Archive for April, 2011

Holy Week

Holy Week: Day 1 Reflections and Prayers

I’d like you to use your imagination: Imagine you only have one week left to live, and you know it. What do you do?

Some might say, “I guess I’d want to know how God would want me to live it.” Fortunately, we do know…

This week, we’re going to take a look at what Jesus did in his last week of life. Simply put, Jesus did all that you would come to expect of someone who claims to be God on earth: Jesus does the unexpected. As a church, we believe his extraordinarily surprising, unorthodox, ironic and supernatural actions and words deserve deeper, reflective thought. So each day this week, you’ll receive an email message with some prayers, questions and thoughts about the meaning of the season we are in right now: Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ life.

Setting the Stage:
John’s gospel account of Jesus’ life tells us what happened just before Day 1 of Jesus’ last week: Jesus has just raised his friend Lazarus from the dead (after having wept, of course). A lot of the Jews have now placed their faith in him. A lot of the Jews don’t like this. Six days before the Passover feast, the Jews are gathered in Jerusalem preparing for the Passover with a ceremonial cleansing. Jesus, being a Jew himself, is, naturally, expected to show up. But (this is just like Jesus!) he isn’t there. The Jews are looking for him. You can almost hear the jittery concern in their voices: “Isn’t he coming to the Feast after all?” Some of the Jews are asking this because he’s the “life of the party”; others are asking this because they want to kill him. Slight difference. Nevertheless, there’s a singular question hanging on everyone’s hearts and lips: “Where is Jesus?”

Well…it seems that Jesus is having a party outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany with his friends Lazarus, Lazarus’ sister Mary, and Martha. This is just like Jesus! Enjoying the company of friends when he “should” be “cleansing himself” for the Passover! It only stands to reason, I guess. I mean, what do you expect when someone has just been raised from the dead? Some things are simply more important than “ceremonial cleansing”, you know what I mean?
Reflect on this question: “In what ways do I opt for ‘ceremonial cleansing’ instead of a celebration of life?”
and/or Take time to pray: “Lord, cleanse me from within. Help me not to be so concerned about what people think of me on the outside. Help me to be clean of heart.”

Meanwhile, the Jews in Jerusalem are busy planning Lazarus’ death, too. Kind of ironic: he was just brought back to life.

Back to Bethany: While they’re having the party, Mary takes a pint of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet. Jesus says, “She’s just prepared me for my burial.” He knows he’s going to die very soon…

Day 1: Sunday
It’s time to leave the party at Lazarus’ house and go to Jerusalem for the Festival. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus asks a couple of his disciples to go into a village nearby and “borrow” a colt that has never been ridden before. Jesus knows all the details: where to find the colt, how they will recognize it (it’s tied up), what to say to the owner of the colt. If these events had happened today Jesus might have said something like: “I want you to go to Pozuelo. Next to the Casa Cultural, there’s a house. Next to that house, you’ll find a moto. It’s brand new. It’s a canary yellow color. Bring it to me. When you go to take it away, the guy who owns it will come out and say, ‘What the ____ are you doing with my brand new canary yellow moto?’ You say: ‘The Lord needs it.’ He’ll just let you take it.”

Now, here’s the funny part: Jesus rides into Jerusalem on this colt, and people are basically proclaiming him to be their king. In those days, a king would ride into town with great fanfare on a horse, surrounded by attendants and soldiers. Jesus had none of that. (It would be like a parade in Madrid for the king of Spain: imagine the king of Spain riding a canary yellow moto in a parade. It just doesn’t happen.) But Jesus doesn’t mind. It’s just another one of his surprises: he shows us what kind of king he really is. He’s a humble king, trekking the corridor of death (remember, he knows he’s going to die this week).
Take time to pray: “Lord, make me truly humble of heart.”

While Jesus is riding into town, people are laying palm branches in his path. A strange custom in our way of thinking, until we learn that for the Jews the palm was a symbol of prosperity, beauty and victory. Solomon’s temple, for example, made use of the palm motif to signify this (see I Kings 6:29, 32, 35; 7:36). The actions of Day 1 are ironic on many levels: the people wanted him to rule their nation, but not their hearts.
Reflect on this question: “In what ways can I genuinely ascribe prosperity, beauty and victory to Christ today? In what ways can I allow Christ to rule my heart?”
and/or Take time to pray: “Lord, I bless you. You are beautiful. You are my Lord. Conquer my heart.”

While the people were laying palm branches in his path, they were also shouting, “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” Yet another irony: the people wanted him to save them, but they had no idea that it would take his death to do that. Jesus didn’t want to save the people from the Romans: he wanted to save them from themselves. And he would die to make that happen.
Reflect on this question: “What areas of my life do I need saving from? Am I willing to lay down my life, like Christ did?”
and/or Take time to pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, save me. Have mercy on me. Forgive me of my sin. Cleanse me and be my king. Where I am diseased of spirit, bring healing. Save me from myself.”

After he arrived in Jerusalem, he went to the temple and looked around. Then, “since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” (Mark 11:11). I wonder what he thought as he lay down that night, the end of a long day, the end of a long month, the beginning of a long week…

Digging Deeper
Try reading the different gospel accounts of Day 1, listed below:
Matthew 21:1-11
Mark 11:1-11
Luke 19:28-44
John 12:12-19

May this Holy Week be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Day 2, Clearing the temple & Cursing the Fig Tree

No doubt as Jesus left the temple area at the end of Day 1, he had a lot on his mind. Perhaps he thought of the dedication of the first temple ever built in Israel: Solomon’s temple. It’s entirely plausible that he might have thought this. After all, Jesus did have a way of bringing an eternal perspective on things. Perhaps he thought of the way things should be. On the day the first temple was dedicated, God’s glory dominated the scene…

Picture Solomon, on the day of dedication, praying: “Now arise, O Lord God, and come to your resting place…May your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, may your saints rejoice in your goodness…” When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. “The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying ‘He is good; his love endures forever.'” (see II Chronicles 6:41-7:3)

That was one picture of what God originally had in mind when he thought of the temple: a place where God dwelt. A place where people bowed their hearts to him, worshiping him, praying to him, adoring him.

The picture Jesus saw was quite different. The temple had become a marketplace. Instead of people bowing their hearts, they were turning a profit. A pretty far cry from God’s original intention.
Reflection: “When God first drew me into a relationship with him, he had something good, pure and life-changing in mind. Is my relationship with him still characterized by that simple purity and life-changing devotion?
Prayer: “Lord, forgive me for cheapening your presence in my life. Fill the temple of my heart with your over-powering glory once again.”

The temple Jesus saw before he went to bed the night of Day 1 was sort of like a fig tree he saw the next morning. Just before going to the temple that morning, Jesus was hungry and wanted something to eat. He saw a fig tree on his way to the temple but it didn’t have any fruit for him to eat, even though it was loaded with leaves. He pronounced a curse on it, and it died that day. What good was a fig tree if it didn’t bear fruit? That was its purpose after all. Not just to look pretty.

So, when Jesus got to the temple did he think “What good is a temple if people don’t meet God there? It’s supposed to be a place where your soul gets fed. That’s its purpose after all. Not just to look pretty.”

On the outside, the temple was a busy place (just like the fig tree: it had a lot of leaves), but on the inside it was dead (just like the fig tree: it didn’t bear any fruit). The temple was supposed to be a “house of prayer”, instead it had become a place of preoccupation and spiritual distraction, robbing people’s hearts from their God. So, Jesus “cursed” the temple too, by clearing out the money changers and teaching the merchandisers a lesson: this isn’t what it’s supposed to be like!

Reflection: “I sense my life is cluttered with things that distract me from connecting with God on a more intimate level. What things do I need to clear out of my life? Am I really willing to declutter my life? Am I willing to simply pray and wait upon God? Or am I content with avoiding God by doing the business of ‘Christian activity’? I will take time to listen to God and meet with God this week.”
Prayer: “Lord, clear out my heart. Do what you will, even to the point of ‘over-turning’ my tables. Remodel my inner world.”

On the second day of Jesus’ last week, he made pretty clear work of “setting the record straight.” He was anything but weak. He was firmly resolute in making a statement about just what God has in mind for his people, knowing full well that in just a matter of days he would die. So, at the end of that day, Jesus left the city for a rest in Bethany (possibly, he stayed with his friends again…). After a display of strength, the Saviour of the world (the Maker of the fig tree and the God of the temple) needed a rest.

Digging Deeper
Try reading Mark’s gospel account of Day 2 and take time to imagine yourself in the scene:
Mark 11:12-19

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Day 3, Teaching in the temple & on the Mount of Olives

After having given the money changers and the merchandisers a good thrashing on Day 2, Jesus has the gall to go back to the temple the very next day. Now that he’s gotten their attention, he figures he’ll teach them a thing or two. But, of course, he’s made some enemies. And they decide “We’ll teach that Jesus a thing or two.” So, they ask him: “By what authority are you doing these things?” In other words: “Who do you think you are, you good-for-nothin’ so-and-so!” He answers them like only the Son of Man can: he asks a question. Since they can’t answer his question, Jesus says he won’t answer theirs.

Later, others try to trap him with clever questions and scenarios. For example, someone asks him “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” Now they’ve really got him: if he says “yes”, he’s a traitor to the Jewish cause; if he says “no” he’s a traitor to the Roman cause and they’ll turn him in.

Then, the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the after-life, decide to be a little more clever: they ask Jesus a question that is predicated on the existence of an after-life to find out what he thinks about it. Jesus sees right through their trickery, reads their minds and directly confronts their misconceptions about heaven and the resurrection.

It strikes me: Jesus is not only a morally good man, he’s also really smart! (Often, I forget just how smart Jesus is. Do you ever do that?) In fact, he’s wiser than Socrates or Plato!

The Bible tells us there was one man there who witnessed Jesus’ wisdom. Mark’s gospel records: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?'” This guy really wanted to know (that is, he wasn’t just asking Jesus this to trick him). The intellectual sparring match had come to an end:

“Now we’re talkin’!” Jesus thinks. “The most important one is this:…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” And, just for good measure, Jesus decides to throw in the second greatest commandment as a bonus prize: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (It just struck me, by the way: this is the verse we love to quote so much–Jesus spoke those words only days before dying. Probably not an accident, eh?)

There’s a lot more that goes on at the temple that day, but space limits mentioning it just now. I’d encourage you to read the account yourself in Mark (listed at the foot of this message). For now, let’s reflect on what we’ve encountered thus far…
Reflection: “Is Jesus an authority in my life? Or, like the teachers of the law, do I scoff at his wisdom and power, questioning him? Do I love God with my whole being? Or is it something I think is a nice idea in my head but has no effect on my soul?”
Prayer: “Lord, forgive me for times when I’ve doubted the wisdom of your ways. I give you my heart. I give you my soul. I love you with my mind and with all my strength.”

After he’s done for the day at the temple, Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple. (What is it with this fascination with the temple, do you suppose?) While they’re leaving, the disciples are admiring the temple building (don’t they get it?!). Jesus reinforces the temple’s obsolescence by being more clearly direct: he tells them that the temple will be destroyed one day.

The disciples are curious. Does Jesus know something we don’t know? When is this going to happen? How will we know when it’s going to happen? So, Jesus tells them. Today we call this the Olivet Discourse. It’s the time Jesus predicted how all of this would come to an end one day. (Imagine: in one day Jesus sparred with brilliant minds concerning politics, the after-life, the finer points of the Mosaic law, and other puzzles and now he’s talking about eschatology: how it’s all going to end! What a great feat! He surely is worthy of our worship.)

One point is worth noting in what Jesus told his disciples on the Mount of Olives: Keep watch, because Jesus will be coming back when we least expect him.
Reflect: “Is Jesus coming back this year? Could he come back this week? What would that be like?”
Prayer: “I long for the day, Lord Jesus, when you will return and I will see you face to face. I watch for it with eager anticipation.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but normally I don’t ponder these kinds of topics on Holy Week. Typically, the whole week is about Jesus dying. It seems strange that we would be thinking on “Day 3 of Jesus’ last week” about things like the greatest commandment and Jesus’ second coming. It seems strange, that is, until we realize this compelling fact: Jesus thought about it on his last week of life, and he thought it would be appropriate to say something about it so that we could think about it 2000 years later. I figure, if it’s good enough for Jesus to think about on his last week of life, it’s good enough for us, too.

Digging Deeper
Try reading Mark’s gospel account of Day 3 and take time to imagine yourself in the scene:
Mark 11:27-13:37

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Day 4, The Mysterious Silence

We all have a “day off.” As a minister, I work a lot on the weekends, so mine happens to be today. And it also just so happens that, on the last week of Jesus’ life, he also needed a “day off.” And this was the day. For him it must have felt like the “calm before the storm.” (Yes, believe it or not, even with the incredibly intense events of the past few days, Jesus’ most intense days and hours were still awaiting him! I find that simply amazing. How much stress can one person take?!)

Oddly, the Scriptures do not clearly tell us what Jesus did on Day 4 of his last week. Mark’s gospel has one statement in verse one of chapter fourteen that says, “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away…” (so…that would be, in our reckoning of time, Tuesday). And then in verse 12 of chapter fourteen Mark says “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread…” (so that would be in our reckoning of time, Thursday from 6 p.m. onwards).

On one level, we could chastise Mark: “You’ve just skipped a day! What’s up with the “two-days-before” and the “on-the-first-day-of” nonsense! We want to know what happened the next day. I mean, it was just getting juicy! Raising that guy Lazarus, not attending the ceremonial cleansing time, riding into Jerusalem to the shouts of ‘Hosanna’. Then, the action scene where Jesus turns over tables, the public debate and the foreshadowing prophecy. What happens next?!” (It’s people like this who write biographies called “Jesus: the missing days” or produce documentaries titled “Jesus Unplugged: A behind-the-scenes look at never-before-seen footage.” It’s people like this who desperately want to find out what Jesus did that day.)

It’s people like this who need to “get a life.” 😉 Just kidding.

Here’s a question: what if Jesus didn’t “do” anything? Is that so bad?

For some people it is. I mean, imagine someone telling you “You’ve got one week left to live.” I must confess: if I were told that, and if I had the same infinite power Jesus has, I would probably have gone around trying to do as much “good” as possible. I probably wouldn’t be causing a ruckus in the temple by trashing the place and I certainly wouldn’t be taking a day off. You know what I mean?

But Jesus did. (Take a day off, I mean).

Now: I can just hear someone saying: “How do you know he took a day off? Maybe he did a bunch of stuff but it was simply never written down?”

This is just my humble opinion, but I doubt that. 😉

Here’s why: because this is the last week of Jesus’ life and almost every phrase and nuance has been written down about Jesus’ words and actions thus far and afterwards. In fact, this is the part of the record of Jesus’ life that is the most “complete.” Did you know that around one third of the stuff recorded about Jesus centers on his last week of life? Now, when it comes to other parts of his life, there’s a lot that hasn’t been written down in the interest of “space” and in the interest of more force in terms of “story-telling.” (John closes his account of Jesus’ life by stating: “Jesus did many others things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”) But, I don’t think the gospel writers omitted key details of this part of Jesus’ life. For that reason, I find the argument that “Jesus did a bunch of stuff, but it just wasn’t written down” to be an unlikely alternative. I think it’s more plausible that Jesus “took a day off”.

The question that begs to be answered is “Why?”

I have one idea, one “speculation” (and let me stress: this is mere “speculation.” ). Bear with me:

Have you ever been to a more “liturgical” kind of church service? For those of us who have, you will recall that the basic stucture of the whole service is what we call “antiphonal.” An “antiphonal” service has a compelling format because it is the format of “dialogue”: First, God speaks and humans listen. Then, humans respond and God listens. What if this antiphonal dialogue is rooted in Holy Week? I think it is.

You see what I’m driving at? What if Jesus’ last week is antiphonal? First, God speaks and humans listen. Then, humans respond and God listens. Maybe Jesus “took a day off” because he was listening: listening to his Father, but also listening to see mankind’s response to what he just did the day before (he taught in the temple and on the Mount of Olives, remember?) Maybe, Jesus was just listening. Just resting and listening.

This fits with what’s recorded in John’s gospel. There’s this idea of Jesus saying “Okay, I’ve done some amazing things. Now the ball’s in your court. Will you believe in me?” (John’s gospel isn’t totally in “chronological order”. It isn’t totally “linear.” So he has some keys as to what may have happened to “the missing day.”) He writes just before chapter thirteen’s record of his Passover–Thursday night–account: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37) It’s as if John is saying: “Okay, Jesus has spoken. What’s your response?” (It’s totally antiphonal!)

Having said that, I think it’s time to listen (and respond).
Reflection: “Do I believe in Jesus? He’s done his miracles, he’s spoken his words of life: do I believe him? Jesus is waiting for me to respond to him now. How will I respond?”
Prayer: “Lord Jesus, you have worked miracles. You have shown yourself to be God. I believe in you. I respond to you in faith and I follow you.”

Digging Deeper
Try reading John’s gospel account on this “silent day”:
John 12:37-50

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Day 5, The Last Supper

I don’t know about you, but I know weeks in advance where I’m going to have Christmas dinner, who I’m going to have it with, at what time we’ll eat it and even what we’ll have on the menu (fruit salad, please!). And, without taking a survey, I’d be willing to bet most of you are the same way. “Why are you starting out your writing today with a statement about Christmas dinner?” you may well be asking. Here’s why:

Because Christmas dinner holds the same importance for me (and for many of us) as the Passover dinner held for Jesus and his disciples. It wasn’t something you just planned at the last minute. It was the high point of the whole Jewish calendar (just like Christmas is for us). So, don’t you think it’s just a little weird that Jesus’ gang has no idea where they’re going to spend the Passover? How unJewish of them! (Fortunately, Jesus has it all planned. Once again, he bails them out). But, here’s what’s eerie about this: On the first Passover, the Jewish people ate their meal “on the run” because it was their last meal before escaping the clutches of the slave-driver Pharaoh. If there was such a thing as “fast food” in Moses’ day, the Israelites had it! They ate their meal “on the run.”

And so did Jesus. With that, we get our first clue of some really eerie parallels with the first Passover feast. But, in typical Jesus-fashion, he puts an interesting twist on the whole thing.

During the meal, Jesus picked up the bread. The bread was made without yeast. To the Jewish person this meant two big things:

First, the bread was made quickly: In Exodus, when God gave instructions to the Israelites concerning the night they were going to be able to leave Egypt, God tells the Israelites not to put yeast in their bread because there wouldn’t be time to let the bread rise anyway. They needed to eat it “on the run”, in the face of persecution.

Second, bread without yeast became a symbol of purity: untainted bread. For this reason, during the Passover season, yeast was not to be found in a Jewish household.

So when Jesus took the bread at the Passover meal and said, “Take and eat: this is my body” he was reinterpreting the original Passover meal significance. Let’s combine now the two ideas of the original significance of the unleavened bread and apply it to this scene with Jesus and his disciples: it seems like Jesus may have been saying “Just like the Israelites of old, we are ‘on the run.’ We are facing opposition. You need nourishment and I, the pure, untainted bread, am your food. I will subject my pure body to the flame of persecution for you, in the same way the unleavened bread was baked over the fire. All you need to do is take my life into your being. But do it quickly. Do it with haste. Or the enemy may catch up with you.” (It just struck me: How often, today, we “add yeast” to Jesus, and don’t eat him with a sense of urgency!)

Reflection: “In what ways do I ‘add yeast’ to Jesus? In what ways do I taint the pure bread of life? Do I really realize my urgent need for Jesus?”
Prayer: “Lord Jesus, I desperately need you. You are more than enough for me.”

Then, Jesus took the cup which was another symbol of significance in the Passover meal: blood. In the original Passover, the Jewish people were spared their lives because of the blood of a lamb. Here’s how it happened: God sent Moses as a prophet to tell the king of Egypt, who was holding the Israelites in slavery, “Let my people go!” When the king of Egypt refused, God sent various plagues upon the Egyptians, but he made ways of sparing the Israelites. The final plague was the worst: God sent an angel of death to take the life of every firstborn male in Egypt. God told the Israelites that if they wanted their lives to be spared they were to utilize the following plan: on the night the angel of death came through Egypt, the Israelites were told to paint the doorframes of their houses with the blood of a perfect lamb. That way, when the angel of death came, if he saw blood on the doorposts, that household would be spared. It was the Israelite’s way of saying “I belong to God.” Then, the Israelites were to eat the slaughtered lamb quickly and the unleavened bread. The Israelites were literally “passed over” when the angel of death came and saw the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their houses: thus, the Passover.

Now: shooting back to the scene of Jesus’ last supper…Jesus takes the cup, which has the symbolic wine representing the blood of the lamb, and says, “Drink: this is my blood spilled out for you.” In other words: “I am the perfect lamb. If you want to be passed over by the angel of death, you better spread some of this on the doorposts of your heart.” Jesus was saying, “My shed blood will save you, if you apply it to your life.”

Jesus is the unleavened, pure bread of life, willing to face the fire for our nourishment. He asks us to eat the bread with a sense of urgency to escape the enemy of our soul. Jesus is the perfect blood of the lamb. He asks us to personally apply his blood to escape the angel of death.

Reflection: “Am I ready to accept Jesus’ offer?”
Prayer: “Lord Jesus, I accept your offer. You are my bread of life. I want your blood to cover me. Protect me from the enemy and save me from death. Thank you for your willingness to face persecution and death. Thank you for your sacrifice, perfect Lamb of God.”

Digging Deeper
Try reading Mark’s gospel account of the last supper:
Mark 14:12-26

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Day 6, Jesus is arrested, tried, and killed

I just read the story again. It sounds like a cliche, but my heart feels like it’s beating heavily in my throat. A heavy weight pushes down on my chest. Powerful, intense movement in my soul. Just think of it! He was innocent, he was God, he was a miracle worker, he’d done nothing wrong. And they killed him. It can’t be real. The story feels more like poetry. Certainly not the stuff of history. But it is history. I guess we could almost call it “poetic narrative.”

Jesus’ last day of life before burial is loaded with imagery, symbol, power, depth, emotion. Poetry.

The day’s symbolism starts in a place called “Gethsemane”: literally, the word in Aramaic means “oil press.” Ironic that the Son of Man in his last day of life should go to pray in a place called “oil press.” I guess that’s why he was sweating drops of blood. The life was pressed right out of him in tiny, precious droplets. While in Gethsemane, Mark tells us in the original Greek that Jesus is literally “surrounded by sorrow, grief, pain and agony.” (In Greek, Mark uses the word “perilupos”. “Lupos”=grief, “Peri”=around or surrounded by). And in the Greek version, Mark tells us that this sorrow comes upon Jesus suddenly, shockingly, suprisingly. Jesus was suddenly amazed and surrounded by inner pain, like a hunted animal (grief pressing the life out of him). What a picture. No wonder he prayed. No wonder he asked his Father if the “cup” could be passed from him.

Then Judas comes and betrays the Son of Man with a kiss. Why a kiss? Why not just point him out? Perhaps because he was trying to fool Jesus into thinking he really loved him and had no part with those thugs with clubs. But you can’t fool Jesus. He sees right through you.

Reflection: “Do I try to fool Jesus? Do I tell him I love him, mouthing the words with a stone cold heart? Do I kiss him like Judas?”
Prayer: “I am done with trying to fool you, Lord Jesus. You see all, you know all. You know my innermost thoughts and feelings. You know my heart better than I know it myself. Change me. Change my heart.”

Jesus is taken to the Jewish religious leaders and they put him on trial. Those who hate him can’t make their stories match up. Jesus remains silent the whole time, just letting them make fools of themselves. Finally, according to Matthew’s and Mark’s account, after being silent throughout the whole trial, Jesus says just one thing: the statement that would ultimately damn him to death in their eyes. (Why didn’t he just keep his mouth shut?!)

Meanwhile, Peter, the “rock” that the church would be built upon, denies knowing him. It’s all unraveling now.

Jesus is taken to Pilate and put on trial. He’s mostly silent. In Mark’s account, he says just one thing again: “Yes, it is as you say.” (The question was: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Not a question you want to answer in the affirmative when you’re standing in front of the Roman governor).

Pilate can’t decide what to do: Jesus has obviously committed no crime. Then Pilate remembers a custom they have: “It was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison…[he] had committed murder…” Pilate must have thought, “I’ll offer the people Jesus or Barabbas. Surely they’ll choose Jesus, because Barabbas is a murderer. Surely they’ll want Barabbas to die, not Jesus.” But the crowd chooses Barabbas–for freedom (already the paradox of the cross is foreshadowed: the innocent one pays the guilty one’s penalty). Pilate is surprised. He wants to know why. They don’t tell him. They just keep shouting louder and louder and louder “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus, the innocent one, will be killed. There’s blood on Pilate’s hands. He needs to wash them.

Before a whole company of soldiers, Jesus is beaten on the head with a staff several times. He’s whipped. They put a crown of thorns on his head. He’s mocked. They spit on him. (But he hasn’t done anything wrong!)

He’s led to the Place of the Skull. They nail him to a cross. They take his clothes. He says just seven things while hanging there:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He offers forgiveness.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” He offers heaven.

“Dear woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.” Family created.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Sin borne.

“I am thirsty.” Spiritual desert.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” The end is near. A loud cry, and-

“It is finished.” Salvation complete.

It’s over. Spear in his side. Blood, water. The curtain: torn. The sky darkens. Body in the tomb.

“Still falls the Rain–
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss–…

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat…

Still falls the Rain
In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed…

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross…
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain–
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds,–those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark,…

Still falls the Rain–…
See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament:

It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree
Deep to the dying, to the thristing heart
That holds the fires of the world,–dark-smirched with pain…

Then sounds the voice of the One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain–
‘Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee.'”
(exerpts from “Still Falls the Rain” by Dame Edith Sitwell)

No words can describe what happened that day. Poets come closer to sapping its meaning. And Gethsemane foretold it.

Try spending a good portion of the day in silence: in contemplation of a dark but truly Good Friday, and an unjustly murdered but truly great Jesus.

Digging Deeper
You can find accounts of Jesus’ last day in all of the gospels:
Matthew 26:36-27:61
Mark 14:32-15:47
Luke 22:39-23:56
John 18:119:42

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Day 7, To go where every man has gone before

Now it’s time for Jesus to do some serious battle. If you think Jesus displayed incredible courage by overturning the tables of the money changers on Day 2 and then returning to the “scene of the crime” on Day 3, just wait till you hear what Jesus faced on Saturday.

“What?! On Saturday?! He was still in the tomb: how is it possible that Jesus did battle from the grave?”

Typically, we skip this day, jumping right from His death on the cross on Friday to His resurrection from the dead on Sunday. But some pretty significant stuff happened on Saturday, so let’s just take a few minutes to contemplate the significance of His burial.

The early church, by the way, didn’t miss the significance of Saturday. In fact, they saw so much significance in this day that they deemed it appropriate to include two phrases about this in the Apostle’s Creed. One of the phrases seems like a redundancy; the second phrase seems more like heresy (but it isn’t, rest assured).

The Apostle’s Creed reads as follows:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day He rose from the dead; etc…”

I was talking with someone about the Apostle’s Creed the other day and when I asked her if she had any questions about anything in the Creed, she said, “What about that phrase ‘he descended into hell’? I’m not so sure about that.” And my guess is that some of the people reading this have the same kind of question. But first, let’s take the “and buried” part of the statement…

Let’s pose it as a question: Why would the Apostle’s Creed read “and buried” when it just got done saying Jesus was “dead”? Of course, He was buried! No need to point that out, right?

There are at least a few reasons why it is important to note that Jesus was indeed buried.

One: The gospel writers thought it important to note that Jesus was buried. There are whole paragraphs in the gospels dedicated to pointing out the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial, laying him into Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, and even noting that those faithful female followers of Jesus saw it happen.

Two: This establishes the final fact of Jesus’ death. In modern times this is important since some skeptics of the resurrection claim “Jesus never actually died, he just passed out.” The painstaking preparations utilized in burying Jesus dispel the possibility of that theory. The death of Christ becomes a firmly established fact in history, not just a fanciful expression in an epic allegorical poem.

Three: On a more “spiritual” level, Jesus’ burial is important because, in His burial, He took our atonement one step further. Here’s how: not only did Jesus bear our sins in His body on the Tree of Calvary, He also carried those sins with Him into the grave, leaving them buried there forever. (Leviticus 16:22 prefigures this with the picture of a “scapegoat”: the scapegoat has the sin of the nation of Israel placed on it and then it is set free to wander in a “solitary place.” This foreshadows Christ’s burial–the scapegoate being a “type” or “picture” of Christ. Exciting, eh?!) Corrie ten Boom makes the point that our sins are thrown into the ocean and then God posts a sign there that says “No fishing.” Christ’s burial is like that. Our sins are left buried in the grave.

In light of that, it is indeed important to observe and contemplate Christ’s burial.

Reflection: “My sin is forever dead and buried. Do I keep digging it up? Why?”
Prayer: “Thank you, Jesus, for your atoning work that leaves nothing undone. You are truly the ‘author and perfecter’ of my faith.”

Now let’s tackle the more controversial phrase in the Apostle’s Creed: “he descended into hell.”

To understand this, though, we need to understand what the early church meant by the word “hell”…

In our day, “hell” has come to mean essentially “a place where the wicked are punished.” But a few hundred years ago, when the Apostle’s Creed was first translated into English, the word “hell” meant simply “the unseen place” or “the covered place” (not necessarily a “place where the wicked are punished”). Investing the word “hell” with this kind of broader meaning had its roots in the Greek word “Hades” and the Hebrew word “Sheol.” So, it seems, to understand the word “hell” in the Apostle’s Creed, we do better to understand what Hades/Sheol means, since this is the intention of the word as it appears in the Apostle’s Creed (not as we use it today, let me stress). Now: In the early church, Hades (or Sheol) was a place where all the departed went (both the righteous and the sinner; the blessed and the wicked) and it did not necessarily involve “fire” or “punishment.” It was more like a waiting place. A place where people awaited future judgement. This, then, is the correct meaning of the word “hell” as it appears in the Apostle’s Creed. For sake of modern-day clarity, we would not be amiss in substituting the word “Hades” for the word “hell” when it comes to translating the Apostle’s Creed.

With that background, let’s get back to the issue at hand: Jesus’ descent into “hell” (Hades). Why is it important to note that Jesus descended into Hades? I can think of several compelling reasons:

One: it was in descending to Hades that Christ completed His identification with us as humans. You see?: at that time, every human descended into Hades, whether wicked or blessed; and so did Christ. His descent into Hades, therefore, shows that He really was fully human! He really does know what we go through! How awesome! He left no “stone unturned” in taking on our human nature. He went “where every man has gone before.”

But, Christ is not merely human, He’s also God. So, as God, Christ did a unique work. He did something no mere human could ever do: He took the keys of death and Hades, and He released the righteous dead that were being held captive there so that they could enjoy His presence from that time on in Paradise. And, he didn’t stay there, like the rest of humanity. He emerged from Hades–something no one had ever done before.

Now: I can just hear someone saying “Wait a minute there, Troy! This sounds a little like heresy to me. Where does it say that in the Bible?”

There are a few key texts that support this (in addition to what we know of the early church beliefs and the Apostle’s Creed, which are also, in my mind, good indicators of orthodox–right–belief). Bear with me, some of this is a bit “technical” but the last text/point is very juicy indeed!:

First, the apostle Peter refers to Jesus’ descent into Hades in Acts 2:24-32. In quoting king David, Peter says in verse 27 that Jesus will not be “abandoned to ‘Hades'” (NIV translates “Hades” as “grave”: this is not a literal translation–a truly “grave” mistake–sorry for the pun!). It is an important distinction, however, because this seems to indicate that Jesus did indeed descend into “Hades” but was not “abandoned” (or left) there. In other words, David/Peter seems to indicate that He did go there, He just wasn’t left there.

Second, this also fits with the picture we get in Ephesians 4:8– “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train…” That begs the question: Who were these “captives” he led in his train? The early church believed that this is none other than the “blessed” (“righteous”) inhabitants of Hades at the time. Their waiting was over. So now, when someone dies they go directly to be with the Lord–there’s no need for a “waiting place” like Hades anymore. See Philippians 1:21-23 where Paul indicates that we are present with Christ the moment we depart–that’s because the righteous don’t go to Hades anymore to await judgement. In fact, C. Donald Cole (Moody Press) notes that there is no such thing as Hades anymore: only heaven and hell (in the modern-day sense of the word), because when Christ led out the righteous inhabitants of Hades (as is indicated by Ephesians 4:8) “Hades” became “hell”–a place reserved only for the “wicked.”

Third, this way of looking at it does not contradict what Jesus told the prisoner on the cross next to him: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Fourth, this also fits with the picture in Revelation 1:18. (Brace yourself. This is the juicy part!) Jesus appears to John in a vision and identifies himself as the one who holds “the keys of death and Hades.” Where did Jesus get these keys? The early Christians believed He got them by going there and fighting for them.

And this is the part I like the best: the early church believed that Christ was not just a sacrificial lamb. They also believed He was the victor. The irony is thick: soldiers are posted at Jesus’ tomb all day Saturday. Meanwhile, Jesus is waging a battle on a more strategic front: in Hades. The soldiers by the large sealed rock can’t touch Him. In fact, they’re completely unaware of the battle being raged “beneath” them! Jesus goes where every man has gone before to do something no man has done before. He “breaks the seal” by stealing the keys! The soldiers posted at the tomb’s entrance are impotent to stop it all from happening.

When Christ descended into Hades, a battle was waged and Christ emerged victorious. He now has the keys of death and Hades–for real. I don’t know about you, but I think that is way way way way COOL!!! Christ is the victor! He fought the battle! He released the prisoners! He led them out of Hades into His glorious presence! So now, when we die, we go directly to be with Him. Directly to heaven. To paradise. (I can’t wait!!!)

And to think, all that was happening on Saturday (even the guards were oblivious!). Explain to me again why we tend to skip from Friday to Sunday, because, quite honestly, I don’t get it???…

Reflection: “Christ is the victor. Am I experiencing His victory in my life?”
Prayer: “Lord Jesus, thank You for your full participation in our humanity. And thank You for your deliverance. I proclaim you to be the Lord of everything on the earth, above it, and beneath it. You are the Almighty One. You hold the keys of death and Hades. I long for that day when I, too, will be with You in Paradise.”

Digging Deeper
You can find accounts of Jesus’ burial in the following places:
Matthew 27:57-66
Mark 15:42-47
Luke 23:50-56
John 19:38-42

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Easter Sunday

Dear Friends,

It has been a privilege journeying through Holy Week with you. Today, on Easter Sunday, I’d like to depart slightly from the normal format we’ve been following. Instead, I’d just like to share with you Mountainview’s Easter message that we just shared shortly after noon earlier today. I hope you enjoy it.



“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man…Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality…’Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ …thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers [and sisters], stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (excerpts from I Corinthians 15)

Those words say a lot. But I‘m the kind of person who likes to boil it down to its basic bottom line. And here‘s what I came up with: “Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” I’ll admit, it does seem a bit simplistic , but I think it’s true. So, if you remember nothing else from this reflection today, remember this grammatically awkward statement: “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.”

I turn on the news. There’s a war on. Iraq is a dead place. A bomb here. A bullet there. Call me an idealist, but the message of the resurrection says “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” Real, lasting victory can be won through Jesus Christ our Lord (only through Jesus Christ our Lord!)

But sadly, I don’t even have to turn on the news. I simply look around at the world and I can see that it’s still a dead place. Drugs, crime, prostitution, environmental disaster, racism, theft, murder, rape, deception, adultery. A bomb here (literally, for those who live in Spain!). A bullet there. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the world is a dead place. But the message of the resurrection is a message of life. It says “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” We can shed the clothing of mortality thanks to the immortality of Jesus Christ. Because of the resurrection power made available to us personally through faith in Christ, we can loosen the knots of vice and embrace the ultimate modern-day virtue: life.

But sadly, I look into my heart. I have to be honest: regrettably, there are times when even I as a minister don’t feel much of anything. I’m embarrassed to say that a heart can also be a place of death. It takes the form of jealousy, self-centeredness, pride, hate and lust, among a whole list of other things (including disappointment). A bomb here. A bullet there. Know what I mean? Yes, I am embarrassed to say: a heart can be a place of death. What’s the point of denying it? We can all relate to that, I think.

And that’s why I picked this text today. Because this text tells us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just something that effects Jesus: it’s something that effects me, too, if I place my faith in Jesus. Crudely put, this text tells me: “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead in that heart anymore.” I will say again, that is stating it a bit crudely, but that doesn’t stop it from being any less true, does it? Of course not. “Things don’t have to stay dead in that heart anymore.” Really. Christ can infuse our hearts with His life. His death, burial and resurrection prove that.

On Friday He died, taking all our sin upon Himself. On Saturday, He buried our sins with Him in the grave, never to be exhumed, never to be dug up again by those creepy gravediggers. Then, the Bible tells us Jesus marched into Hades. A lot of people were waiting there for Him. I wonder if He told them, “Don’t worry it’s not too late.” He declared them free as He took the keys of death. He knew “I don’t have to stay dead anymore.” And so…On Sunday, He emerged from the grave. Alive. Jesus wasn’t swallowed by death. It was the other way around. He swallowed death. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”

Yes, through believing in Him, things don’t have to stay dead in our hearts anymore. Through faith in Him, Jesus can infuse our hearts with His life. And that’s how He can infuse the world with life: one heart at a time. Things in the world around us really don’t have to stay dead anymore.

That’s why Paul concludes this section on the resurrection by saying “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

He says that because the “work” we are to give ourselves fully to is “the Lord’s”. And “the Lord’s work” is a work of resurrection. It’s a work of infusing dead hearts with Christ’s living power. A work of exchanging mortality for immortality, of trading the perishable for the imperishable. And it begins in you. And me.

So, we wake up on Monday morning: and everything goes fine. But, we wake up on Tuesday morning, and the day is a disaster. There’s a hurtful word spoken, a life-quenching thought sent out. You end the day feeling the shrapnel of relational land-mines. Shards of glass, splinters of wood , slivers of metal prick your heart, deep cuts in your soul. But, you realize: “Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” You decide to give it a try. You figure, “Immortal God wrapped our mortal flesh around Himself when He became baby Jesus, so why can‘t I wrap His immortality around my spirit? Bury my old self in him and become a newborn baby, just like He did.” So, you take your heart, cut and bleeding, and hand it to Him–that‘s what it means to place your faith in Him. He takes your heart, and folds it carefully into His body. In other words, He swallows death–that‘s what it means to be saved by Him. Inside His body now, you feel your heart begin to beat again, this time steady and strong–that‘s what it means to have new life in Him. It’s happened, you’re a newborn baby, with a new day awaiting you, a whole new life ahead of you. You lay there inside His body: Warm, loving, comforting: His skin is a blanket. You rest there. And then realize, “I have the strength to face another day. I’m not dead. Things don’t have to stay dead. I can live.” That’s power for living. That, my friends, is what you call Resurrection Power.

May our prayer always be: “Lord, begin and complete your resurrection work in my heart. I don’t want to stay dead anymore.”

Reflection: Take time to reflect on the disappointment and disgrace that abides in your heart, personally. Then, take time to contemplate that there really is hope for another day because of the life-giving work of a Risen Saviour. Finally, pray to Him, asking Him to infuse your heart with His life and then believe that He will do it, by faith.

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