Matthew 27: 33-56

 

Good Friday is a day of mixed emotions. N.T. Wright states:

“You could tell the story a thousand different ways, and they’d all be true. Jesus’ followers quickly came to tell it in such a way as to bring out what Jesus himself had been trying to say all along, and what Matthew has been trying to tell us through out his gospel.  This is the event through which Jesus became king. King of the Jews, King of the world.”

Christ died not as an earthly king to lord it over us; but as a Heavenly King; to serve His chosen people.  He chose to be obedient to His Father and to be The  Savior of His creation. Through His trials, He did not deny who He was; but defied expectations of how he should behave. In his death, he repaired the divisions between God and man. He brings us back into a relationship with God, which is eternal life.

God is about relationship. The mystery of the trinity is a relationship bound in love and service. His nature is love; which is the truest relationship.  Love cannot be touched or tested; but its existence can’t be denied. Love is powerful; but needs to be experienced to be known. We have to be in relationship with God to know Him. Relationship with God, the creator of love, fills us with His power to reach out in relationships; to be disciplined, to persevere, and to sacrifice.

Christ as our mentor, Lord, and King, showed us through his trial and death how to be disciplined, and persevere. He sacrificed His life for us. “ How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? ” Hebrews 2:3. It was this verse that first called me to faith in Christ. On Good Friday I remember the different people who mocked, flogged, and washed their hands of Jesus; and I confess that I have been guilty through my life of the same sins. God in His gracious power chose to give up His son for me. How foolish I feel for not surrendering the things I love. As Doug mentioned last Sunday, sometimes we grasp too tightly to people and situations that are already in His control. The Holy Spirit has been disciplining me to let go.

The joy I have in Him now is that I have experienced the truth Christ spoke in Matthew 11:29. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. He has done our work on the cross. When we repent and approach His throne of grace; He forgives and grants us peace. Christ rules in relationship, service and  love. I grow when I am in relationship with Him and in His Word. May we continue to grow in Him. It is Good Friday for He is our loving King.

 

 

 

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The Trials of Jesus

The Gospel accounts of the trials of Jesus before Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod have considerable agreement, and some interestingly unique statements. While all four accounts agree on the essential details of what happened early in the morning of Good Friday, only Luke records that Jesus was interrogated by Herod Antipas (see Luke’s Sources). Only John—writing long after the three synoptic Gospel writers—adds the detail of the name of the location in Jerusalem where the trial took place (Gabbatha). And in writing that one word John left a great clue for modern archaeologists to find the location of the trial before Pilate.

There is so much to be gleaned about the veracity of the Gospel accounts from reading about the trials of Jesus. The accounts are not identical—but they are not inconsistent. An argument could be made that if this material was contrived, all four accounts would be more homogeneous in the narrative details.

Archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson conducted a dig of the Gabbatha site in Jerusalem, and reached some conclusions that even his critics concede are probably correct, rewickering the traditional Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering”) in the process. This type of work, and online resources, can help us see the Bible in context.

Among all that occurred at His trial, Jesus mocked Pontius Pilate—the judge who had the power to set Him free—with sarcasm. I don’t know why that detail is so important, but somehow it just is.

The following video highlights the corroboration of the Gospel accounts of one of the most carefully documented events in ancient history, then explores the setting where these events took place.

 

If you research the work of Dr. Gibson, be careful—there are high-profile misrepresentations of his work, as he himself is quick to point out. Unfortunately there are those who seem to be motivated more by the need to entertain than a desire to get the facts right.

Tuesday Blog

 

Up to this point in Matthew we have seen Jesus display his authority in many ways. In Matthew 26:36-56 Jesus enters the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples and they see a different side of Jesus, he is sorrowful and troubled. In fact, he tells them his “soul is overwhelmed to the point of death.” (vs.38)

Jesus was about to enter into the most difficult task the Father had given him. N. T. Wright describes it as “he was called to go into the darkness, deeper than anyone had gone before, the darkness of one who, though he was the very son of God,  would drink the cup which symbolized God’s wrath against all that is evil, all that destroys and defaces God’s wonderful world and his image bearing creatures.”

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Jesus will have to walk this path alone. Right before he enters the garden he tells his disciples they will all fall away from him. While they are in the garden, Jesus is in great agony and asks them to stay with him and pray, but they fall asleep. He is then betrayed by one of his own and after he is arrested,  all of the disciples desert him.  Soon he will go through tremendous suffering and while he is on the cross he will say, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”

The story of Easter has become so familiar to me I can easily minimize all that he endured. In the moments leading up to the cross he was not only mocked, spit on and beaten, but he was alone.

I am so thankful the story doesn’t end there, shortly we will see the King display his ultimate power in the resurrection, but it is good for me to reflect on all he has done for me. He walked through the suffering of the cross alone, and because he rose from the dead, as I walk through my own roads of suffering,  I never have to walk alone.

Lent – Week 6

 

No one likes to talk about betrayal. It’s awful. It’s awful to betray someone and regret what happened later, and it’s even more awful to be betrayed. Many times there is forgiveness (Jesus died for the sins of Judas as much as he died for mine), but it’s hard, after realizing the consequences of your actions, to forgive yourself. The solution is obvious: never harm anyone. If you never harm anyone through word or deed, then hopefully you never have anything to regret or forgive yourself for. Just as obvious though is the fact that it doesn’t mean it’s possible or easy to do so.

The story of the last supper is heartbreaking. Jesus and his disciples break bread together and have a significant time of sharing and in the next moment, one of his followers walks away from that table and forsakes him. I can’t fathom what was going through the mind of Judas when he thought it would be beneficial or profitable to him to sell Jesus out. It seems unthinkable…how could I possibly relate?
Well, I may not be as deliberate as Judas when I fail in my friendships, but I certainly can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve had an awesome afternoon with someone, and then later made an offhand comment or remark and wounded some of those I hold most dear. I try to make a point of not saying anything that would cause someone to feel badly, but sometimes it happens before I have time to think. One of my favorite passages in the Bible (because I need to hear it so often) is Ephesians 4:29-32: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers…Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another…even as God in Christ forgave you.”
I never set out with the intention to do harm, and I hope I haven’t gone to the level of betraying one of my closest friends, but I have certainly hurt many close to me through careless words and can certainly relate to the regret that Judas felt after harming his friend. I have spent a lot of time this Lenten season learning to take a step back, to slow down, to listen first, and then speak when needed. I pray that I can carry this lesson with me throughout the rest of the year, and hopefully avoid some heavy hearts in the process.

Jesus Through the Scriptures

 

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. However, N.T. Wright’s commentary on Psalm 31 focuses more on Jesus Christ’s presence as comprehensive of the whole Bible – not merely the 4 Gospels. A few years ago, Bill led the Chapel on an Emmaus Walk where we journeyed briefly over the whole of Scripture – seeking Christ in the oddities and oft-forgot locations. This link to Tim Keller’s “True and Better” explanation of Jesus through the Old Testament always reminds me of Jesus’ transcendence of our world in a micro level; yet, for me, learning this truth personally, on a small scale proved instrumental in my life.

When I first began as the Pastoral Intern, I set about performing the normal duties as well as I could. They came easily to me, as most were reliant on charisma and relationships. I have always been extroverted and skilled at building relationships or entertaining groups of people. I have never been alone, I surround myself with people that I care about and fill my time with actions and conversations. (I wrote “intelligent conversations” first but then I remembered my roommates and I spent a couple of hours last week debating which characters from The Office we most emulated) A few months into my internship, I was tasked with doing some sermon research on the women in Jesus’ genealogy as depicted in the Gospel of Matthew. Some of you may recall that the genealogies in Luke and Matthew are different; one of the unique aspects of the Gospel of Matthew is the inclusion of 4 women in the famous “Begats” section. Well after I found Andrew Peterson’s “Matthew Begats” video and gleaned all the information I could from people around the Church, it was clearly time for me to do some solitary research.

I shut my door and combed through Genesis 38 trying to understand why Tamar was so important to the narrative of Christ. At 7:00, I emerged ready for lunch. I had lost track of time because – for the first time – I had stumbled across Jesus in a story that I had never heard explained to me. I felt like I had solved a puzzle or gotten God’s inside joke all on my own. The elation so clouded my daily routine that for the first time, I enjoyed the solitude. Jesus showing up in Genesis and the Psalms is important for many reasons. It means there was a plan from the onset of creation, that we are not a Plan B. It means that the same Jesus who paid for our sins was there at the Creation of the World. It means that when Gideon was threshing wheat in the Winepress, our lives were accounted for. It means that we can see Boaz as a primitive example of Christ being our very own Kinsman-Redeemer. All of these are much more important than what happened to me while reading Genesis 38. It’s a small thing to credit God’s Omnipresence but He also gave me my first passion that doesn’t involve other people. I look forward to a life of gleaning Christ from the Scriptures.

Tim Latham

Saturday Post

 

Strangely, the series of events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion is when I feel like I can relate to Jesus the most, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane. Maybe some of you all reading this blog feel the same way. I’m not even sure if I should feel like I can relate to Jesus Christ, but it is hard not to when I read His words while He is praying to God the Father. He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me…My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:38-39). I think all of us can say that we have felt like this at some point or another. I experienced feelings like this on Thursday when I got an email from my boss asking if anyone could come in and work on Thursday evening. I was the only one who could, though nothing in me wanted to work on a Thursday night when I usually spend that time with my friends, but I was available, so I worked. All that to say, as Followers of God, we will frequently be called to things we will not feel comfortable doing just like Jesus it seems. Seeing Jesus feel overwhelmed and praying to God for comfort is a perfect example for us to follow in times of distress. It is comforting to know that it is okay to feel overwhelmed at times, and to know that we have a God who will hear our cry. We have a God who does not only hear our cry, but also answers.

He answered our soul’s cry for love in a big way. I have never in my life connected the truth of being crucified with Christ to the actual crucifixion of Christ and putting myself in that death with Him. It makes so much sense though. It reminds me of when Jesus called the twelve disciples. The disciples dropped everything from their normal lives and followed Jesus for the rest of their life, except Judas. In the same way, when we follow Christ we have to leave our sinful lives behind everyday. We must accept the purpose and mission that God has for us and follow it with joy and peace. If we are following Christ, we must fight to realize that our sinful nature died with Jesus on the cross and we live in Him and He in us.

Matthew 26: 1-13

 

Matthew, Mark and John all relate the story that happened in Bethany, two days before Passover. A woman anoints Jesus’ head with fragrant oil. Matthew and Mark wrote that they were at the house of Simon. John mentions the same story as taking place at Lazarus’ house with his sister Mary as the woman. The validity of the Bible is sometimes questioned due to conflicting stories like this one. But in human relationships, confusion and conflict are more typical than consensus. The Bible is essentially the human story, from God’s perspective. Christ came to wake up and re-direct His people. The days around His death and resurrection were confusing times for those nearest to Him. They use different details, but the message is the same.

N.T. Wright mentioned that Bethany means ‘house of the poor,’ where the poorest people received care. Women did not typical join men who were gathered, other than to serve. Thus this woman’s presence, and her extravagant use of costly oil, was shocking to the disciples. Yet Christ elevates the woman’s thinking as more correct than the men. As a modern woman, that makes me smile. But it was revolutionary in first century Israel. Jesus lifted the worshipful, serving believer, over the calculating follower. He saw to the heart of their intentions.

Christ’s message of service speaks to me. I feel called to serve in many areas; but I can get bogged down in measuring the costs. I enjoy cooking for a party, but the mundane chore of making dinner feels like drudgery. Yet when I see this job as a service for Christ; my burdens are lightened. They become gifts and opportunities for me to share Christ’s Love. His Spirit gives me grace to rejoice in my blessings however they are disguised. When I give my best effort, my work becomes worship.

The woman was focused on worshiping her Lord with priceless oil; her best gift. The disciple was focused on the cost. His anger was practical in the world’s view. The cost of the ointment could have bought food for many hungry people and more supporters to their cause. After Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, and his actions at the temple, the disciples were eagerly awaiting the climax of Christ’s story. They couldn’t imagine that God’s Son would give up His life or die. As N.T. Wright states, “ What none of the disciples yet realized is that, for Jesus, this was not only the direct and foreseeable result of his whole kingdom mission. It was the means by which that mission would be accomplished.”

Christ tries to explain and commend the woman for her faithfulness when he says: ” It’s a lovely thing, what she’s done for me. You always have the poor with you, don’t you. But you won’t always have me…wherever this gospel is announced in all the world, what she has just done will be told.”

He reminds them of his coming death and prophesizes that they will take His message to the whole world. His death would not just change Israel. He knows it will transform the world. Service for its own sake will always continue, and does not change circumstances. Service for Jesus transforms those who serve and those who are served.

To The Least of These: Phoebe Palmer

 

Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874). Evangelist and Social Reformer.

Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874). Evangelist and Social Reformer.

On the night of July 29, 1836, Phoebe Palmer had rocked her 11-month-old daughter to sleep, and placed her in her crib. A few minutes later, a carelessly handled oil lamp landed in the crib, pouring hot and burning oil on the child. Within a few hours, the child was dead, and Phoebe Palmer’s life was in bitter agony. This was her third child lost in infancy. Why had God allowed this to happen? This may sound harsh to us today, but Phoebe wondered if perhaps she had loved her child too much, making her daughter into an idol. A year later, Phoebe had a profound encounter with Jesus Christ. Her “heart was emptied of self and cleansed of all idols” and she had come to know the Lord as being her “ALL IN ALL”.

Phoebe Palmer was the firebrand of the 19th century American Holiness movement. Known for her strict and disciplined moral code, such as completely opposing the use of alcohol, Palmer became a passionate speaker and group organizer, laying the groundwork for the later revivals of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. You did not mess with Phoebe Palmer, even if some might think her a bit quirky. On a visit to England, she wrote letters to Queen Victoria pleading that her Majesty’s band not perform on Sundays, the “Lord’s Day.” On the ship crossing the Atlantic, she started several prayer meetings with strangers and chided the male clergy on board for not doing the same.

But there was more to Palmer.

Palmer’s experience with Christ led her to start numerous outreaches to the poor and destitute. She would organize groups of women to assist orphans and prostitutes in New York City’s most famous slum area of the time, Five Forks. She helped unemployed men find work. She worked to start new churches in poor neighborhoods. She took food and medicine to families in need.

In the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus speaks of those who fed him when he was hungry, befriended him when he was a stranger, and gave him clothes when he was without. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.”  Scholars debate over who are the “least of these”. Are they all poor people? Or are they just fellow Christians who are in need?

My sense is that Phoebe Palmer did not bother with such a debate. She simply saw the need and sought to meet it. She wanted to love people, particularly poor people into the Kingdom of Heaven that Matthew keeps talking about in his Gospel. If loving Jesus meant reaching out to people who were lost and hurting, she simply did it.

I wonder. What would it take for you and me to have such desire to share the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven with others like that?

How To Live

Plumb LineIn Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus gives us a clear parable about God’s expectations for His people. The basic point of the story is that God has given every one of us gifts, and that He will turn away those who fail to use their gifts wisely. Some parables are difficult to understand, but not this one. It’s a tough object lesson.

N.T. Wright comments on these verses that, “Each of us is called to exercise the primary, underlying gifts of living as a wise, loving human being, celebrating God’s love, forgiving, praying, seeking justice, acting prudently and courageously, waiting patiently for God’s will to be done.”

Okay…how?

To tell you the truth, I’ve never been big on taking a spiritual gift inventory or getting wound up about discerning God’s will for my life. That’s just me. I trust that God has a plan for my life. But the parable does beg the deeper question: How ARE we to live?

God obviously has expectations for us. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some plumb lines we could apply to our lives from the Bible to help answer that big question? It turns out that the apostle Paul had some very specific guidelines. In one of his earliest epistles, 1 Thessalonians, Paul laid it out plainly.

12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (NIV84)

It’s amazing how helpful these verses can be when you find yourself needing discernment. They are packed full of specific and practical instruction, that if committed to memory can really make a difference in how you live your life.

How are we to live with each other? In peace. How are we to treat the timid and the weak? Encourage and help them. Verse 15 is one of the most wonderful compound-complex sentences ever composed. When should we try be kind? Always. To whom are we to be kind? Everyone (us and them). When are we to be joyful? Always. What are we to test? Everything. What are we to avoid? Every kind of evil. No loopholes.

If you trace the writings of Paul in chronological order, you will find these values at the beginning of his ministry, and later in Romans 12 and elsewhere. Paul taught them consistently. They are foundational to Christian ethics.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,
5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;
8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12 (NIV84)

Romans 12:4-8 bookends Jesus’ parable from Matthew 25:14-30. And that is pretty much how we should live our lives—following these proof texts.

 

Tuesday Post

 

Last Sunday Travis spoke on Matthew 18. In that passage the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom?” I was struck by how Jesus responds. He says, “I tell you the truth, unless you CHANGE and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Wow, this is a strong: “I better pay attention,” statement.

In my last blog I wrote about how dangerous entitlement can be. I said that when we find ourselves grumbling and complaining about what we don’t have or about what we think we deserve we should remember to humble ourselves. Well, after writing that, I can’t tell you how many times this week I found myself grumbling about what I don’t have. This past weekend we visited our daughter at Wake Forest. On the way home, we talked about possibly stopping in Richmond for dinner. As we approached Richmond, it was becoming clear that we were not going to stop for dinner because we had a refrigerator full of leftovers and our son was home so it just made sense to eat at home. It was clearly the right choice to head home but I still wanted to go out to eat. Doug could see the disappointment on my face and kindly said that it was fine to go out if I really wanted to, which made me happy. But then he said, but if we go, let’s only order entrees and no appetizers, salads or desserts. I immediately found myself grumbling and said, “what’s the point of going out then?” I felt entitled.

Recently I did the Bible study, Gideon, by Priscilla Shirer. In one of the video sessions she was telling us how she loved to play Legos with her youngest son. She said she would sit on the floor with him and they would begin to build a tower together. But, after a few Legos were stacked he would get distracted and get up and run into the other room to see what his brother was doing. She didn’t go anywhere and just sat on the floor because she knew that he would be back in a minute. When he came back he would start building a new tower. Then, the same thing would happen. He would get distracted and run to check on his brother again, but he would come back and start building ANOTHER tower. She said she would feel frustrated because she wanted to finish the first tower they started building, but he would always want to start over. I do the same thing in my relationship with God. He teaches me something, and wants to continue to build on that foundation, but I easily become distracted and have to start over and learn the same thing again and again.

Jesus is calling me to change. He doesn’t want me to live with a constant sense of entitlement. He wants me to humbly follow Him. I find that the more time I spend with Him, the more He changes me. When I read His word, He gently reveals things to me, but He also puts me in situations where I am asked to live out what He has been teaching me. Jesus says I MUST change, that can be scary to me, but I have hope that He will change me because as I look back over my life, I can see areas where He has grown me. There have been times when I have really trusted that His ways were better than my ways, and I have taken steps of faith knowing that He would give me exactly what I needed to walk where He was calling me.

He wants to do more in all of us. He doesn’t want us to go back to our comfortable places. If we humble ourselves, listen to what He is saying and move forward in obedience to the places He is calling us to go, He WILL, gently and lovingly, change us into the people He has created us to be.