“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” the three women talk among themselves as they gather up all of the spices to give Jesus the preparation for burial He didn’t properly get. They never expected to find the tomb empty. It was the end of a good run with a good man, but it was over. Their beloved Jesus was gone. They would never see Him again.
To their surprise, when they approached the tomb, the stone had been rolled back. I wonder what the women were feeling as they made their way into the tomb...Were they cautiously entering full of fear? Were they excitedly rushing in? Were they full of hope that maybe He had risen as He said? Were they angry thinking someone had taken Him?
The tomb isn’t empty, but Jesus isn’t there either. Instead, a young man in a white robe was sitting in the tomb.
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
The stone was rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let us in. God is so good to let these women, who stuck with Jesus till the bitter end, SEE that the tomb was empty. And not only that, but the angel says they will get to SEE HIM.
Steven Furtick says, “The tomb may have looked empty…but it was full of hope, potential, possibility and new beginnings.”
The empty tomb isn’t the end of a story, but a new beginning.
Jesus WAS crucified, but He IS risen.
The women GO to the tomb. They didn’t have a plan; they didn’t have all the details figured out yet, but they went.
They are told NOT to BE AFRAID. This is shocking and unknown territory. God knows it elicits fear of what is to come, and He says, “do not be alarmed.”
The angel sent by God invites them to COME and SEE the place where He had been laid. To come and see for themselves that He was, but is no longer, there.
They are instructed to GO and TELL the disciples. They can’t linger long in the empty tomb or keep this incredible news to themselves. They must go and tell others.
And in the going, they are told they will SEE HIM, just as He promised.
It was a new beginning for the three women. It was a new beginning for the disciples. It was a new beginning for the kingdom of God. It IS a new beginning for us.
We need to GO; to take action to seek Him, despite our doubts. We need to COME and SEE; to examine truth for ourselves. We need to GO and TELL other what we’ve discovered. And most of all, we need to MEET HIM; to personally experience Him.
Tim Keller says, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that He said; if He didn’t rise form the dead, then why worry about any of what He said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like His teaching, but whether or not He rose from the dead.”
Come and see for yourself. He has risen indeed.
How do you react when you are falsely accused or misunderstood? For most of us, the natural inclination is to fight back. We want to clear up the misunderstanding; clear our “good” name. We likely call or shoot off a text to a friend. We may craft a vent post on social media. Anything to make sure someone (everyone) knows we were wronged, and things aren’t as they are being portrayed.
But Jesus shows us another way. He never fought back. He never spent His precious time or energy clearing up the many misunderstandings or false accusations hurled His way. And if anyone had a right to do so, it would be Him.
Jesus didn’t strive for human acceptance, attention or adoration. He just kept faithfully, obediently, and humbly living out His calling. He never argues or pleads with anyone to follow Him. He doesn’t water down the message to make it more palatable. He speaks the truth, and then He steps back. We either believe it, or we don’t. As a result, He was accused of all sorts of “religious” offenses and was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented. But He was never deterred.
The ultimate accuser and driver of accusations is Satan. Like the example set by Jesus, we need to ignore his words; resist; flee from him.
How in the world do we do this? I feel the anxiety welling up just thinking of letting misunderstanding and false claims go uncontested. But you know what? That is my pride. It isn’t of God.
Leading up to the most severe accusation facing Jesus — betrayal and fabricated charges that would lead to a brutal death — Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and prays. He was distressed, troubled, sorrowful.
So He steeped Himself in prayer and conversation with God, His Father. God Himself in human flesh refueled with a fresh dose of truth and intimacy. A necessary equipping to endure His calling.
Jesus had complete confidence and security in who He was and His relationship with God the Father. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “when you are secure enough in who you are and in your calling, you don’t have to talk too much.”
Only in being rooted in who we are can we resist the temptation to fight back the distractions of the devil to get us off track. But it isn’t a one-time thing. It requires ongoing refilling through prayer and abiding in God. Then, fully equipped, like Jesus, we won’t be tempted to defend or debate; instead, we will have the assurance necessary to keep our eyes up and our feet moving to the rhythm of our calling.
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:14
Be careful what you promise to God.
At the last Passover meal with Jesus Peter made a promise he couldn’t keep. In accordance with the Scriptures, Jesus tells the disciples they will all fall away. Peter, always the impulsive one, declares, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.”
But this isn’t God’s will. Peter is speaking out of self-reliance; out of pride. Always the recipe for disaster. Jesus knows it is a promise Peter can’t keep and tells him so. He is even specific about when the denial will take place: this very night, before the rooster crows.
Despite specifics uttered by Jesus, Peter becomes more emphatic, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
Peter is speaking based on his feelings at the moment. They just had a nice meal. They learned of a new covenant. They are singing hymns. Everything feels good, feels right at the moment. Peter is pumped and feeling brave.
Jesus, on the other hand, is well aware of the intense spiritual battle raging all around.
Be careful what you promise God. So what do we do instead?
Jesus tells us when he encounters Peter failing at something far less intense than facing death for Jesus’ sake.…not being able to stay awake when Jesus asks him to during a time of deep need. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Jesus says.
Not too many hours later Peter denies Jesus. Three times. And not to an armed military commander, but to an unthreatening servant girl. The rooster crows.
And this is so us, right? We feel so close to God and we make promises we can’t keep. Or we royally mess up and we make promises we can’t keep. Or we want something so badly and we make promises we can’t keep.
Be careful what you promise to God. He doesn’t want our naive promises; He wants our person, our presence, our devotion. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Instead, watch and pray.
I love this portion of Oswald Chamber’s January 4 Utmost for His Highest devotional I saved on my phone when I read it that morning…
“Peter did not wait for God. He predicted in his own mind where the test would come, and it came where he did not expect it. ‘I will lay down my life for Your sake.’ Peter’s statement was honest but ignorant. ‘Jesus answered him, ‘…the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times’ ‘ This was said with a deeper knowledge of Peter than Peter had of himself. He could not follow Jesus because he did not know himself or his own capabilities well enough. Natural devotion may be enough to attract us to Jesus, to make us feel His irresistible charm, but it will never make us disciples. Natural devotion will deny Jesus, always falling short of what it means to truly follow Him.”
God, let this be a warning to me that I take seriously. Forgive me when I ignorantly and impulsively make promises I have no business making and know nothing about. Let my desire be to truly follow you, not relying on my feelings at the moment, my pride, or my own strength. Thank you that you already know all of the times I will break promises and fail miserably. Thank you that You already know them and You love me anyway.
The disciples want to know what to look for to recognize when the end is near. After warning against false signs and prophets he says, “For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Mark 13:8
When we feel weary, we too want to know when it will all end. When will Jesus return? When will He make all things right as He promised? When will sin, and pain, and envy, and our repeated mistakes, and suffering, and death be defeated once and for all?
In two and a half chapters of Genesis, we got a peek into what that life would be like. Walking side-by-side with God in a world void of sin…not even knowing the difference between good and evil because it was all good. It was “very good”, to quote God.
But the first humans succumbed to the temptation of the devil. They fell for his only and often used bag of tricks: questioning the goodness of God; dangling things before them that are pleasing to the eye; promising higher knowledge and position; the lure of power and the force of pride.
They took the bait and took the bite. Instantly nothing was the same. Nothing was as it should be.
“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Genesis 3:16). And those birth pains have continued and will only intensify as the end draws near.
In this passage in Mark, Jesus tells the disciples that the signs to come before the day of His returns will be horrible…nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines. And if that isn’t bad enough, He says they are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Pain has a purpose. Progress comes from pain. Pain indicates something is wrong and makes us take a hard look and try to change something to fix it. Pain makes us stop, limiting what we can do; forcing us to slow down. Pain is humbling.
Jesus relates the pain to come as birth pains. Pains that increase and intensify, but ultimately produces something new and something beautiful.
Paul says in Romans 8:18-22, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
Though we groan now under the weight of sin, a time will come when all things that went wrong when sin entered the world, when the pains of childbirth began, will be made right again.
C.S. Lewis says, “If you find yourself with a desire that no experience in this world can satisfy, then the most probable explanation is that you were made for another world.”
Indeed, we were made for another world. A world free of sin and suffering. A world in intimate communion and community with God. Until that time, we groan with the sustaining and increasing pains of childbirth. We follow the path laid out by Jesus and the apostles to be on guard, abide in Him, holdfast to the Gospel, love God, love the truth and love one another.
And when that time comes when the birth pains subside, and new life emerges, the pain will long be forgotten. It will again be good. Very good.
The wealthy are piling into the temple dropping large coins – lots of them – into the treasury. Each donation a loud clanging sound as it drops into the trumpet-shaped metal receptacle designed to literally hear the size of the offering. Impressive nods abound as the clanging is louder and more prolonged. A poor widow comes and drops in two small coins, the value of a penny. They make barely as sound as they hit the collection vessel. Small; unimpressive to the watching religious leaders. But not so to Jesus. Jesus says her offering is more than all the others, because she contributed out of her poverty where the others contributed out of abundance. She gave everything. All she had to live on. A.W. Tozer says, “Not by size is my gift judged, but by how much of me there is in it.”
The King James Widow’s Offering recount in Mark 12:41-44 is translated as the Widow’s Mite. Mite is a very small coin, worth practically nothing. I love this translation because it turns out the widow’s mite was awfully mighty in God’s eyes.
You’ve likely heard this story as part of a stewardship message on sacrificial giving. But as I was re-reading it today, I thought about our non-financial gifts as well.
Maybe it’s writing, creating, music, teaching, mentoring, leading, encouraging, tutoring, speaking, or any number of gifts. We are quick to be hard on ourselves; critical and insecure about what we have to offer. We think our gifts are merely a mite. Small, unimpressive, insignificant, of no use in the bigger scheme of things. But it’s a lie. A lie that keeps us from putting ourselves in the game.
The woman has a heart focused on God and wanted to be part of the worship. She didn’t make excuses…” I need it more than they do. It’s all I have. It is so small. It won’t make a difference. I’ll give a little and hold back just in case.”
We may be holding out because we don’t think we have enough, or aren’t ready yet, or don’t feel qualified enough, or are afraid we will fail. We tightly cling to our gifts and passions, instead of giving them all away. We think they are mite, but God can use them mightily.
The truth is, God doesn’t NEED us. He can make miracles happen with His words alone. He WANTS us. He wants us to step out in faith. He wants us to take what little we have, place it in the receptacle of our God-ordained spaces, and watch Him multiply it.
What mite are you clinging to, despite that ongoing nudge to give it to God? What is holding you back? What can you do today to position yourself to share it?
The cursed fig tree.
All leaves, but no fruit.
Beckoning, but not delivering.
Promising, but not producing.
All leaves and no fruit.
Sacrifices without submission.
Feasts without faith.
Rituals without repentance.
Offerings without obedience.
Law without love.
Activity without abiding.
All leaves and no fruit.
Hustle and bustle or religious activity, but dead in devotion.
Glitz and glamor on the surface, but rotting within.
Impressive speak, but empty words.
Center of religious activity, but Christ nowhere near the core.
Proud preaching, but accolade seeking.
All leaves and no fruit.
Pretense over purity.
Lofty words over lowly service.
Clinched fists over outstretched arms.
Self-glorification over silent submission.
Religion over relationship.
God, let me never be only leaves that look promising on the outside, but are fruitless. Give me clean hands, a pure heart, an abiding desire, a genuine love, and an abundantly fruit-filled life all for Your glory alone.
On the heels of Jesus telling His followers for the third time what the road ahead for Him would look like, James and John come to Jesus with a request. They have been walking with Jesus for several years, experiencing Him pour Himself out in humility, compassion, love, and service. They have seen Him heal all manner of disease and illness, teach with authority like none other, and serve with humility.
Walking side by side on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus again describes how He will be delivered to the religious leaders, condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, spit on, flogged and killed... rising three days later.
Their response to this news? With eyes on themselves, they present a request.
“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory,” they ask.
“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Jesus responds.
“We are able.” Rooted in self-elevation, they have no idea what they are saying.
Despite everything they have seen and heard, they are still anticipating a magnificent earthly political kingdom. And they want to ensure a high status in this new political kingdom they are sure is coming. They have a self-centered view of the kingdom to match their self-centered desires. Likely always at the low end of the cultural food chain, they are looking to finally arrive at the top. But they are looking in the wrong places.
We can get a picture stuck in our head, often contrary to facts all around us and even messages from God, about what something will look like. We just can’t let it go. It becomes our reality. We become confident and convinced of something that isn’t truth.
James and John are looking around at the others in their small circle, and they want to make sure they have places of honor. The other ten gets wind of it, and they are indignant. I imagine Peter is especially angry…he is the one Jesus usually set apart and took along with James and John, and now here they are posturing for top dog status. Earlier, Peter basically says to Jesus, “I’ve left everything to follow you…what’s in it for me?” Competition and comparison kick in, everyone clawing and climbing over each other to try to reach the top. These are people they have walked with, eaten with, worked with, learned with, even healed with… and still, ambition, self-promotion, and competition replace love, humility, self-denial, elevation of others. What is wrong with us?
Jesus, in essence, says, “You want greatness? Serve. Give of yourself. Uplift others.” Self-denial over self-promotion. Sacrifice over self-glory.
Why, when we know what produces pure joy, peace, and contentment, do we continue to look around, compare and compete? It does nothing to draw people to God or glorify Him. Instead, it makes us unproductive, ineffective, and miserable. It’s the devil’s most potent weapon… “If I could just get their eyes off of Jesus and on themselves and those around them, I could make some headway,” he contrives. We can’t let the devil have victory over us. We can’t let him dictate where our eyes are focused. We can’t believe his lie that it is all about us and we need to preserve and protect that at all costs.
The anecdote? Seeking God’s glory always over our own. Serving others. Lifting others up. Denying ourselves for the benefit of others. Giving generously. Focusing our eyes above. Embracing our unique calling and running toward it. As Bob Goff says, “we won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated with purpose.” God, let me be captivated by You and Your plans for me…all for Your glory. Let me not look down at myself or to the side at others, but instead to keep my eyes above and focused on You.
A pause on the stifling, constrictive, skin-wrapped humanity, the glory of God peeks through Jesus up on a mountain. It isn’t a reflection of light from another source, but a light within Jesus bursting forth, finally uncontained.
Moses – the recipient of the law -- is there. Elijah – the great prophet – is there. Jesus – the fulfillment of the law and the prophets – is there. A beautiful, holy encounter.
Roughly 1,400 years earlier Moses died on a mountain overlooking the earthly promised land God didn’t permit him to enter. This Moses, who was born a Hebrew, adopted into the house of Pharaoh, the mighty king of Egypt. This Moses, who after murdering an Egyptian for mistreating his people, fled to the desert; a shepherd for 40 years. This Moses, who was called by God from a burning bush to return to Egypt to usher the Israelites out of slavery. This Moses, who was entrusted by God with the law; the commandments for daily living. This Moses, who lead a grumbling, hard-hearted, stubborn, ungrateful nation of millions in the wilderness for 40 years en-route to the land God set aside for them. Forty years of living in temporary dwellings, unsettled, always prepared to pick up and move on when God instructs while living on manna provided daily by God for sustenance. But also, forty years of ongoing communion with God.
During one of the many instances of grumbling by the people, God instructs Moses to speak to a rock, which would pour out water for the people. Instead, Moses strikes the rock with his staff. God says because of this, Moses would not enter the land God had given them. All of his faithfulness, all of his obedience, all of his difficult shepherding, all of his communion with God, and this one act of disobedience prevents him from reaching the destination he spent his life traveling towards.
Our human nature feels a deep sting of disappointment for Moses, shouting, “unjust, unfair!”
But we are looking at it all wrong, and I think that is what this current mountaintop experience is showing us. We measure success in the world’s terms. In human accomplishments, achievements, arrivals. Perhaps Moses, in his constant nearness and communication with God, was able to grasp success through God’s eyes; in finally being near to Him in an even more excellent and more intimate way. We feel sad that Moses wasn’t able to step foot in this land, while Moses is rejoicing with God in the true promised land. Moses’ mission was accomplished. In him, God was pleased. Moses was exactly where he wanted to be.
Now all these years later, Moses is again on a mountaintop, this time with Elijah and Jesus. Moses, who died 1,400 years earlier, Elijah who died roughly 900 years earlier, and Jesus who is about to die on a cross…all talking with one another (oh, and Jesus is glowing). It doesn’t say what they are talking about, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the world-changing events that are about to take place. Events that according to worldly standards would be considered an utter failure, but according to God’s plan are the gateway to redemption; to the true and eternal promised land. Only a short time to go and the glory of Jesus would no longer be squeezed in human flesh; the sacrificial system no longer necessary; the sins of the people washed clean once and for all time; the pathway to righteousness before God in place. Perspective and God’s truth changes everything.
How often do we find ourselves in the mundane, unsettled, tedious wilderness surrounded by grumbling and feeling like a failure because we don't measure up to the world’s definition of success? Perhaps we too need a perspective change. There is so much more than what we see. There is so much God wants to give us and show us; a longer, eternal view. Success is obedience to God. Success is nearness to Him in the middle of the journey. Success is shepherding others to truth. Success is going where and when God tells us to. Success is constant communion with God until the glorious day we see Him face to face.
“Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees…” Jesus says. Hypocrisy, pride, love of honor and social status. Ruling with heavy legalistic burdens no one can adhere to.
“…and the leaven of Herod,” Jesus continues. Utter lack of belief; no religious connection; ruling with a heavy hand and violence.
Beware of the leaven. It can come from many roots. Just a little goes an exponentially long way. Just a small amount let in unhindered can change the entire composition. Slowly, but wholly.
We all have it. That thing that we let in. It seems insignificant and harmless. But it has the ability to grow and spread and change us, without us knowing or even seeing it happen.
A small mustard seed size faith in God can move mountains. Likewise, a small leaven of sin can corrupt our entire being.
God, reveal my leaven to me today. Cleanse me of it. Replace any leaven of sin or running in the wrong direction with leaven of Your goodness and character.
Calling the religious leaders hypocrites, Jesus quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
So, how’s the condition of your heart?
That’s a question I pose to myself often. For me, the academic and “doing” side of Christianity is easier than the heart side. I’m quick to jump into all sorts of activities, Bible studies, church services, programs, service opportunities, etc.…but, not so much with slowing down, being still, and taking quality time to silently listen and converse with God. Good ole relationship-building time.
This is hard to admit, but it is easier for me to say, “I love to study the Bible,” than it is to say, “I am deeply in love with Jesus.” It’s not that I don’t love Jesus, but the heady side is so much easier for me than the heart side. I don’t want it to be though. I don’t want to be doing religious things, but missing out on deepening the heart relationship…the pure, deep, abiding love of my Savior.
For my Type A self, doing comes easy. I can see completion and accomplishment. But being still; being quiet; just listening, expecting to hear and commune with God, is so very hard. Sadly, I can see how the religious leaders, likely with good intentions initially, go from God’s truth to their own truths as they continue to build new instructions and ways to better understand, apply, and obey. If not recalibrated, over time, the thing about the thing becomes the thing; THE thing is no longer the thing.
Jesus teaches it isn’t what goes in that defiles us; it is the evil that comes out of a corrupt heart detached from God. My head knows the heart of the matter is the heart. My head knows the heart is where it is at. I just want my heart to catch up to my head, and often it is my self-inflicted busyness that prevents it from happening. I’m chasing the shadow and looking in a foggy mirror, while the real thing is right there waiting for me.
I’m so grateful God gives me these opportunities to stop and do some self-evaluation. I’m thankful He gives me examples of what it looks like when I neglect the heart side, just plugging away at doing my thing. Even our personalities are created by God. I’m thankful He knows this is something I need to work on and sends me these reminders to bring it back to the heart and my relationship with Him.
So, how’s the condition of your heart?
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