1602) Who Was/Is Jesus? (c)

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Sermon on the Mount, James Tissot  (1836-1902)

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     (…continued)  The third choice is that Jesus is mostly a LEGEND.  In response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” many people would say that the real Jesus (somewhere back there in history) was probably a good man, but all those stories about miracles and claiming to be God and rising from the dead were legends that arose as time went on.  This is a common opinion.  But the huge problem with this idea is that almost all of the New Testament was written within 35 years of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Not only that, but these stories were never told like legends as in a Walt Disney movie, but as a truth worth dying for– and people were giving their lives to proclaim it.

     Besides that, a mere 35 years is not nearly enough time for legends to be proclaimed as convincing truth.  Thirty-five years ago right now, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States.  There are many people still living who knew him personally, and millions who remember him as president.  Who would believe any legends about Ronald Reagan walking on water, healing the sick, or raising the dead?  First of all, one would wonder why we never heard any of that back in the 1980’s.  And secondly, if anyone now tried to stretch the truth about Ronald Reagan even a little bit, there are still be plenty of people around to set the record straight.

     Yet, within months of Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were Christian congregations in the city where he was executed and in the towns where he ministered, proclaiming the stories of who Jesus was and what he did and that he was risen from the dead.  If not true, those stories, from the beginning, would have been refuted by eyewitnesses, and the church of Jesus Christ would never have gotten off the ground.  But there was a whole nation of eyewitnesses who confirmed the stories of Jesus, who had followed Jesus, heard his words, saw the miracles; and then saw Jesus dead on the cross, and then, risen from the dead.  People don’t give up their lives for legends.  People don’t believe in false stories that can be readily disproven by eyewitnesses.  But the books of the New Testament were written, circulated, and believed within the lifetimes of those who knew and saw Jesus.

     This is all just a very brief look at a much longer argument that answers the question of who Jesus was.  ‘Who do you say that I am?’ he asks each of you.  He is not a Liar, he is not a Lunatic, and he is not a Legend.

     Only one choice remains.  Jesus is the LORD, the Son of the Living God.

     Believe in him and follow him and you shall be saved.

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Luke 1:1-4  —  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I Corinthians 15:1-8a  —  Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved,if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.

II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

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1501) A Foolish Donkey

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By Wayne Rice, Illustrations for Youth Talks, Youth Specialties, 1994, page 138.

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The donkey awakened, his mind still savoring the afterglow of the most exciting day of his life.  Never before had he felt such a rush of pleasure and pride.

He walked into town and found a group of people by the well.  “I’ll show myself to them,” he thought.

But they didn’t notice him.  They went on drawing their water and paid him no mind.

“Throw your garments down,” he said crossly.  “Don’t you know who I am?”

They just looked at him in amazement.  Someone slapped him across the tail and ordered him to move.

“Miserable heathens!” he muttered to himself.  “I’ll just go to the market where the good people are.  They will remember me.”

But the same thing happened.  No one paid any attention to the donkey as he strutted down the main street in front of the market place.

“The palm branches!  Where are the palm branches!” he shouted.  “Yesterday, you threw palm branches down for me to walk on!”

Hurt and confused, the donkey returned home to his mother.

“Foolish child,” she said gently.  “Don’t you realize that without Him, you are just an ordinary donkey?”

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 “Jesus plus nothing equals everything; everything minus Jesus equals nothing.”

–Tullian Tchividjian

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Matthew 21:1-9:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her.  Untie them and bring them to me...”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:  “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

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I Peter 2:9-10  —  You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I Corinthians 2:1b-5  —  When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.   For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31  —  Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God— that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

I John 3:1a  —  See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.  And that is what we are.

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In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

–Stuart Townend (lyrics) and Keith Getty (music)

Hear this song at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ch6eXkQWU8

1499) Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

Best-selling author Philip Yancey writes about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in his April 15, 2017 post at his website: http://www.philipyancey.com

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     We rightly celebrate Easter as the day that changed history, the essential foundation of faith for two billion Christians.  In the apostle Paul’s words, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  As I read through the accounts, however, I am struck by their understated nature, so different from Jesus’ birth story which had a bright star, angelic choruses, and foreign dignitaries bearing gifts.  The resurrected Jesus showed up in the most ordinary circumstances: a private dinner, two men walking along a road, a woman weeping in a garden, some fishermen working a lake.

     A ‘superhero’ would have dazzled the crowds with a showy miracle, or swaggered onto Pilate’s porch on Monday morning to announce, “I’m back!”  Jesus’ appearances show a different pattern: he mostly visited small clusters of people in a remote area or closed room.  Although these appearances bolstered the faith of those who already followed him, there are no reports of Jesus appearing to unbelievers.

     The appearances have a whimsical, even playful quality.  Jesus seems to enjoy going incognito, and passing through locked doors as a surprise guest.  He toys with the downcast Emmaus disciples, first feigning ignorance about the events in Jerusalem and then enlightening them.  He changes plans in order to spend the night, although as soon as they recognize him, he vanishes.  Now you see Jesus, now you don’t.

     The last chapter of John’s Gospel records the most detailed account of a resurrection appearance.  The eleven remaining disciples have already encountered Jesus, already absorbed the inconceivable fact that he has returned from the grave.  Even so, seven of them have left Jerusalem and made the seventy-five mile journey to Galilee, apparently to resume their careers as fishermen.  At first they fail to recognize the stranger on the shore calling out to them.  Who does he think he is, giving fishing advice to the pros? They follow the prompting anyway, and Jesus performs his only post-resurrection miracle.

     For fishermen, a net bulging with fish likely impresses them more than a paralytic standing up or a demoniac shaping up.  Impetuous Peter jumps into the water to get a head start on the overloaded boat headed to shore.  When the rest arrive, the seven haul in their catch and gather around Jesus.  He has cooked breakfast, and they sit around the glowing coals like a family, as they did in the good days before Jesus’ death…

     The very ordinariness of the resurrection appearances makes them all the more believable.  In one sense Easter changed everything; in another sense life went on as before, even for the first witnesses.  In Jesus’ resurrection they had a glimpse of the new reality, an advance clue to God’s restoration plans for a broken world.  In the meantime they felt abandoned and confused, their leader more absent than present.

     I like these scenes because they reflect not only the disciples’ reality in the first century but also ours in the twenty-first.  John Goldingay at Fuller Seminary puts it this way: “Things stay the same, then Jesus appears and intervenes and things change, then things go back to being the same, then Jesus intervenes again.…  Life involves an unremitting sequence of sadnesses and losses, but they are interwoven with appearances of Jesus, who shows up to make a difference.”

     Yes, Easter changed history, though not in the way we might long for.  This morning’s news is reporting yet another terrorist attack.  Yesterday I learned that a friend died of a tumor that had grown inside his skull for twenty years.  I prayed through a list of three other friends who have brain tumors, and a long list of those battling cancer; today I will pray for friends whose marriages hang by a thread, and tomorrow for parents who feel helpless as they watch their kids self-destruct.

     Much as the disciples experienced with Jesus, sometimes we sense God’s close presence, and sometimes not.  Occasionally we, too, feel like giving up and resuming our old, familiar lives.  Perhaps Jesus rationed out his appearances to help prepare his followers for what awaits them.  As the disciples sit bewildered around the breakfast fire, Jesus reminds them that the kingdom he has set in motion cannot be stopped— neither by his death nor by their own.  The gates of hell will not prevail against the church he is leaving behind.

     Much had not changed on that first Easter: Rome still occupies Palestine, religious authorities still have a bounty on the disciples’ heads, death and evil still reign outside.  Gradually, however, the shock of recognition gives way to a long slow undertow of hope.  The disciples’ transformation occurs at Pentecost, a few weeks later.  At that event the “Spirit of Christ” descends on them and a new awareness dawns.  Jesus has not left them after all.  He’s loose, he’s out there, he lives on in them and in all who comprise “the Body of Christ.”  Including you and me.

     Easter puts Jesus’ life in a whole new light.  Apart from Easter I would think it a tragedy that Jesus died young after a few brief years of ministry.  What a waste for him to leave so soon, having affected so few in such a small corner of the world.  Yet, viewing that same life through the lens of Easter, I see that was Jesus’ plan all along.  He stayed just long enough to gather around him followers who could carry the message to others.  Killing Jesus, says Walter Wink, was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it.

     Jesus left few traces of himself on Earth.  He did not marry, settle down, and begin a dynasty.  He wrote no books or even pamphlets, left no home or possessions to enshrine in a museum.  We would, in fact, know nothing about him except for the traces he left in human beings.  That was his design. 

     Like the disciples, I never know where Jesus might turn up, how he might speak to me, what he might ask of me.  Easter set Jesus loose—in us.

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Breakfast with the Apostles, James Tissot (1836-1902)

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Matthew 28:8-9a  —  The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said.

John 21:4…12a  —  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus…  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”

Matthew 28:20b  —  (Jesus said), “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I Corinthians 15:1-8  —  …I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved,if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

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Lord, the sea is so wide and my boat is so small.  Be with me.

–Prayer of a Breton fisherman, Britanny, France

1497) It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

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     Shadrach Meshach Lockridge (March 7, 1913 – April 4, 2000) was the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, a prominent African-American congregation in San Diego, California, from 1953 to 1993.  He was known for his preaching across the United States and around the world.

     In his classic message, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming!,”  Lockeridge expressed the pain and seeming defeat of the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, while hinting at the victory to come.  Christians celebrate the cross because the story does not end on that fateful Friday.  It does not end at the cross.  The irony of the cross was that the very instrument Jesus’ enemies used to defeat Him, became His greatest victory.  Little did they know when Friday ended that what would happen on Sunday would change the course of the world’s history.

     Here is a portion of that famous sermon by Lockridge.  As you read it (or hear an audio recording of it as Lockeridge himself preached it at the link below), just remember that regardless of what today brings, regardless of today’s problems, challenges, or defeats; Sunday’s coming! 

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It’s Friday.  Jesus is praying.  Peter’s a sleeping.  Judas is betraying.  But Sunday’s comin’. 

It’s Friday.  Pilate’s struggling.  The council is conspiring.  The crowd is vilifying.  They don’t even know, that Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  The disciples are running like sheep without a shepherd.  Mary’s crying. Peter is denying.  But they don’t know, that Sunday’s a comin’.

It’s Friday.  The Romans beat my Jesus.  They robe him in scarlet.  They crown him with thorns.  But they don’t know, that Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  See Jesus walking to Calvary.   His blood dripping.  His body stumbling.  And his spirit’s burdened.  But you see, it’s only Friday.  Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  The world’s winning.  People are sinning.  And evil is grinning.   

It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands to the cross.  They nail my Savior’s feet to the cross.  And then they raise him up next to criminals.  It’s Friday.  But let me tell you something.  Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  The disciples are questioning.  What has happened to their King.  And the Pharisees are celebrating that their scheming has been achieved.  But they don’t know, it’s only Friday.  Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  He’s hanging on the cross.  Feeling forsaken by his Father.  Left alone and dying.  Can nobody save him?  Ooooh, it’s Friday.  But Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday.  The earth trembles.  The sky grows dark.  My King yields his spirit. 

It’s Friday.  Hope is lost.  Death has won.  Sin has conquered.  And Satan’s just a laughin’.

It’s Friday.  Jesus is buried.  A soldier stands guard.  And a rock is rolled into place.  But it’s  Friday.  It is only Friday. 

Sunday is a comin’!

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cikenKl92Og

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FRIDAY:

Luke 23:44-46  —  It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last.

SUNDAY:

Luke 24:1-6a  —  On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had preparedand went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”

John 20:19-20  —  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

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EASTER PRAYER, 1766, by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784): 

Almighty and most merciful Father, before whom I now appear laden with the sins of another year, suffer me yet again to call upon Thee for pardon and peace.  O God! grant me repentance, grant me reformation.  Grant that I may be no longer distracted with doubts, and harassed with vain terrors.  Grant that I may no longer linger in perplexity, nor waste in idleness that life which Thou hast given and preserved.  Grant that I may serve thee in firm faith and diligent endeavor, and that I may discharge the duties of my calling with tranquility and constancy.  Take not, O God, Thy Holy Spirit from me; but grant that I may so direct my life by thy holy laws, as that, when Thou shalt call me hence, I may pass by a holy and happy death to a life of everlasting and unchangeable joy.  Amen.

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1473) Was the Resurrection a Hoax?

By Charles Colson (assembled and edited from several sources).  Colson served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969-1973.  In 1974 he was convicted for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up.  He was the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges, and served seven months in a federal prison.  Colson became a Christian in 1973, and after his release from prison founded the non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship.  For the next 38 years he was a respected evangelical Christian author and leader.  Colson died five years ago last Friday. 

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      I have been challenged many times on my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My answer is always that the disciples and five hundred others gave eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus, risen from the tomb.  But then I’m asked, “How do you know they were telling the truth?  Maybe they were perpetrating a hoax.”

     My answer to that comes from an unlikely source:  the Watergate scandal in which I was very much involved.

     Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up the truth.  It was perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States, the most powerful men in America, men who were intensely loyal to their president.  Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell, myself and the rest believed passionately in the President.  We had at our fingertips every imaginable power and privilege.  I could phone an aide’s office and have a jet waiting at Andrews Air Force Base.  I could order Cabinet members or generals around.  I could influence the United States budget.  Yet even at the prospect of jeopardizing the President, and even with all the privileges of the most powerful office in the world, the instinct for self-preservation was so overwhelming that one by one, those involved deserted their leader to save their own skin.

     The first of us, John Dean, testified against Nixon only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on– two weeks!  The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks.  Soon after, everybody else began to jump ship in order to save themselves.  The fact is that the only thing those around the President were facing was embarrassment, or perhaps a little time in prison.  Nobody’s life was at stake.  But in a situation like that, as I saw up close, the desire to save oneself has a way of overriding loyalty or any idealism.

     What does this have to do with the resurrection?  Simply this: if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, then the proclamation of that central Christian truth had to involve a massive cover-up.  The disciples would have had to cover up the fact that Jesus was really still dead, and in the face of the  fiercest opposition, lie to everyone, all the time, from then on; and say that Jesus was still alive and that the whole world should believe in him as Lord and Savior and God.

     Think about the situation that Christ’s disciples were in after He left them.  Here was a group of peasants, powerless, up against the most powerful empire in the world.  Possible prison time was the very least of their worries.  They knew that torture and execution could be in their future if they refused to stop preaching the name of Jesus Christ.  But they couldn’t stop, and every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.  To a man, they kept talking about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to anyone who would listen.  None of them would deny or retract their story.  Eventually, just as the authorities had threatened, most of them were executed for it.  But still, all of them maintained to the very end that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that they had seen Him, touched Him, and talked with Him.

     Don’t you think that if those disciples were attempting to cover up the truth that Jesus was really still dead, that at least one of them would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned– that one of them would have made a deal with the authorities?  Only an encounter with the living God could have kept those men steadfast. Otherwise, the apostle Peter would have been just like John Dean, running to the prosecutors to save his own skin.  He had already denied Jesus three times (before the crucifixion).  But Peter did not ever deny Jesus again, and neither did any of the other disciples.  And no one can ever make me believe that eleven ordinary human beings would for forty years endure persecution, beatings, prison, and death, without ever once renouncing that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead.

     You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true, but they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.

     The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity.  Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally.  But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead.  This gives us one of the strongest proofs we have for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

     You can take it from an expert in cover-ups– I lived through Watergate– that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord.  Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful– despite prison, torture, and death.

     Jesus is Lord:  That’s the thrilling message of Easter.  And it’s an historic fact, one convincingly established by the evidence, and one you can bet your life upon.  

     Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!

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“I prefer to believe those writers who get their throats cut for what they write.”

–Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French inventor, mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and adult convert to Christianity

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1 Corinthians 15:3-8  —  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Acts 5:27-33  —  The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said.  “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

     Peter and the other apostles replied:  “We must obey God rather than human beings!  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.  We are witnesses of these things,and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

2 Peter 1:16  —  For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 

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Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever.  Amen.

St. Hippolytus of Rome (AD 190-236)

1464) Washing Feet (b)

Christ Washing Peter’s Feet Ford Maddox Brown, English Painter  (1821-1893)

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            (…continued)  Yet Jesus, respected rabbi and master and Lord, grabbed a towel, got down on his knees, and washed the feet of his disciples– disciples who, on occasion, could get into big arguments about which one of them was the greatest, and who would get the best seats around the throne of Christ in heaven.  Jesus could see that they needed this lesson, and John wrote it all down so we could get the same lesson.

            The disciples needed this because even though they were just students and followers now, they would soon be the leaders.  In a few years, as the followers of Jesus grew by the thousands, these disciples would be looked up to by Christians all over the world as the ones who were actually with the Lord.  That would be enough to give anyone a big head, and Jesus did not need any proud and arrogant apostles going around acting like big shots.  He wanted servants who could love other people and treat them with respect.  So Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and then said to them: “I have set for you an example that you should do for others as I have done for you.  You are not greater than me, so if I can wash your feet and if I can serve you, you ought to be more than willing to be a servant to others, even the lowliest men and women.”

            Jesus set such an example of humble service not only there, but throughout his life.  Jesus did not start his ministry until he was thirty years old.  Before that, Jesus was a carpenter, in a small town, probably making tables and chairs and wooden implements to sell to the people of Nazareth.  He would have been doing this to support himself and his widowed mother.  A hundred years after Jesus lived, a third generation Christian leader, Justin Martyr, wrote that it was still common at that time to see farmers using plows made by the carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus spent most of his life engaged in manual labor. 

            This was not because he had to learn about the common life like the Prime Minister’s daughter in Thailand.  Unlike her, Jesus was born and raised in humble circumstances.  He knew all about common life.  But by spending most of his life at manual labor, Jesus was giving a lesson for everyone, everywhere, about the dignity of common labor.  It was what he himself did most of his life.

            And by washing his disciples’ feet on the night before his death, he was teaching the dignity and importance of every day acts of service to others—in even the most humble and humiliating settings.

            In John 13:17, the last verse of the account of Jesus washing the disciples feet, Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

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Mark 9:33b-35  —  (Jesus) asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

John 13:14-17  —  (Jesus said), “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Psalm 25:9  —  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

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KEEP ME HUMBLE  by Benjamin Anabaraonye 

Lord keep me humble
So I may not stumble
Into the folly of pride
May I in wisdom abide.

May I always remember
That all of my members
All I am and all I have
Are all what You gave.

Lord keep me humble
That I may not stumble
May I learn what I ought
As through Your Word I’m taught.

Keep me humble I pray
Each and every day
Blessed with the right attitudes
Through life’s vicissitudes.

Humbly dependent on You
With a heart sincere and true
Acknowledging Your gifts of grace
Giving back my worship and praise.

1463) Washing Feet (a)

 Thaksin Shinawatra Children

Thaksin Shinawatra and children

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           The Prime  Minister of Thailand several years ago was a man named Thaksin Shinawatra (1949-).  He was an important man in Southeast Asian politics, and is still an extremely wealthy businessman.  Shinawatra made many bad choices as a politician and was ousted in a military coup, but he had a good approach to parenting.  While he was Prime Minister, his seventeen year old daughter worked at a MacDonald’s restaurant in downtown Bangkok.  She would not have had to work there.  She would not have to ever work anywhere.  Her dad was a billionaire.  She didn’t need the money, and even if she did, her dad would certainly have had the connections to get her an easier, higher paying, more high class job.  But her dad wanted her to work at MacDonald’s for a low wage, with people of a far lower social standing.  He said:  “I want her to have that kind of experience and to know about life, because she is the youngest child and when she was born, her parents were already wealthy.”

            This girl may not have liked her father’s job selection for her, but any adult can see the wisdom in that father’s decision.  He was teaching his daughter many things.  He was teaching her the value of a dollar (or whatever they use for money in Thailand); he was teaching her the worth and dignity of all labor; and, by forcing her to work with people who she might think of as ‘beneath’ her, he was teaching her about the equality of all people.  She probably learned that people on both ends of the economic spectrum can be wise or foolish, mean or nice. And he was teaching her about the value of serving other people, even if it is just serving them a hamburger and fries.  That was a wise father and a fortunate daughter.

            Today is Maundy Thursday.  In the evening of that first Maundy Thursday, Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples.  It was at that meal that Jesus predicted Judas’s betrayal, Peter’s denial, and that all the disciples would desert him—predictions which all came true within just a few hours.  It was also at that meal that Jesus took some bread and wine from the table and began a ritual that his followers to continue to this day.

            There was one more important thing Jesus did that night.  He washed his disciple’s feet.  This part always takes some explaining.  Nowadays, people wear shoes when they go outside; and if your shoes are muddy, you take them off before you go trouncing around in someone else’s living room.  Many people like the shoes to go off at the door even if they aren’t full of mud. 

            But in Jesus’ day, people walked around barefoot, or at best, they wore sandals.  Most roads and paths were dirt, so by the end of the day everyone had dirty feet.  They couldn’t take their feet off, so someone had to wash them.  None of this had to be explained to John’s first readers, but needs and customs are different now. 

            These verses from John 13 tell us what Jesus did at the Last Supper about dirty feet:

            The evening meal was in progress, and Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

            There were unwritten rules about who washed whose feet.  Most of the time you just washed your own feet; but if you had a little money or status, you might get someone to wash them for you.  A parent might have a child do the foot washing, or a wealthy man might have a servant do that for him, or a teacher might have his students take turns washing his feet.  But you would not ever wash the feet of someone who was beneath you in status.  This was not a pleasant task, and no one would do it for another unless they had to or it was expected of them.  Yet, on the night before he was to die, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty God, who the next day was to die for the sins of all the world, washed his disciples’ feet.

            The disciple could hardly believe it.  Peter, at first was not going to even allow it.  In verse eight Peter said to Jesus, “No Lord, you shall never wash my feet.”  It was unthinkable.  But Jesus insisted and Peter finally obeyed and allowed it.

            This is far more remarkable than the Prime Minister’s daughter working at MacDonald’s.  This is even more incredible than if the Prime Minister himself would get a job at MacDonald’s.  Think of what it would be like in this country.  American ex-presidents have been known to get a quarter million dollars to make a single public appearance and give a 45 minute speech.  Do you think you will ever see any of them mopping the floor at MacDonald’s; or even driving their own car, or opening the door for someone else?  One day Winston Churchill’s servant forgot to put toothpaste on the great man’s toothbrush, and Prime Minister Churchill, who inspired a nation and helped lead the free world to victory in World War II, did not know what to do.  (continued…)

1461) The ‘Real’ Jesus? (b)

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Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, by Zambian artist Emmanuel Nsama (1941-2011)

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     (…continued)   And yet, after three years of being with Jesus constantly, these disciples were still willing to say that Jesus was perfect, sinless, and not just a human, but the Son of God.  There are many verses in the New Testament that say this.  Jesus had said, “I and the Father are one,” and he called himself the Son of God.  These were outrageous claims, and yet the disciples continued to follow him.  They knew Jesus better than anyone, but they did not dispute the claims Jesus made about himself.  The disciples, like Lincoln’s old friend William Herndon, would have known and could have written about the good and the bad in Jesus.  But they had nothing bad to say.

     Of the twelve disciples, Peter and John were among the closest.  In later years, John would write, “In Jesus there was no sin.”  Peter would write, “Christ did not sin nor was there ever a false or wicked word on his lips, and so he has left for us a perfect example to follow.”  And the writer of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus was in all ways tempted as we are, yet was without sin.”  In II Corinthians Paul also said that Jesus was without sin, and in Ephesians Paul said Jesus was indeed, perfect.  This is the teaching of the New Testament, and the New Testament was written by, or within the lifetime of, those who knew Jesus. 

     But aren’t we forgetting someone?  Perhaps not all twelve of the disciples were convinced of the goodness of Jesus.  After all, did not one of them, Judas, betray Jesus to his enemies?  Well, despite twenty centuries of speculation, we do not really know what motivated Judas to do that.  But what we do know is that within just a few hours, Judas was filled with regret and remorse over his betrayal of Jesus.  He went back to the chief priests to return the money and ask them to release Jesus, saying, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent  blood.”  Innocent.  Even Judas, the betrayer, acknowledged the innocence of Jesus.  In another truly remarkable part of the story, Pilate, who was maneuvered into condemning Jesus to death, said after questioning him, “I find no fault in him at all.”  Even the centurion who supervised the crucifixion of Jesus said, after seeing Jesus die, “Truly, this was an innocent man.”  These are powerful testimonies.

     Is there anyone you know, or anyone else in all of history, to whom such words and phrases could be applied: sinless, perfect, without fault, never a false or wicked word on his lips, and a perfect example?  These words were not applied to Jesus centuries later after his legend had grown.  These descriptions were made by the men who lived with Jesus and saw him every day.  Their descriptions of Jesus were written down just a few years after they had been together. We have in the Gospels an amazing testimony to this man who was indeed much more than a man.  Jesus, as the Creed says, is both man and God, worthy of our worship as our Lord and Savior.  And although everyone, even his betrayer and his judge, proclaimed him innocent, he went to the cross, executed as a common criminal in order to win for all people the forgiveness of their sins.  Even after two thousand years, the words and testimonies of Jesus friends and enemies bear witness to the fact that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God.

     The Palm Sunday crowd had it right.  The entrance of Jesus into the Holy City that day was worth celebrating.  And what Jesus was to do there in that Holy Week after Palm Sunday is worth remembering and believing in and hoping for and depending on—for everything and forever.

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I John 3:5  —  But you know that (Jesus) appeared so that he might take away our sins.  And in him is no sin.

I Peter 2:21-22  —   To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

Hebrews 4:15  —  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Matthew 27:4a  —  “I have sinned,” Judas said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

John 18:38b  —  (Pilate) went out again unto the Jews, and said unto them, “I find no fault at all in him.”

Luke 23:47  —  Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

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Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; grant us Your peace, grant us Your peace.

–Agnus Dei (Lutheran), based on John 1:29 and ancient liturgies

1460) The ‘Real’ Jesus? (a)

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Matthew 21:10-11  —  When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”  The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

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     In the last week of Jesus life, we see two very different responses to him.  On Palm Sunday, he entered the city of Jerusalem like a hero.  A huge crowd came out to meet him, and they enthusiastically praised him.  But then five days later, on Good Friday, a huge crowd gathered in Pilate’s courtyard to cry out for Jesus’ death.  What a difference!

     Of course, we have no way of knowing if any of the same people were in both crowds.  We don’t know if the ‘general public’ changed their mind about Jesus, or if it was two entirely different groups of people.  But one thing is clear; there was wide range of reactions to Jesus.

     Something we should realize is that there is a very good chance that we, two thousand years later, know more about Jesus than did most of the people in either of those crowds.  They did not have newspapers and most would not have been able to read them if they did.  Not only that, but Jesus had spent most of his time out in the small towns and countryside, and very little time in Jerusalem.  Matthew 21:10 reveals this lack of knowledge, saying that the whole city was wondering about Jesus, asking, “Who is this?”  We have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to read; but many of the people in those two crowds were probably going on first impressions, or, hearsay and gossip.

     Sometimes first impressions can tell you a great deal, and sometimes hearsay and gossip are accurate.  But not always.  Maybe not even most of the time.  People are complex, and a first impression, if at all accurate, will tell you only a little bit about that individual’s personality.  And hearsay may be nothing more than someone else’s faulty first impression.

     We even have some common expressions that illustrate how inaccurate first impressions can be.  Perhaps you have said of someone, “Oh, she’s not so bad once you get to know her;” indicating that first impressions do not always tell the whole story.  Or, on the other hand, you may have heard someone say, “You think he is so great, but you don’t REALLY know him like I know him; and if you did, you would change your mind in a hurry.”  In other words, he can make a good first impression, but don’t let that fool you.

     I heard someone being criticized the other day.  Although I could not disagree with the criticism, I had to say, “Once you get to know him, you will find out that just like everyone else he has his good points and his bad points. You’ve been seeing mostly the bad side of him, but there are also some very admirable things about him.” He has his good points and his bad points.  That is true of just about everybody.

     Thus, with first impressions and hearsay being so unreliable, if the crowds were one day cheering Jesus and a few days later crying out for his death, we can guess that they may not have been all that well informed.

     The ones to look to for an accurate opinion of Jesus would have to be those who knew him best, those most acquainted with his whole person, those who knew his good points and his bad points, those who were familiar with his strengths and his weaknesses.  And the ones who really knew Jesus were his disciples, the ones who were with him day and night for three years.  It then becomes very instructive to look at what they thought of him, since they were far beyond first impressions.

     But before I get into that, let me say this.  Even the greatest people have their shortcomings.  I love my family and friends, but I am well aware of all their faults, as they are of mine.  In my work in the church, I have been privileged to know countless wonderful people, from lay people who have diligently served in the congregations where I have been pastor, to national and even international church leaders; all doing their best to use the great gifts God had given them.  But I have met no perfect people; not even in the church.  And it usually doesn’t take very long to spot the imperfections.  As you get to know someone, even if it is someone you have admired from afar, you soon realize that they also are all too human.

     This is true even of history’s greatest people.  One of my favorites is Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was such a wise and great man in so many ways.  But Lincoln was a politician in every sense of the word, including the very worst sense.  Lincoln coveted political power, and he was more than willing to use it when he had it.  He was a political conniver, and a wheeler and dealer that could out-do them all.  Abraham Lincoln was far from perfect, even though his earliest biographers tried to portray him as a man without fault.  William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner in Springfield, Illinois, worked side by side with him for many years, and knew Lincoln as well as anyone.  Tired of the glowing, uncritical biographies being written about his old friend, Herndon wrote what became a controversial biography of the martyred president, and many people did not like it.  Herndon was determined to present an honest portrait of Lincoln as the great, but flawed, man that he really was, and included many unflattering stories to make that clear.

     Keeping all that in mind, consider again Jesus and his disciples.  These were the men that knew Jesus like no one else, except perhaps his own mother. These were the men who would have seen Jesus not only at his best, but also at his worst; when he was tired or irritated or in a bad mood.  Everyone I know has those times.  The disciples were the ones who would have seen the occasional failures, the mean-spirited comments, the conniving manipulation of the people, or the power grabs.  They were the ‘insiders’ that could have written the scandalous ‘tell all’ biographies of what Jesus was really like.  (continued…)

1458) Luke 23:26-43; The Crucifixion (b)

As we approach Holy Week, I am posting this meditation on the crucifixion from:

http://www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

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(…continued)  32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.

What was it like to be crucified?  In days the New Testament was first written, the practice needed no explanation.  But we would do well to appreciate just what happened when someone was crucified.  Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering.

The combination of scourging and crucifixion made death on the cross especially brutal.  The victim’s back was first torn open by the scourging, then the clotting blood was ripped open again when the clothes were torn off before crucifixion.  The victim was thrown on the ground to fix his hands to the crossbeam, and the wounds on the back were again be torn open and contaminated with dirt.  Then, as he hung on the cross, with each breath, the painful wounds on the back scraped against the rough wood of the upright beam and were further aggravated.

When the nail was driven through the wrists, it severed the large median nerve.  This stimulated nerve produced excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms, and often gave the victim a claw-like grip in the hands.

Beyond the excruciating pain, the major effect of crucifixion was to inhibit normal breathing.  The weight of the body, pulling down on the arms and shoulders, tended to fix the respiratory muscles in an inhalation state, and hindered exhalation.  The lack of adequate respiration resulted in severe muscle cramps, which hindered breathing even further.  To get a good breath, the victim had to push against the feet, and flex the elbows, pulling from the shoulders.  Putting the weight of the body on the feet produced searing pain, and flexing of the elbows twisted the hands hanging on the nails.  Lifting the body for a breath also painfully scraped the back against the rough wooden post.  Each effort to get a proper breath was agonizing, exhausting, and led to a sooner death.

“Not uncommonly, insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim, and birds of prey would tear at these sites.  Moreover, it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross to be devoured by predatory animals.” (Edwards)

Death from crucifixion could come from many sources: acute shock from blood loss; being too exhausted to breathe any longer; dehydration; stress-induced heart attack, or congestive heart failure leading to a cardiac rupture.  If the victim did not die quickly enough, the legs were broken, and the victim was soon unable to breathe.  How bad was crucifixion?  We get our English word excruciating from the Roman word “out of the cross.”  “Consider how heinous sin must be in the sight of God, when it requires such a sacrifice!” (Clarke)

The most significant thing about Jesus’ suffering was that He was not, in any sense, the victim of circumstances.  He was in control.  Jesus said of His life in John 10:18, no one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  It is terrible to be forced to endure such torture, but to freely choose it out of love is remarkable.

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

This is a word of pure grace.  This is the most powerful example of grace and forgiving love in the whole Bible.  While in so much pain, Jesus asked God to forgive his tormentors.  In this Jesus fulfilled His own command to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good for those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

 And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.  They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”  36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him.  They offered him wine vinegar  37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

It is precisely because He did not save Himself that He can save others.  Love kept Jesus on the cross, not nails.

38 There was a written notice above him, which read:  THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.  39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:  “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  40 But the other criminal rebuked him.  “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

–Luke 23:42

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