Monday, January 31, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 20:1-18

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. ” (John 20:1–18, NIV)
From the moment they laid Jesus in the cold stone cave, Mary Magdalene awaited the opportunity to fill the room with the fragrance of her love. It was a customary practice to place the spices on the body and the very least she could do for the one who had saved her life from the demons that had once plagued her. (Luke 8:2) She had to do something even though nothing she could do would accomplish what her heart ultimately longed for. This wasn’t about the spices…this was just one last opportunity for her to look upon the face of the one who loved her more deeply than any other. Jesus had saved her soul and she missed Him with all her heart.
They placed Jesus in the tomb the day before the Sabbath. For Mary, the Sabbath became a day she thought would never end. She didn’t even wait for the sun to rise in the morning. She stepped into the darkness to make her way to the tomb, her heart growing with anticipation with every step she took. But when she arrived at the tomb, her steps were frozen with in a moment of unexplainable fear. Her heart pounded in her chest and ice cold blood coursed through her veins. The demons, who had once plagued her, now assumed their position and awaited the opportunity for hopelessness to open the door to her heart.
She ran for the others as the enemy nipped at her heals. Tears dripped from her eyes, saliva dripped from their mouths. She alerted the disciples who arrived to find their worst fears confirmed. Jesus was gone. They left to find the others and now she was alone, once again, with darkness as her only companion.
She had to see for herself. She looks into the empty tomb only to find the dark space filled with light. The brightness of the two angels filled the room and a ray of hope peaked into her soul. The demons stood silent as the deceit of their lies could not be spoken in the midst of God’s Truth.
Mary recognizes a silhouette by the light of the divine beings. She assumes he is the gardener and the one most likely to have stolen her hope. But then He speaks and all He had to say was her name...”Mary.”
It was the same voice who called her out of the demonic darkness of her past and unveiled a glorious light of salvation in her soul. The demons recognized it as well and now they were the ones scurrying away to herald the news of their doom. The light of Christ had restored her hope and Mary was once again protected by the power of the promise of God.
Hope has risen from the grave and is alive in the hearts of His people. We are protected by His promises and the demons of deceit are made silent in the presence of His truth. Praise the Lord!!! He is alive for evermore!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 19:31-42

“Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. ” (John 19:31–42, NIV)
Crucifixion is an agonizingly painful death because it is slow. After hours of hanging by the nails pierced in your hands, occasionally drawing the strength to ignore the pain in order to push yourself up with your legs so that you can catch a breath, eventually it is too much and your body collapses over your lungs and you suffocate to death. In order to expedite the process, the soldiers would take a hammer to the femur, eliminating the ability lift up for a breath and death comes more quickly.
There is nothing pretty about this process and when the soldiers came to Jesus to perform the inhumane duty, they found it would not be necessary. He was already dead. But to make sure, they drove a spear through His side and into His heart causing blood and water to flow from the wound. Like many of the events of the life of Christ, all these things happened according to the prophesy spoken hundreds of years before the events actually took place.
And why is this important. John tells us, “this testimony is given so that you also may believe.” You see, these events are being recorded based on eyewitness accounts. They are telling you just what they saw that day and they even go as far as to help you understand that what they saw was expected long before it ever happened.
You and I were not there to see it with our own eyes. And for most of us, we do not know the Bible well enough to understand what the Old Testament saints had written that spoke of these events to come. But John is writing so that you can hear it from someone who was there and who also lived with an understanding of what God said would someday take place. This person is telling you why he believed so that you may also believe.
The greatest tragedy in the world would be for an event of such significance for the whole of humanity to disappear into oblivion. If no one tells the story, eventually, the story will be forgotten. Take the time this week to tell someone why you believe. If you are reading this and you do not believe, ask someone who does why they came to their conclusion. The least you can do is make an informed decision. Ignorance does not absolve any of us from guilt.
Listen to the story. Tell the story. Look with eyes of faith so that you may also believe.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 19:16-30

“Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. ” (John 19:16–30, NIV)
Humanity is represented at the foot of the cross. Ardent enemies, uninterested bystanders, those who were intrigued because of what they could gain and those who loved Him with all their heart. Within one of these groups we find ourselves.
The chief priests wanted nothing to do with Jesus. They didn’t even like the sign Pilate put in place because it tied the Jews to Jesus. The reason for having Him killed was to eliminate this association. He was a distraction to their lifestyle and the success they were striving for in the world. Even today, the name of Christ is shunned by many. He still disrupts the lifestyle and conscience of those who want to make their own way. Jesus is a stumbling block that exposes their guilt and it would be better for them if He was all together eliminated.
Still others would not go as far as to eliminate Him, they just barely notice He is there. It’s hard to miss His message and influence in the world but if you can become busy enough with other things, you can simply take a glance and keep on walking. Don’t stop to look because then you’ll start to think. Just keep walking and pretend He isn’t there.
Or maybe you are like the soldiers who took the time to pay attention. You listened to what He had to say including the offer of salvation He gave to the thief on the cross. “It’s all very interesting, but what’s in it for me.” His clothes are nice enough and probably worth something. The guy is practically a rock star and so at least I can say I have His robe. Perhaps you too follow Jesus for what you can gain from Him with no regard to what you must first receive. You like all the miracles and the blessings but yet you are unwilling to deny yourself and follow Him.
But only those who love Him know what it means to be loved by Him. They are the ones who understand that the man hanging on the cross is there so that you don’t have to be. He paid the penalty for your sin and the only right response to this sacrifice of love is humble worship and adoration. A surrendered life to He who surrendered His life.
Which one are you? Humanity is represented at the foot of the cross. Where do you stand?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 19:1-15

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. ” (John 19:1–15, NIV)
The root of all sin is selfishness and everything about this scene drips with this disease. The religious leaders brought the charges against Jesus because they wanted Him eliminated. Jesus was disrupting their system and power and influence among the people. The more that followed Him, the less would follow them. And yet, they were dependent upon Roman rule to execute Jesus. It was a punishment they could not carry out on their own. They needed the help of their enemy in order to preserve their power among the people.
Pilate, on the other hand, saw no reason to enforce this punishment. Nothing Jesus did was deserving of death. And yet, the Jews manipulated the circumstances to force Pilate into the corner. If he did nothing to Jesus, he was not honoring Caesar since Jesus claimed to be a king. The Jews appeal to the rule of Caesar in order to prevent the rule of Jesus. Pilate was in a predicament and the best he could do was turn Jesus over to the Jews. He washed his hands of the situation and let the influence of the crowd take its course. His position of authority took priority over the protection of the innocent.
Both the Jews and the Romans were manipulating the circumstances under the false pretense that they were in control. Each sought to fulfill their selfish desires for the preservation of their perceived power and influence. But where are they now? What they considered to be of great gain has now become their greatest loss. Mercy held out His hands and pride drove nails through the offering.
But the reality behind the story was spoken by Jesus. Despite the perception of being in control by issuing decisions that would ultimately determine the outcome, nothing was happening that God did not first determine to take place. The ultimate authority came from heaven and the characters of these events were simply fulfilling what God had ordained to unfold. In mercy, God did not expect mankind to understand this in the moment. Instead, He spoke through the prophets long before the events ever occurred. Isaiah would proclaim:
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. ” (Isaiah 53:7–9, NIV)
In love, God always reveals what is necessary for us to have life in His name. Pride will always perceive His requirement of submission as a threat to the security we create by our own self protection. In other words, as long as we are in control, we feel we are secure. It is a lie of the enemy that continues to this day.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? ” (Matthew 16:24–26, NIV)
The religious leaders accomplished their goal. Pilate preserved his power. They both relished in the glory of having succeeded in life only to face the reality, upon death, that they forfeited their soul for all eternity. Control is an illusion that disappears at death. Submission is the path to freedom in Christ and life eternal.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 18:28-40

“Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. ” (John 18:28–40, NIV)
This is all about political maneuvering. But don’t miss the hypocrisy which opens this scene as the religious leaders avoid ceremonial uncleanness while seeking to murder the one who promised to make them clean. The Jewish leaders had become so tied to a system of religious ritual that they came to believe that the system saves and not the person. But before you condemn the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, understand that their sin of substitution is equally as prevalent today. Religious ritual in the form of denominational alliance, church attendance, sacrament observation or even ministry service are all modern means by which we seek salvation in a system and not in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus alone is our salvation, and nothing we do in the ritual of our religion either merits His favor or secures His obligation. Don’t miss that!
As you continue in the dialogue, you can sense the irritation of the political leaders. The Romans are the ruling party of the day and they really don’t want to mess with the trivial religious squabbles of the Jews. The Jews, however, are on a mission that they cannot carry out without the assistance of their hated oppressor. As much as they would like to take care of Jesus on their own, they cannot crucify Him unless He is convicted by Roman law.
And so Pilate reluctantly fulfills his obligation by speaking to Jesus in person. The charge against Jesus is one of insurgence and so Pilate seeks to validate the threat of a revolt against Caesar. The response of Jesus makes it clear that He has no intention of inciting a revolution. He admits that He is a king, but not a king with any earthly kingdom. That’s much too small. Jesus reigns from heaven in accordance with everlasting truth.
Truth? “What is truth,” asks Pilate as he leaves the room. For him and so many others, truth is relative. The Romans had a pantheon of gods and you simply chose the ones to best meet your needs at the time. Did you need something for success in your business…we have a god for that. How about sexual indulgence…we have a god for that. Would you like to improve your outlook on life…yep, we’ve got a god for that. This whole idea of only one way to salvation for your soul was the core of the offense. It was offensive to the Jews, it was offensive to the Romans…and it is offensive to most Americans today.
But the claim of Jesus has not changed. He is the way, the truth and the life and no one will find salvation for their soul except through Him. There is no religious system, no social agenda, no lifestyle choice that will satisfy the longing of your heart. Our pantheon of gods in America today is no different than that of Rome. Our idol worship easily rivals theirs. People still seek to satisfy their life with wealth, sexual pleasure and personal improvement. Jesus stands in the midst of all these choices and He invites you to submit to His rule as the one true king. There is a truth… and it is found in only one person.