Thursday, August 30, 2012

Joining Thomas

The bible says Thomas was called the twin (John 11:16; 20:24). We call him doubting Thomas because he did not believe the other disciples that they had been with Jesus. We forget that the everyone doubted at first and that we also have doubted.

The only difference between most of us and Thomas, is that Thomas expressed his doubts to his friends (John 20:24-25). Our tendency is to struggle alone in the darkness of doubt. We do not allow others to minister to us.

Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his struggle to believe. He simply showed him his scars and said, " not be unbelieving, but believe" (John 20:26-27). When we find ourselves struggling to believe God is involved in our lives, we need to remember his scars. Ask God to reveal himself to you, then watch and wait. He always meets us where we are.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Enabling or Judging

When we allow people to continue to violate us, we are prolonging their behavior. Psychologist call this enabling. We need to do what is best for those we love. Jesus told us to love our enemies. That means we do what is best not only for those who are easy to love but for those who we find more difficult to love. Confronting poor behavior or allowing consequences to play out is often necessary to rescue someone from destructive choices (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).

When we don't particularly like someone, we find it easy to confront them out of our anger, but far more difficult to confront in love and a spirit of humility (Galatians 6:1). We find it harder still to resist pronouncing judgement on them (Romans 14:4; James 4:12).

Recognizing sinful behavior is not forbidden, but encouraged, nor is it judging a person (1Corinthians 6:1-6). But to say someone is beyond God's ability to rescue or to say someone has no value, that is wrongful judging. There is only One who sees into the heart.

Both enabling and condemning are wrong.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Discerning Forgiveness

If we have the responsibility to offer or withhold forgiveness, shouldn't we know what forgiveness looks like (John 20:22-23)? The best example of forgiveness comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. While he was on the cross, he spoke the words, Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

Clearly he was not speaking of those who completely understood what they had connived to do (John 8:42-47). But he speaks to people like Saul, later named Paul, who thought he was serving God when he put Christians into prison (Acts 9: 1; Philippians 3:6).

God clearly sees within the heart; we cannot. So how can we tell if someone knows full well what they are doing, and those who believe they are doing right but are mistaken? John the Baptist taught us, our forgiveness is offered at the time of the offense, but not played out until the fruit of repentance has time to be manifest (Matthew 3:7-12).

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Return Policy

"...He breathed on them, and said to them, 'receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:22-23).

These are powerful words. Is he telling his followers that they have power within themselves to save people from hell or send them there? We know this cannot be the meaning because there is only one who has the power to save and to destroy (James 4:12).

The only person who can forgive an offense is the one who has been offended. Unbelief is an offense against God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. But when someone harms or offends us, we have the choice to forgive or retain un-forgiveness. This responsibility is set against the backdrop of God forgiving us.

Jesus also told the disciples, "“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

The choice is clear.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Same Calling

When Jesus appears to his disciples the first time after he has raised from the dead he tells them, "Peace be to you; as the Father sent me, I also am sending you" (John 20:21).

Jesus came as a vulnerable baby of a poor family, though he had the wealth of his heavenly father at his fingertips. Jesus walked among men without lording it over them, though he held their breath in his hands. Jesus submitted to the governing authority of his day, though he had the power to raise up rulers or tear them down at will. Jesus was the Lord of the universe, yet he washed men's feet. Jesus could have called tens of thousands of angels to destroy every person who opposed him, yet he submitted to the cross for our sake. He literally had life and death in his power yet he only spoke what the father told him to speak.

Jesus did not focus on his power while he was on earth, but humbly and clearly relayed his Father's message. We are called to do the same.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

His Hands and Feet

The ten disciples and their closest friends were scared to death of the Jews (John 20:19). Who can blame them! They had seen the deadly results of the political power the leaders of their synagogues had successfully used against Jesus. There was no reason to think they were not the next targets.

Knowing the terror in their hearts, Jesus' first words to them we're, "Peace to you" (John 20:19). Then Jesus shows them his hands and his feet.

Proving that it was him was not the only reason for showing them his hands and his feet. His scars were proof that he loved them enough to die for them and powerful enough to raise from the dead.

Jesus also speaks to us. "“Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. (Luke 24:38-39; Ephesians 1:16-21). Let us not be afraid of what we are facing. Let us trust him who has asked us to face it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Surprise Visits

We are focused so much on the eleven remaining disciples that we forget the other disciples who followed Jesus. It is interesting that Jesus appears to the peripheral disciples before showing himself to the eleven. We have already read how he appeared to the group of women. Next he appears to two of his friends who were walking to Emmaus. We know they were not counted among the eleven because Luke writes "So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together." (Luke 14:33).

It was not until evening that Jesus appears to ten of the disciples closest to him. (Remember Thomas is not there.). When Mary comes back to Peter a second time to say she had spoken with Jesus, they did not believe her (Mark 16:9-14). Now two more friends come banging on the door to tell them Jesus is alive.

We only know one of the names of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas. We know several of the women's names, but not all of them (Luke 24:10). These people are not known for writing books. Their names do not show up in any of the apostles' letters. We would consider them the ordinary men and women in any congregation. In other words, they were like us. Yet Jesus came to them first.

God does not base his love for us on our potential. He simply loves us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A New Relationship

Jesus brought to us a new relationship to God. God is no longer a distant judge to whom we must bring animal sacrifices and follow a long list of washings, drinks and, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, "fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation (Hebrews 9:9-10). But God is our personal father.

Jesus told Mary Magdalene, "...go tell my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my father and your father, and to my God and your God" (John 20:17).

He made it clear that God was our father in equal position as God is Jesus' father. He called us his brothers (Hebrews 2:11; John 1:12). He is not only a father who wants the best for his children, but he is powerful enough to give what is best to his children. We can trust him to accomplish eternally significant things in us and through us.

"My God and your God" ... "My father and your father", meditate on that concept today. It will bring new light to every situation you face.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A New Door

Jesus tells Mary Magdalene in the garden to stop clinging to him because he has not yet ascended to his Father (John 20:17). Why was it important that he go to his Father before seeing the twelve disciples? We know he was to appear to many people over a period of forty days before his disciples would see him ascend to heaven, but John seems to indicate that Jesus would ascend to heaven even before his disciples watched him disappear in the clouds. Why?

The writer of Hebrews gives us an insight into the mystery. He writes, "..Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood he entered the Most Holy Place once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption...and for this reason he is the mediator of the new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:12,15).

Jesus presented the accomplished work of our salvation to his Father before spending the last instructive time with all those who knew him in the flesh. It is like he was closing the door of required animal sacrifices and opening the door to free entrance into the throne room of God.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Piecing It All Together

Mary Magdalen rose early before the sun came up. The stars were bright in the sky and the crickets were singing under the sliver of a white moon. The spices she carried in her basic wafted through the air as her long skirts brushed quickly and quietly over the damp grass. She would meet her friends at the tomb at sunrise, but she headed out early so that she could spend a few minutes alone.

As she rounded the corner passed the gnarled olive tree, she could see the tomb where she had watched Nicodemus and Joseph place Jesus' body, but something was dreadfully wrong. The stone was moved and the dark mouth of the cave stood gaping open. She ran to the tomb and looked inside. Jesus' body was gone!

Her breath came in short gasps as she raced to Peter's home where John had been staying along with Jesus' mother since the crucifixion. Her incessant banging woke everyone in house. John and Peter reached the door at the same time. "He's gone"! Mary was visibly shaking.

"Who's gone?" Peter demanded irritated at being woken so early and with such a racket.

"They have taken Jesus' body, and I don't know where they put it."

That was all the men needed to hear. Peter managed to get through the doorway first running toward the garden. But John, smaller and more in shape, out ran Peter arriving at the tomb first. Panting and out of breath, he looked inside and saw a pile of linen strips lying on the outcropping of rock where he had watched the two men lay Jesus' body just three days prior.

Seconds later Peter arrived and pushing past John who was catching his breath, he entered the tomb. There were the linen strips for the body, but the head piece was folded neatly in a corner by itself. John followed Peter into the mouth of the cave. They looked at each other, fear penetrating taking away what little breath they had left. Why would the Romans take his body? What were they planning to do with it? Would they display it on a wall like king Saul's body was displayed by the Philistines? Would they hang it on a spike near the entrance of Jerusalem like an enemy of the state?

In shock and renewed fear they headed back to Peter's home, forgetting about Mary Magdalene weeping by the stone.

The sun was just coming over the horizon when Mary's friends arrived. Each was carrying her own basket of spices. The birds were already singing and the dew sparkled in the early morning rays of sunlight, but none of the women noticed. Joanna saw the gapping mouth of the tomb first and quickened her steps. "What's going on?" she yelled at Mary when she saw the tomb was empty.

"I don't know. I think the Romans took his body," Mary sobbed.

"I don't believe it." Mary, the mother of James and John pushed past Mary into the cave. Mary Magdalene, still weeping bent over and looked inside. There were two men dressed in white sitting on the slab where Jesus' body had been. Her brow wrinkled, puzzled at how the two men had passed her without her seeing them.

"Why are you weeping?". They asked. "Are you looking for someone?"

"Mary stepped forward. "Someone has taken Jesus' body and I don't know where they laid him."

Then one of the angels said to the women "“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

A great wave of emotions swept over the women. The strange words of the man in white sounded vaguely familiar. But they didn't make since. He couldn't be alive, not after all the torture the soldiers had put him through. They were standing right there when the centurion shoved his spear into Jesus' side and the blood and water gushed out. In silence and fear the small band of women turned to leave.

Then Mary saw whom she assumed was the gardener. Whatever the Romans were up to, they would not have bothered to involve a lowly gardner, she reasoned. Still weeping, she quickened her steps, her friends close behind her.

"Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?". The man asked her.

"Sir, if you have taken the body, tell me where you laid him so that I can take him and burry him elsewhere."

Then that precious, all consuming word pierced through Mary's overwhelming sorrow and confusion, "Mary". Oh how sweet the breath of her savior was to Mary's weary soul. Without hesitation she was at his feet in worship. Her friends arriving, also fell at his feet in worship.

"Stop clinging to me". Jesus said as he raised Mary to her feet. "but go tell the disciples the disciples to meet me in Galilee."

Mary Magdalene and the band of women rushed back to Peter's house to give them the unbelievably good news!

And so begins the new chapter in their lives and ours.

(Mt 27:61; 28:1-8; Mk 15:40,47; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-12; John 20:1-18).

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Some people struggle with the apparent contradictions in the story of Jesus' resurrection. Why does John and Luke mention two angels and Matthew mentions only one? Why does Matthew's story seem to indicate that the angel was sitting on the rock and John specifically states that two angels were sitting in the tomb? Why does Matthew and Luke say that the angels spoke to all the women and John tells only about Mary Magdalene? Why does Matthew say the group of women held Jesus' feet and worshiped him, but John only mentions Mary Magdalene?

First it is important to remember John's entire focus is "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you might have life in his name" (John 20:31). Through out his book he limits the stories to the bear minimum, leaving out many details so that the entire focus is on that message.

Secondly, a person can mention only the angel that spoke, ignoring the silent angel. Thus both people are telling a factual account. Thirdly Mary Magdalene most likely was the only one who spoke to the angels out of the group of women who were there. So John only mentions her. Fourthly, Matthew does not state that the angel was still sitting on the stone when the women arrived, only that when the soldiers were there the angel had sat on the stone. He and his partner could easily have moved into the tomb by the time the women arrived.

Fifthly Matthew says the women held him by the feet and worshiped him. John again focuses only on Mary Magdalene, the organizer and spokes person of the women.

Mark says the women did not tell anyone because they were afraid (Mark 16:7-8), yet Matthew says the women all ran to tell Peter (Matthew 28:1-8). Mark is pointing out that the women did not tell people as they ran, while Matthew focuses on the interaction with the disciples.

Next time we will look at John's varied story about the resurrection.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mary's Experience With Jesus

Mary Magdalene couldn't bear to go home. She stood by the empty tomb weeping after Peter and John each left for their separate homes (John 20:10-11). Her sorrow was so deep that she did not seem startled to see two men dressed in white sitting at the head and the foot of where Jesus' body had lain a few hours before. It did not seem to cross her mind that she had seen no one come or go since her all friends had left, yet these two men are suddenly sitting inside the tomb.

When they ask her why she is weeping she tells she is looking for Jesus' body. She sees what she assumes is the gardener and asks him where he has removed the body. Nothing is making since to her. She is overcome with her grief. Why would a gardener remove the linen cloths and take the body?

Then Jesus speaks her name, Mary.

Oh the delight that ran through every fiber of her being. She did not question. She did not hesitate. She simple worshiped (John 20:11-17).

When we recognize that God calls us by name, his love breaks through all our sorrow. We know he has not abandon us. Our sorrow is no longer unbearable.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Mary's

While it was still dark, early on a Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She met Salome and Mary, the mother of James and John there just as the sun was rising (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; John 20:1). Both Mary's had been there when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had wrapped Jesus' body in a hundred ponds of spices (Matthew 27:61). But the love they felt for Jesus compelled them to bring spices for his body, to honor him in his death.

They had no idea who would remove the great stone that blocked the entrance of the tomb. But when they got there, not only was the stone rolled away, but the tomb was empty. Mary Magdalene was in a panic and immediately ran to get Peter and John to tell them someone had stolen the body (John 20:1-2).

John out ran Peter in his haste to see what in the world Mary Magdalene was talking about. Both John and Peter went into the tomb, were stunned to see the burial linen lying there and the head clothe neatly wrapped and laid to one side. The two men went home in grief and Mary Magdalene was left at the tomb weeping uncontrollably. It was difficult enough to face his death, but to have his body stollen was unbearable.

But things are not as hopeless as our understanding make them out to be.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Rich and Poor of It

The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is a fascinating description of the cross given hundreds of years before Christ came in human form. The prophet wrote, "They made his grave with the wicked, but with the rich at his death" (Isaiah 53:9). He hung on the cross between two thieves, fulfilling the first part of that prophecy, and was buried in a rich man's tomb, fulfilling the second part of that prophecy (John 19:17, 40-41; Matthew 27:55-60).

The Jewish people taught that righteousness brought material wealth. Riches were a kind of proof of a person being blessed by God. So the prophecy in Isaiah must have been a kind of thorn in their theological side. How could the Christ be counted with the wicked and still be buried with the rich? But looking at it after the fulfillment, all the pieces of the puzzle fit nicely into place.

Some of what we read in scripture puzzles us in the same way the people before the cross were puzzled over the apparent contradictions concerning the glory and the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 1:11). The cross teaches us that all God has said will come to pass, will come to pass. Every seeming contradictory or confusing thing written about the second coming of Christ will piece together in perfect harmony with each detail God has given to us.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thread and Scissors

As an experiment, hold out your hands and have someone wrap your wrists with a thread. Then break the thread. Try it a second time with two wrappers of thread. It is a bit harder but still doable. Now try it with ten wraps of thread. Soon you will need scissors to get free.

Do not miss the significance of the hundred pounds of Myrrh (John 19:39). It was the Jewish tradition to wrap the dead body in linen strips soaked in spices. Can you imagine the weight of the body once it is wrapped with linen and one hundred pounds of spices? The dead weight of Jesus' body was at least a hundred pounds and more likely a hundred sixty pounds for a fit man of thirty. Add to that another minimum of a hundred fifty ponds counting for the spices and the linen strips.

If you have ever seen a picture of a mummified person, you can quickly deduce that no one buried in that manner could unwrap the weighty casing themselves. The hundred pounds of spices point to the truth of the resurrect of Jesus.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Two Men Changed

A very special thing happens at the foot of the cross after Jesus' death. Two men who have secretly begun to believe Jesus' teaching come out of hiding.

The first man John mentions is Joseph of Arimathea. The only place this man is mentioned is at the burial of Jesus. He is a rich council member who has kept his admiration of Jesus a secret until after the cross. He has been afraid of being thrown out of the synagogue. But now he exposes his faith by coming to Pilate and asking permission to take down Jesus' body.

The second man is Nicodemus. We read about him in the third chapter of John when he came to Jesus by the cover of night to ask questions. We have seen him gradually become bolder when we read about him confronting the council at the first plan to arrest Jesus at the end of chapter seven. Now Nicodemus is ready to publicly show his devotion by helping take Jesus down off the cross (John 19:38-42).

The cross has way of making our decision about Jesus public.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Applying Jesus' Last Words

If the meaning of Jesus' words "it is finished" means we are free from sin, why do we still struggle with things like food addictions, temper outbursts, gossip and other self disciplinary issues?

Perhaps because we are attempting to do it by our own strength we fail. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self control (Galatians 5:22-24). Jesus gave us the secret to allowing this fruit to be manifest in our daily lives when he said "he who abides in me bears much fruit, for without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Paul writes about how to do this when he said, "those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their mind on the things of the spirit...for if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live (Romans 8:5,13). And in the letter to the Ephesians he writes, " those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires".

Christ has given us all we need to successfully battle the ungodly desires (2 Peter 1:3). We can be victor over any addictive behavior by first acknowledging the problem, secondly acknowledging we cannot stop it on our own, thirdly asking God in the moment of temptation for strength to overcome, fourthly walking away quickly and finally deliberately refocusing our mind on something spiritual like glorifying God.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

It is Finished

"So when Jesus had tasted the sour wine, he said 'It is finished'" (John 19:20).

What did he mean, "it is finished"? Is he referring to the crucifixion (I am glad this is over)? His words convey so much more than that.

Is he referring to the fulfillment of prophecy? Yes, that is part of it. Every prophecy given in the Old Testament was fulfilled even to the last sip of sour wine (Psalm 69:21). That in itself is wonderful because the vast amount of detailed prophesies fulfilled point to his authenticity. But it is more than that.

"It is finished" speaks of the completed work of Christ for us. His words tell us our sins have been paid for, completely. There is nothing for us to do to remove our sin. We couldn't (Ephesians 2:9-10). It tells us we no longer have to live under the guilt and the deadly power of sin (Romans 8:34).

It s finished tells us all that needed to be done to give us victory in our lives was completed in that moment (Hebrews 4:1-12; 2 Peter 1:3).

It is indeed finished.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Don't miss the Hyssop

Do not miss the significance of the hyssop branch. Hyssop was used by the priests in the Old Testament; for cleansing of leprosy (Leviticus 14), for purification (Numbers 19), and for dedication of the people, God's commandments, and the temple (Hebrews 9:19-22). Perhaps the most visible connection is with the Passover when hyssop was used to put blood over the door posts and the top of the door, forming a kind of cross (Exodus 12).

Leprosy is a picture of sin. Jesus took away our sin on the cross ( Psalm 52:7).

Things were purified using the hyssop. We cleansed from all unrighteousness by Jesus' sacrifice (1John 1:9).

We became God's holy people by Jesus' sacrifice (1Peter 2:9).

We became holy priests unto God through his sacrifice (1Peter 2:5,9).

We have passed from death into life and escape the sentence of death by Jesus' sacrifice (John 5:24).

Do not miss the hyssop (Hebrews 9:11-28).

Friday, August 3, 2012

He chose

Jesus had told the crowds that he would be crucified (John 12:30-34) but that no one would take his life by force. He said he would lay it down and take it up again (John 10:17-18). We usually associate this with his refusal to deliver himself from the Roman's hand and to go willingly to the cross. And we are correct.

But there is another aspect of his laying down his life and no one taking it from him. John tells us, "Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled said, I thirst.". The soldiers gave him a taste of sour wine, and after Jesus tasted it he said, "It is finished". And bowing his head he gave up his spirit".

He chose the moment for his spirit to leave his body. Jesus had to die before the two thieves so that his legs would not be broken. Every moment of the crucifixion was planned by the Trinity and every moment of the plan was fulfilled (Acts 4:27-28).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Family Dinamics

John tells us that from the very beginning of Jesus' life on earth, he loved his family (John 13:1). Most of what is written about Jesus' life is about his and his Father's love for us. But at the cross we are given another of the rare glimpses into his interactions with his mother.

Jesus looks down from the cross and sees his mother surrounded by her friends and her sister. John (the one who wrote the book we are studying) is standing near by. He has been one of Jesus' closest friends. Mary has other sons, yet Jesus looks at his mother and his disciple John and says, "Woman behold your son." And to John, "Behold your mother" (John 19:25-27).

John took care of Jesus' mother from that day until she died.

We know that his brothers eventually believed who he was (Acts 1:14), yet Jesus leaves the care of his mother to his best friend.

If Jesus trusted John enough to take care of his mother, we know we can trust the accuracy of John's writing of what happened.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Torn Clothes

John points out several prophesies that were fulfilled at the time of Jesus' crucifixion. Before the prophesies come to pass, they can appear contradictory, but afterward they are clearly understood. For instance the prophesy, "They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots" (Psalm 22:18). At face value it would seem both could not be accurate, either you divide something evenly between parties, or you roll the dice to see who gets all of it.

Of course from this side of the cross we know thy divided his robe into quarters but his tunic was such a fine work they rolled the dice to see who took it home (John 19:23-24).

Another prophesy that John points out is that none of Jesus' bones were broken (Psalm 34:20; Numbers 9:12; John 19:36); and that the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a sword (Zechariah 12:10).

It is not logical to think someone considered an enemy Rome could control the actions of soldiers in the course of his own crucifixion (I.e. dividing his robe, casting lots for his tunic, not breaking his bones, stabbing him after he was already dead). If someone was foolish enough to try and bribe soldiers what would keep the soldiers from taking the money and not doing anything they promised. And what would be the purpose of such a bribe anyway?

Only God could know and control what would happen. John points these things out so that all who read his letter know that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, "the Son of God and believing you might have life in his name" (John 20:31).