It’s Sunday of Passion Week, the day death got a beat down. Talk about a game changer! Matthew tells us, “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.” (Matthew 28:2)
By the way, the angel didn’t roll away the stone so that Jesus could get out. If death couldn’t hold onto Him then I don’t think a stone would be a problem. No, the angel rolled away the stone so that His disciples could get in and see that Jesus wasn’t there. They needed hope. We need hope. And hope is found, of all places, in an empty hole in the ground.
I like that angel. I like the fact that after he rolled the stone out of the way he, “sat upon it.” Maybe it’s just my baptized imagination, but I can just see him up there, legs dangling, smiling like the cat that just ate the canary, because he knows what Jesus’ followers will soon know, and what the whole world desperately needs to know, that death doesn’t have to be the end.
Death is still our enemy. When we lose someone we love we grieve their loss, but as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “We do not grieve as those who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Yes, death got a beat down that Sunday morning. Really, death died, and hope was born. No matter what happens in our lives, no matter what suffering or pain we may have to endure or hard times we may experience, never, ever forget, that tomb is empty, and there’s a resurrection day coming for all of us Jesus Freaks. Talk about a game changer!
It’s Saturday of Passion Week and the disciple’s heads must have been spinning. “What in the world just happened? Just a few days ago Jerusalem was buzzing with excitement over His arrival. People were openly asking if this could be the Messiah! Then, before we could even think, He was arrested and we were running for our lives.”
Of course there’s no way to know for sure if that’s what the disciples were thinking, but I’ll bet I’m not far off. It’s what I’d be thinking. After all, they had left everything to follow Jesus, and now He was dead. All of the dreams they had, all of the hopes that He was the long awaited promised Messiah were now buried with Him inside of that tomb. What were they to do? Had the past three and half years all been for nothing? How could something that seemed so right go so terribly wrong so fast?
As those first disciples gathered together that Saturday, hiding in fear of the religious leaders, and mourning the loss of Jesus, it must have all seemed almost surreal. The anguish and fear and pain and doubt and despair and hopelessness that they felt must have been mind numbing and spirit crushing.
They probably should have known better. Jesus had told them on several occasions that this was going to happen, but they still seemed totally unprepared. It must have seemed like their whole world had come crashing down. I feel bad that they had to go through all of that. If I could I’d tell them, “Hold on boys! Because you can’t keep a good man down, and Sundays coming!”
It’s Friday of Passion Week, the day justice met grace. Jesus came into the world with hardly anyone noticing; Joseph and Mary, a few shepherds, and some wise men from the East knew of His coming. Born in obscurity and now dying notoriously, hanging between two thieves and branded a blasphemer and insurrectionist.
Of course the charges were all contrived. Secretly arrested at night, an illegal trial held under the cover of darkness, false witnesses, no doubt paid well for their act of betrayal. He was spit on, punched, slapped, and mocked by men that considered themselves religious. Jesus was abandoned by men that He called His friends. People who had cried out “Hosanna!” as they welcomed Him into Jerusalem a few days earlier would soon be crying out “Crucify Him!”
In the early hours of the morning Jesus is taken to Pilate, the Roman Governor. Pilate was a weak coward who knew Jesus was innocent, but caved in to the pressure from the religious leaders. I can’t really come down on Pilate too hard. I know what it’s like to cave in to pressure and not stand up for Jesus.
The soldiers ridiculed Him, scourged Him, and then nailed Him to a cross. Everything in Jesus’ life has been leading to this moment. This is the fulfillment of the promise God made all the way back in Genesis 3:15 of the One who would come and bring victory.
It was a victory that came at a very great price, the sinless Son of God paying our sin debt. It really is Good Friday. May those of us who have experienced God’s amazing grace, purchased that day at Calvary, not rest until the whole world knows what happened six hours one Friday.
It’s now Thursday of Passion Week and it’s going to be a busy last day for Jesus before He goes to the cross. Jesus gives His disciples instructions on the preparation for the Passover Meal. He has to settle a fight between His disciples as to which one is the greatest. (In a few hours they were going to find out how un-great they really were as they run and hide in fear when Jesus is arrested.)
Probably the most familiar event to us of that last day before Jesus’ crucifixion was what we know as The Last Supper. Out of that meal came a visual picture to His disciples that night of what He was about to do for them. It’s a visual reminder to His disciples today of what He did for us.
The Apostle John tells us that Jesus even took time that night to have a final teaching time with His disciples. But there was one lesson that Jesus taught that last night that involved very few words, but was as important as anything He ever taught them or us.
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’” (John 13:1-17)
Foot washing was customary and necessary in that day. People were either barefooted or wore open sandals. Their feet would get hot, dusty, dirty, and probably pretty smelly. Normally one of the servants of the house would be assigned this not so glamorous task. The idea of the honored guest for the meal being the one to do the washing was, well, it was unthinkable, and yet there was Jesus, basin of water in his hands, towel wrapped around Him, kneeling before His disciples, doing the task that none of them would have ever thought to do or been willing to do.
It’s easy to see, although tough to comprehend, the great humility the Son of God demonstrated that night. What’s hard for us is to follow His example, and yet, that’s exactly what He wants us to do. That is the whole point of the lesson.
Humility is a hard pill for prideful men and women to swallow. I know we don’t like to think of ourselves as prideful, but when I choose what I want over what Cindi needs, or I race around a parking lot to beat somebody else to a better spot, or I let someone else do the work because I don’t want to, I’m putting myself ahead of the other person, and that’s exactly the opposite of what Jesus was teaching.
Imagine how different our lives, our families, our marriages, and our churches would look if we always strove to put the other person before ourselves. That’s really the lesson Jesus was teaching that night.
Of course our fear is that if we do that someone will take advantage of us. Someone will get ahead of us. We’ll have to do more than our share. The other person will “win.” That may be true, but our heavenly Father is pleased when we humbly put the other person ahead of ourselves. That seems like a pretty good trade off to me.
It’s now Wednesday of Passion Week and the events that would lead to Jesus’ death on the cross are now coming together. The Jewish religious leaders are growing increasingly anxious, not to mention angry, about Jesus’ teaching and popularity with the people. As far as they were concerned something had to be done and quickly, but what? Every time they tried to trip Jesus up with a question or discussion, and try to get Him in trouble with either the people or the Roman government, He left them speechless with His answers. They knew now that would never work. “What can we do?” “How can we catch Him away from the people?”
And then something happened that they probably didn’t see coming and could only have dreamed would happen; one of His own disciples came to them.
“Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?’ And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.” (Matthew 26:14-16)
In some sense it seems hard for us to imagine that someone could have walked with Jesus for more than three years and listened to His teachings, seen His miracles, experienced His love, and then betray Him for a few earthly trinkets. “What a monster Judas was! What a wicked, evil, despicable person Judas was! I would never do anything like that!”
Really? The truth is my sin put Jesus on the cross. Judas may have been Satan’s pawn who willingly participated in the betrayal that lead to Jesus’ death on the cross, but each of us should never forget that none of us are innocent in this crime committed against the sinless Son of God.
The amazing thing is Jesus knew He was going to have to go to that cross because of our sin, and He chose to love us anyway. He chose to keep that appointment with the cross for our sake. One of the greatest truths that exist, and perhaps one of the hardest to wrap our minds around, is that God would rather die than live without us. “Amazing love, how can it be?”
As we continue our timeline of Passion Week, on the Tuesday before Jesus’ crucifixion He was approached by a lawyer who was attempting to “test” Jesus, probably meaning he was trying to trip Him up, so that the religious leaders would have grounds to arrest Jesus.
“One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)
The lawyers “test” provided Jesus with the perfect opportunity to remind all of us that a relationship with God involves the totality of who we are. People who are “religious” think that they should make God a part of their life. People who have a relationship with Him understand that God is our life.
Everything we experience, every word we say, every thought we have, every action we take, should be filtered through our relationship with God. “Does this help or hurt my relationship with God?” “Is this going to glorify God or not?” “Does this decision, or thought, or action, line up with God’s word?”
Interestingly, Jesus gave the lawyer more than he asked for. Even though the lawyer only asked for the greatest commandment Jesus went on to give him the second as well. Notice that Jesus said, “The second is like it,” meaning, like the first. In other words it’s almost like two sides of the same coin. If we love God the way we should, then we’ll love others the way we should.
This Saturday’s Family Fun Day is an opportunity to love our neighbors. Jesus took time out of His last week before the cross to teach us that when we love people through these type opportunities we’re showing our love for God as well. Will everyone who comes Saturday to our event appreciate what we do for them? Probably not, but that’s not really why we do it. We do it because we love God and He compels us to love others, and maybe, just maybe, it will cause them to want to love God as well.
According to Matthew 21, on the Monday before His crucifixion Jesus cursed a fig tree that He passed by because He found that it had not produced any fruit. There have been different ideas presented as to the meaning of the cursing of the fig tree, but is it safe to say that God has an expectation that our lives will produce spiritual fruit?
There are two ways that our life produces spiritual fruit. The first is found in the book of Galatians and says, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Can you imagine how radically different our lives would be if that was what was produced in us and coming out of us? Can you imagine what your marriage would look like? Can you think of any situation that would come into your life that you could not handle?
God wants us to experience the Holy Spirit’s fruit produced in us because that’s what we need to have a rich, full, rewarding, satisfying life. A life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is a life worth living. It’s the kind of life that everybody’s looking for, but most people don’t know where to find.
The other reason God wants our lives to display that kind of spiritual fruit is because it leads to the other kind of “fruit” our lives should produce. I’m referring to seeing other people commit their lives to Jesus Christ as a result of what they see and experience in our lives.
I don’t know of anybody that wants to be miserable, unhappy, angry, fearful, impatient, unkind, and everything else that’s the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. When our lives display the beautiful fruit of the Spirit of God people are drawn to it. They want to know where we got it and how they can have it.
A lot of people already think that fully-devoted followers of Jesus are nuts. Why not show them our fruit as well?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.