite the spread of the message.

Matthew 24:43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think [He will].”

Let me ask a simple question you may not have thought much about: “How can that happen?” How is it possible that after two thousand years of church history and the grand infusing of the Gospel accounts into the history of western world culture that people could become so virtually ignorant of the words of Jesus that His very return will be unexpected?

The answer is clear. As the Gospel continues to spread to individuals, it will largely be deliberately ignored in the media and culture. People will be transformed by Jesus in the future, but the whole thing will be well off of the radar of any media feature, any “hype” by the culture, and any endorsement by those in power. In other words, our faith will lose its prominence before our Savior comes to the earth. It will largely lose its voice as time moves forward. That is inherent in the words of Jesus, and later the words of the Apostles. The term “last days” isn’t followed in any Epistle with a series of happy things for believers. It is followed by falling away, by denial of truth, but turning from light into darkness.

Three Stories

Jesus told His followers that Jews in the Great Tribulation won’t be expecting Him – even many of those who claim to follow Him. Jesus paused His teaching, and decided not to give more information about the nature of His return. Instead, He offered more of the description of that problem (not anticipating His coming) as well as to offer some counsel to those who will one day need it, in three stories and a closing admonition. Because it isn’t TO you, don’t ignore it. It holds information FOR you.

Consider for a moment that in order to really understand the teaching, we have to learn something about how near eastern teachers related truth. We aren’t brought up in the same conditions, and don’t learn the same way they did in the time and place Jesus was teaching these truths.

Imagine that you grew up in a village long ago. There was no internet, no television, no computer and no video gaming systems. Night fell and people ate an evening meal, cleaned up, and sat around a small fire and listened to stories. These stories passed values to children, and often provided laughter and times of serious reflection for the hearers. The stories were told in circles, and they weren’t economical in timing – there were not commercial breaks and one hour resolutions. Often a story began in one night, but carried to another. Many times the story built in scene after scene – each one providing more detail than the one before it. Jesus’ teaching in stories was often like that. He offered a proposition, and then followed it with several stories that basically said the same thing – but each story added more flavor and texture, with details that illustrated something different about the proposition. Let me illustrate that in this passage…

The proposition was that believers were to stay awake, watch for His coming and recognize that He would return though few would believe it and even fewer would prepare for it. The three stories added to the idea details that are important:

The first story was about the householder who was rewarded (Matthew 24:45-51).

Jesus began with a familiar person on the streets of Jerusalem – the householder slave. This indentured servant had a position of management over the affairs of his owner and was a fixture in society at the time. Jesus said:

Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.

Notice in this story that faithfulness was an ascribed character trait to the one who was ATTENTIVE to the TIME. A good householder was planning for the next meal to be ready when it was needed. Without refrigeration and in a time of abundant sickness, it was important to time the preparation well. Jesus continued…

Matthew 24:48 “But if that evil slave says in his heart, My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect [him] and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The worthless servant was inattentive and put off preparation for the arrival of the master. Look at the three descriptions of that servant:

• First, he dismissed the soon arrival of the master.
• Second, he mistreated the fellow slaves of the master – because he could get away with it.
• Third, he overindulged – eating and drinking with the careless.

His end was harsh. He didn’t watch, he didn’t prepare and his didn’t CARE. What seems clear from the detail here is that Jesus didn’t only expect His people to WATCH for His coming – He demanded they WARN of His coming for those who needed to know. The issue was first trust in His promises.

Here is the point: Jesus is returning – He promised that. Those who take Him seriously prepare. Those who do not, gloss over His words and pick from them some beliefs – calling that “Christian” – but it isn’t. It isn’t what God is calling for. It is a made up version of serving.

The second story is about ten waiting brides (Matthew 25:1-12)

Jesus offered a second story to add even more detail to His command to stay awake and watchful…

Matthew 25:1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 “Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.

The story reveals that all the prospective brides were called to be at the same meeting place, and some were prepared for a DELAY of the arrival with specific preparation of more oil. Don’t get lost in the detail. I don’t believe the oil stood for something, and the roadway for something else. Remember, disciples were listening to the big truth in the story – not everyone who was called to meet the groom sufficiently prepared if the groom wasn’t there when they originally anticipated. Jesus continued…

Matthew 25:5 “Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and [began] to sleep. 6 “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet [him].’ 7 “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

Notice that NONE of them anticipated a delay in the arrival of the groom’s party. Notice also that there was only a short time between the call for the moment of arrival and the actual arrival. The conversation was related like this:

Matthew 25:8 “The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 “But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you [too]; go instead to the dealers and buy [some] for yourselves.’ 10 “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 “Later the other virgins also came, saying, Lord, lord, open up for us.’ 12 “But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’

Remember, this wasn’t a lesson in sharing oil – it was a call to preparation. Jesus wasn’t endorsing the refusal of the prepared to help those who were not. There was no real reason they couldn’t offer some oil, since they were now with the groom. That wasn’t the point, and “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!” Some weren’t prepared. Some weren’t watching. All fell asleep, because NO ONE anticipated a delay (even though some were ready in the event one occurred). Jesus finished with His original caution:

Matthew 25:13 “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

The point was this: Prepare extra supplies for a delay. You won’t see My coming because you will eventually be lulled to sleep – but you can prepare ahead of time to have sufficient resources to make it through. If you give up, you won’t be watching for me – but get caught up finding things you think you need instead. You will prove unfaithful and unbelieving to my word.

A third story added yet a bit more…

The third story was a parable of a Master investing in his servants (Matthew 25:14-30)

Jesus expected them to prepare for His coming with things He provided them. He said:

Matthew 25:14 “For [it is] just like a man [about] to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 “To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.

The land-owner invested wealth in his servants and then left. The wealth was according to his perception of their ability. Look what each did:

Matthew 25:16 “Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17 “In the same manner the one who [had received] the two [talents] gained two more. 18 “But he who received the one [talent] went away, and dug [a hole] in the ground and hid his master’s money.

It is clear in the story that the master provided all they needed to prepare an increase – but only two of the three actually were proper stewards of the investment as it was intended, and grew the wealth. He continued…

Matthew 25:19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 “The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ 21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 “Also the one who [had received] the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ 23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Here Jesus stopped and made the point that those who prepared for the return of the master were rewarded. The master wasn’t more pleased with one than the other – both did what they could do with what they were given. Both were faithful. Then the third one came before the master, and the “theme music” in the background of the scene changed…

Matthew 25:24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no [seed]. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no [seed]. 27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my [money] back with interest. 28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

The man described his deed, but he described also his reason. This is new information. The man thought his master UNDESERVING of any additional gain, and thought him to be HARSH if he expected the servant to steward his things in his absence. He thought his master shouldn’t expect him to work at gaining things that were not his own.

Do you know people like this? Do you know people who reason that Jesus’ words to “deny yourself and take up your cross daily” are fundamentally unfair and unnecessary to the Christian life? I do. I keep reading about a Jesus that gives us everything we want but expects little from us. That is non-sense for us, and will be for the Tribulation believer as well. Let’s be clear: Jesus has every right to invest in me time, talent and treasure and expect I would work hard for a return on His investment. Jesus spoke of the servant’s heart as wicked, lazy and illogical. He didn’t even do the simplest things, because he didn’t really believe the master had the right to gain from his labors. He was so busy evaluating the master’s position, he wasn’t fulfilling his position.

When Christians redefine Jesus’ right to have all of them, they do exactly what this wicked and lazy servant did.

Let’s say it the way the Bible does: My God is Supreme. He has the right to tell me when and where to live. He has the right to define the moral terms of my life. He has the right to assign my race and my gender. He has the right to call me to live in a time of prosperity, but also a time of adversity. He has the right to assign me an easy path or a hard one. We need to stop trying to evaluate His rights, and become the servants He told us to become…period. Failure to do so belies our true belief – that He is to serve US, and not we HIM.

Matthew 25:29 “For to everyone who has, [more] shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 “Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Let’s be as certain as possible we understand the saying: Servants who won’t serve are useless. They aren’t real. They have the title, but not the heart.

Jesus made the point that preparation was an essential measure of a good servant. He made a second point that delay should be anticipated and a good servant will keep a watchful eye on supplies before the time. Finally, He made the point that servants that don’t prepare do what they do for a reason – they don’t really believe the Master has the right to ask them to do it.

Here is the truth: the Master has the right to tell me what to do. It isn’t just theology – it shows up in daily practice. Look at how Jesus ended the message…

The final part of the message was a promise about the way judgment will be meted out in the end (Matthew 25:31-46)

A time of judgment will come! Not everyone will get a prize, but everyone will know where they stand with the Master of all:

Matthew 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

The basis of judgment for the nations at the return of Jesus to the earth will be this: “How did you treat my people?” In the time stamped context, that refers specifically to the treatment of those believers during the period of the Great Tribulation.

Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me [something] to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me [something] to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ …40″The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, [even] the least [of them], you did it to Me.’

Before you skip to the detail of the blessing, look carefully at the privations that were assigned to those who were GOD’S PEOPLE. They were the hungry, thirsty, naked and sick strangers and jailed ones. Let that sink in for a moment…

Matthew 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels …45 “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

For the one that argues against ultimate judgment in Scripture, there is much text you will simply need to ignore to make your point. God doesn’t play games. He made clear that judgment will come, and how God’s people are treated will be at the center of the standard of that judgment. Woe to the nation who abuses the people of God in mockery, in punishment and in cruelty. The judge will return.

Obedient believers were told by the Master to be attentive to the signs concerning the future, and to be clarion voices of those signs when training other believers.

The King is coming. The first time He came, He came as but a baby – unnoticed by those all about. The next time He comes it will be in the clouds to take His church away. But one day.. one day He will come in the vestments and robes of the Holy One of Heaven. Every eye will see Him. Words fail the description, but two song writers (Bill and Gloria Gaither) tried to capture the feeling of the bruised and broken people of God when the Rescuer comes for them…

The Market place is empty – No more traffic in the streets. All the builders tools are silent – No more time to harvest wheat. Busy housewives cease their labors – in the courtroom no debate. Work on earth has been suspended – As the King comes thro’ the gate.

The King is coming, The King is coming, I just heard the trumpet sounding! – And now his face I see! The King is coming, The King is coming, Praise God He’s coming for me!

Happy faces line the hallway – Those whose lives have been redeemed. Broken homes that He has mended – Those from prison He has freed. Little children and the aged – Hand in hand stand all aglow. Those who were crippled, broken, ruined – Clad in garments white as snow.

I can hear the chariots rumble! I can see the marching throng! And the flurry of God’s trumpets – spell the end of sin and wrong. Regal robes are now unfolding. Heaven’s grandstands all in place. Heaven’s choir is now assembled – Start to sing Amazing Grace! The Kind is coming, the King is coming, Praise God He’s coming for me.”

Following His Footsteps: “Bad Moon Rising” – Matthew 24, Pt.2

newbornHave you ever seen a baby delivered? I was physically, emotionally and frantically present during all three of my children’s arrivals into this world in their respective birthing suites. During the birth of our first-born, I remember wondering if my wife would live through the process. I admit it, I was alone by her bedside, and I was very afraid. You see, I didn’t go to a bunch of classes about the birth process, and I didn’t really know what to expect. What I know now is that much of the pain of the process quickly faded in her mind, though it lived on in mine. God gave her grace and some significant internal hormone production that I just didn’t get. He offered her an escape that I couldn’t have. She literally slept between contractions, while I stood over her worried between each one, thinking she wasn’t going to make it through. Because I didn’t know how hard this would be on her (and because I love her), I thought she was experiencing it the same way I was, but I was wrong. She was focused on the end of the process – and able to move through the experience with pain, but with a level of confidence. She was more prepared for the experience than I was, because she took the time to learn about it ahead of time. She was “trained” for this and it didn’t catch her by surprise. She knew that pain preceded the arrival, but the child would make the process worthwhile. I focused on the moment, and panicked inside. If I would have taken the time to learn about birthing, I would have understood the process she was engaging and recognized the signs for what they were – a normal process. She wasn’t dying, it just appeared that way!

The same can be said of preparation for the tough times of tribulation promised ahead for the world. Here is what we are learning from the words of the Savior…

Key Principle: The inoculation for deception is knowledge of the truth.

Poorly trained disciples are poorly prepared disciples. We need to know truth in order to immunize ourselves from the prevalent lies around them or they will fall into deception.

You may recall that during Jesus’ sermon designed to answer the questions: “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” He made clear that pain was coming before the excitement of the new age of the Kingdom. He spoke to His followers who were both Jews and followers of Jesus – but when Jesus addressed them He seemed keen to make sure that His words referred in particular to the Jewish people. He told them that trouble would come, and they should pray it wasn’t “on the Sabbath” – a hat tip toward the specific Jewish aspect of the prophecy. I attempted to make clear in the last part of the lesson that the specific message of Jesus was to Jews facing a specifically designed tribulation period (for a time in their collective future), but the principles of the warning extend to all of us. Jesus taught…

As we come back to the passage, let’s quickly review what we learned about that future time and its principles in the last lesson… Jesus promised trouble and pain before His presence – like the birth of a child. He warned them that some would be sorely tempted to view events wrongly, so they were to be on guard. He said some would be:

#1: Finding Rescue Elsewhere

Matthew 24:4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.

Jesus warned that people would signal rescue from sin and its effects can come from somewhere else – and many will believe that. He warned His men: “Do not be deceived”: God cannot be found in people, places and values that do not reflect My Holy Word. Many will use “God words” and people who are unfamiliar with the context and meaning of the Word of God will be drawn into their lie.

He urged them to watch for the Symptoms: Even organizations and ministries that have historically held to the Word of God will increasingly begin to see the Bible as much less definite and specific about what it truly says. Things that were once clear will begin to be eroded as “not very clear”. While secular culture will increasingly use scientific studies that skew data for their own purposes, religious groups with so-called “Biblical studies” will be increasingly confused by the mystifying complexity involved in the teaching of the Word. Jesus also warned that they would be tempted to begin…

#2 Growing Fearful and Distracted

Jesus continued to identify the pressure points of coming deception:

Matthew 24:6 “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars…”

Note again the words of Jesus are NOT that there are more WARS necessarily – but more information sources of RUMORS. The emphasis was not on the killing in the sentence – but rather on the TRANSMISSION OF INFORMATION. The COMMAND of Jesus did not regard a believer’s attempts to MAKE PEACE ON EARTH, but rather FIND PEACE in the waves of fearmongering. He continued, some would begin…

#3: Feeling Like Losers

Jesus wasn’t nearly done with the marks of the end time. He continued:

Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.”

What seemed clear in His teaching was that a rising tide of hatred for people God is work within will characterize the end. This will be true in the tribulation of the Jewish people (and signs of it are already very present), but it will also be true of followers of Jesus before they are rescued by the Savior. We aren’t going to be POPULAR if we are committed to following Christ. We have been saying it for years, but it seems like a surprise to so many still. Behind the need to be popular is a profound lie: “God is only winning when believers are gaining ground that we can observe” (the statistical lie). Another problem Jesus cited was that some would face a deep disappointment…

#4: Mourning the Loss

As a middle-aged Pastor, I have had the opportunity to observe something that I think is in view in the passage, at least in application of its principles. Jesus said:

Matthew 24:12 “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold…”

There will soon come a day when the progressive Israeli businessman who brought to market some incredible products that helped mankind, will face irrational boycotts and endless slurs because of hatred that had nothing to do with him or his product – beyond his ethnic identity. During that tribulation of those days, some Jews will no doubt be feeling robbed of something they once had – and the result will be MOURNING inside. In that same vein, there is fast approaching in our nation a total disdain for any suggestion that Christian belief ever aided in our national history. Even more, the notion of morality is increasingly in conflict with the new definition of freedom that includes only unbridled choices. As the family deteriorates, and the natural bonds fall, those who argue for the way it was before the introduction of the modern social experimentation will be swept aside as backward thinking and “regressionist”. Attacks against believers will rise, and some will fall away from the practice of the faith because of the poor teaching that left them to conclude that “all things work together for comfort and prosperity”.

Keep reading… You will see that Jesus noted that some will be…

#5: Getting Distracted

Matthew 24:14 “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come…

Increasingly, God’s people will live in harmony with a great lie: There is no urgency about sharing the Gospel. So many other agendas will overtake God’s people. Some will be so busy trying to save moral and historical America they will cease recognizing we are called to save AMERICANS with the Gospel. They will find more time for CAUSES than for Christ. If they are honest, they could share that for every hour raging about abortion, they have spent only seconds truly sharing the Gospel with a co-worker or neighbor. Don’t misunderstand me, causes are fine. Yet, spending much more energy on God’s causes than God’s company is a mistake.

There is a symptom of this we should be aware of: Distracted people show boredom with the truth – they want something NEW and EXCITING. “Church meetings” in some places, have become CONCERTS followed by COUNSELING THERAPY SESSIONS, as people who will not open their Bibles and have not truly submitted to Christ try to find a way to compromise with God and negotiate peace and prosperity this side of Heaven. If I were the enemy, I would get the church tied up in politics and divide her there. I would get her running hospitals, clinics, schools, and humanitarian efforts that were so financially heavy that she could no longer afford to operate without the world’s financial system. I would swamp the boat with concerns and problems of a philanthropic nature – and keep her Gospel message as a back burner issue. I would turn her church service into either a reworked John 3:16 sermon every week – to keep her from feeling the other 85% of God’s Word that is about surrendered daily behaviors and choices was truly important. I would seek to turn sermons into therapeutic session to help her members feel better on earth without the longing for Heaven. I would replace PRAYER with PROACTIVE POLITICAL ACTION. I would replace FEAR of God with FELLOWSHIP.

It is also worth noting that there is an immunization for this problem: We can recognize the end will not come until the Gospel has spread as Jesus foretold –and we can hasten the return only by obedience to its sharing. We MUST share the Gospel with our own towns. We must care enough about lost men, and show that we TRULY BELIEVE they are eternally lost, to present Christ. Our services should be deep and rich experiences to show how believers can walk with God, and what lay in the life beyond this life. Hunger for Heaven’s approval should outpace the desire to control our country’s moral direction. We may want to see America turn around, but the tool to make that happen is not a correction of its stand on issues – it is the Gospel. Only the Gospel can change the rest of the directional problems we have. Revival of God’s church and the place of the Gospel in American life will be fully effective. Just like we argue before the world that teaching abstinence in our sex education classes is the ONLY thing that will be 100% effective when one follows what they learn, we argue that offering the Gospel is the only truly effective way to change a nation. Give the Gospel. Live the Gospel – it will change our world. In the past it did, and in the future it can as well. You changed when you came to Christ. So will they. Don’t be easily distracted by the next Christian “flavor of the month”…Jesus also warned that we would be faced with…

#6 The Problem of Ignorant Believers

Matthew 24:15 “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 “Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 “Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 “But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 21 “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

There is a Lie that is already alive in the church of our day: We don’t need a thorough knowledge of all of God’s Word to navigate life successfully. What good would the warnings of Jesus be if one had no knowledge of Daniel’s prophecies? How prepared for troubles would the believer who came up in the “flavor of the month” seminar style church be?

We must be able to recognize the symptoms of the end times. Ignorant believers will be well meaning but will not understand losses and setbacks – and will not stick when the prosperity fades and the troubles roll in. Believing Israel was to know when to flee. Modern Christians ought to know when to flee the financial system that is built on lies, or the debt system that is built on bubbles, or the stock system that is built on speculations of greedy and manipulative men. They ought to be able to measure truth from God’s Word well enough to know when men are manipulating the Scriptures to say the popular but not the true.

As with all end time ailments, there is an immunization available: We must be so well versed in what God said and the context in which God said it that anyone using the Bible inappropriately would be easily an openly challenged by the least among us. Enough of the Jesus that came only to GIVE ME WHAT I WANT, and the selfish and fleshly sermons of self-gain. Christianity must come clean and be washed of its filthy greed in the name of Jesus philosophy.

If our country continues to price things based on obfuscation and complicated beclouding of bills written to cover gouging and greed, we will all go down economically together. The Bible is clear on honesty and integrity. Being clever at the expense of being honest is just plain ungodly behavior. Do business in a godly way or get out of business.

Some believers won’t simply be ignorant of the Word, they will be unable to sense spiritual nonsense. We will increasingly face…

#7 The Problem of Undiscerning Believers

Matthew 24:23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or There [He is],’ do not believe [him]. 24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 “Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, [or], ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe [them]. 27 “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

There is an underlying lie that we should be able to spot: God hasn’t clearly warned us that many will defect and follow false faith. Three times in the passage Jesus warned Jews they will be tempted to fall away. His chief concern in the whole of the chapter appeared to be that very temptation.

The fact is that many don’t seem to be truly discerning between “Christian subculture” and the real and vibrant Christian faith. Christianity isn’t just about a new set of hot bands, and something different to do on a Saturday night or Sunday morning. It isn’t a social club. Christianity is a commitment to Jesus Christ that permeates my being and forces transformation of my values, practices, priorities and commitments. If you don’t have that – you aren’t one!

There is an immunization: Jesus warned that the event would come, and many would be falsely offering assistance and salvation (24:24). He said those watching will plainly see the end was near (24:27-28). We should become so familiar with the Lord’s good hand that we recognize how revealing what He said truly is. He warned us and characterized the dangers because He knew exactly what the end looked like – and He wanted it to be clear to us as well. Discerning believers follow God’s Word, and do not seek to verify truth by popularity.

#8 The Problem of Misdirected Believers

Matthew 24:29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

The Lie beneath this harsh statement of the tribulation must be understood: Many teach that God is redeeming this earth to make it into His Kingdom. More and more believers are concluding that God wants us to fix this planet to bring in the Kingdom. That theology has become more popular than ever before – sprouting into movements of conservation and philanthropy from the church. There is nothing wrong with appropriately preserving what I can on this planet – I was called to be a steward of God’s things. At the same time, if God’s Word is to be taken seriously, the end for this planet is fire – if Peter or John’s writings have anything to do with literal truth. If that is the case, I should not fall in love with things here, but invest in things there – in Heaven. That is where my treasure should be stored. My hope is not in this life, but in the life to follow. Whenever more intense persecution came into church history, teaching about Heaven became more pronounced. What message should we be preaching to those of Africa in the path of butchery and mass murder? I suspect it is one about Heaven, not simply more about conservation and the coming Kingdom.

There is a symptom we must observe even now: As I look toward the things that have real meaning in my life, I should recognize what is REAL is not what is NOW. Heaven is the REAL, now is the TEMPORARY. If my seeking of the Lord is all for health, wealth and prosperity, am I not showing that I have an agenda different than the coming days of God?

There is also an immunization that will keep me from misreading the events. I must learn to read the times. Jesus illustrated the reliability of these words and the fact that the events will be plain to those who heed His words by the fig tree (24:32-33). As the Biblical “ground hog”, it marked the sure coming of Spring in the minds of the local Jerusalemites: 30 “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. 31 “And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. 32 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, [right] at the door.

Understand real hope is found in the truth that bad times are limited and planned events. The generation that sees these signs will see also the return of the Son of Man, and the end (24:34): “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

Jesus promised that the generation that saw the beginning of the Great Tribulation would see its end – the very same generation. It would not go on like a night without end. What an important message to those who are passing through powerful troubles, hatred and injustice. Jesus said there was yet another danger…

#9: The Problem of Exhausted Believers

Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 “Two women [will be] grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.

There is an underlying lie that will yield a sinful pattern: Relaxing in unreal certainty. Many believers live like there is no coming judgment; no coming calamity for their lost neighbor, no day to answer for life lived on earth. They are certain of their plans – even if the Bible offers no foundation for that certainty. The symptom of this lifestyle is this: Frivolous lives spent in pursuit of self.

God provided an immunization. Remember that judgment draws near. The responsibility for the time is set by the Father. In the Scripture, the Tribulation will be filled with terror and death, as one after another will be removed from the scene in death (24:37-41) and those left behind try to make it through another day of pain! Temptation will be severe to believe that Messiah would NOT return and that God had forsaken His people, Israel (24:42-51). In our world it is not PAIN, but PROSPERITY that blurs focus – but that is built on a borrowed bubble economy. Don’t trust in it. Do what you can while you can – but don’t trust borrowed money and an economy based on false markers.

Finally, Jesus called out…

#10: The Problem of Fickle Believers

The Master promised:

Matthew 24:42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think [He will]. 45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 “But if that evil slave says in his heart, My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect [him] and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Underlying our failure to watch the times is a life based on the lie: It doesn’t matter how I live as long as I know Christ as Savior. There are many with the symptom of this malaise. They are people who live by their own moral rules but claim Christ as their Lord. These are those who have sexual relationships outside of God’s defined marriage, but learn to feel ok with it. These are those who routinely lie and steal, but claim Christ as their Savior and Master.

Think through the necessary immunization: God’s Word maintains that God’s expectation is always faithfulness. It isn’t impossible to walk with God – just difficult. Grasp His hand, and God will guide you through the process!

Jesus recognized that the issue was trust in His promises, and an unshakeable belief in His character that would not allow them to see their Master as mean and hostile (25:14-30). He finished the message with a “standard of judgment” for the nations (25:31-46) suggesting that the way in which one will show their salvation is the way they treat God’s people during those days of darkness!

We should remember that. God anticipates that people will become harsh with His people as the end comes close. We must not assist in that process. The people of this world are fickle, and it is easy to be deceived when looking for the applause of men. An old story reminds:

There is a story told about Napoleon and his army as they moved through Switzerland on their way to battle. As he entered each new town, he was greeted with thunderous applause: “Long live the King! Hail to the Emperor Napoleon!” But Napoleon didn’t seem too excited about what was going on. So a captain riding behind him said to him, “Isn’t it great to hear the roar of the crowd and the support of the people?” But Napoleon replied, “The same people that are cheering for me today would cheer just as loudly at my execution.” He knew that adulation is easy and often temporary.

It is easy to be deceived, and not watchful. It is easy to talk ourselves into relaxation in the face of trouble. The philosopher Plato was credited in antiquity with saying: “The greatest deception is SELF deception.”

Don’t be deceived by borrowed prosperity and shifting modern morality. Don’t forget, the inoculation for deception is knowledge of the truth.

During World War II, particularly at the time of the Battle of the Bulge, a group of Nazi soldiers were commanded to dress in the uniforms of the Allies, and infiltrate the lines. These soldiers used American military vehicles and went through the German countryside changing the road signs and confusing the direction of the advancing army. This deception gave them a strategic edge that was prevented only by those who read the map before engagement. So it is with today’s church. We have the map already.