Here we are, at the end of the first Gospel book in the Bible. What a ride so far.
The women who witnessed the earthquake three days earlier when Jesus breathed His last human breath are now at the tomb witnessing another earthquake. Witnessing creation participating in the sorrow and subsequent joy.
They have seen a lot in their days of walking with Jesus…healing, casting out demons, feeding thousands from basically nothing, even raising people temporarily from the dead. But they haven’t seen anything yet!
As the two enter the tomb area, fully expecting to find the dead body of Jesus, they instead experience a collision of the spiritual and earthly realm as an angel comes down from heaven. His appearance like lighting; his clothing white as snow (Tide Ad!...sorry, couldn’t help myself).
The angel rolls back the stone and sits on it. Death is defeated!
The guards are terrified. Frozen, as if dead.
The angel says to the women (notice that it is to the women, not to the guards or the general area), “Do not be afraid.” Easier said than done, they must be thinking.
He continues, “for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
The stone isn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, but instead to let His followers in. In God’s goodness and provision, He allows these initial messengers to see for themselves; to strengthen their faith and confidence in the resurrection.
Continuing, the angel says, “Then go quickly and tell the disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
See. Believe. Then go and tell others.
These women who stayed until the bitter end at the foot of the cross are chosen as the first to go and tell the good news. God is so gracious and faithful when we draw near to Him.
Quickly they depart as instructed. What struck me when I read this passage is their state of mind as they go. We are told they were filled with fear and great joy. At first glance, it feels like emotions that wouldn’t go together; even contradict each other. But I think back on the hardest and most fulfilling things I have done, and I was certainly filled with fear and great joy. The birth of my first child. So much joy, mixed with, “I can’t believe they are going to let me leave the hospital with this helpless human.” Or, starting a new job, or venturing into a new calling God placed on my heart. It is a combination of so much hope and excitement and new beginnings, mixed with so much uncertainty and fear of how it will all play out.
Before they could even tire from their quick sprint, Jesus appears. “Greetings,” He says.
They can respond no other way than to drop to His feet and worship. Perhaps they clung to His feet to keep Him from leaving them again.
“Do not be afraid,” He tells them. There is something so comforting about seeing Him; hearing these words from Him. Yes, the angel was an incredible sight and told them the same, but nothing is like hearing it from Jesus Himself.
At last, Jesus and the eleven disciples are reunited. We are told they worshiped Him, but some doubted. Fear can mess with us if we let it.
Jesus is undeterred as He gives them instructions…
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He begins. Jesus has all power and all authority.
Continuing, He says, “Go therefore…” Action is required. We may be scared. We may be filled with joy. We may be both at the same time. One thing we must do is GO.
“…and make disciples of all the nations…” Disciples: scholars, teachers, students. Not just converts; disciples. And not just Jews…ALL nations. This good news is for everyone.
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Not circumcising and converting to Jewish law observation, but baptizing. In the name (singular) of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One God in three persons.
“…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Don’t just baptize them, teach them about Me. Help them to know Me as you know me.
He concluded, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I will never leave you. I will always be with you.
The great commission to the first hearers of the words and to us comes with: power and authority, instructions, and a promise from Jesus to be with us always.
Be not afraid. Believe the gospel, and then GO and BE the gospel.
“Barabbas. Barabbas!” From his small dark prison cell, Barabbas surely heard the shouts of his name, followed by even louder cries of, “Let him be crucified!” I wonder if he was trembling or stoic with the realization that his life is surely about to come to an excruciating end. Just punishment for his many crimes.
Instead, the notorious murder goes free, while the innocent Jesus is condemned. The cross meant for Barabbas hailed on the raw, bloody, exposed shoulders of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t resist or fight back. In fact, He joins the chorus saying, “Joani. Joani! [your name]. [your name]!” You see, He isn’t just taking the place of Barabbas on the cross, he is also taking it for you and me. He humbly, powerfully, and willingly takes the punishment we deserve.
Everything happens as the prophets foretold; as Jesus told his disciples it would. He is mocked, scourged, spit on, lots cast for his clothes, taken to the hill to die on a cross. An intended humiliating public display for all to see.
Three hours of unusual darkness covers the land during the middle of the day. The heavens declaring the weight of this moment.
On the cross, Jesus takes all our sins upon Him, securing them forever between the splintered wood and His bloody hands.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries out. He is quoting Psalm 22, something that would be familiar to the Jewish onlookers.
A holy God must turn His face from all the sin. This moment is what Jesus dreaded in the Garden…not so much a painful death, but a momentary separation from His Father. And not only a separation but assuming the full wrath of God for our sins.
Once again Jesus cries out with a loud voice and yields up His spirit. No one could take it from Him. He willingly, purposefully, and obediently gives it up.
“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus not only takes the punishment for our sins, He also give us His righteousness. A holy, spiritual transaction.
Simultaneously the following occurs:
As hard as it is to read or comprehend, may I never lose the significance or awe of the details surrounding the death of Jesus. The fulfillment and culmination of God’s sovereign plan from the beginning of time.
Surely this IS the Son of God. My Savior and Lord
I lean against the window soaking everything in. I still can’t believe we are all here. My family back together again. Guests in our home. I wasn’t sure I would ever see this day.
For so long my beloved was shunned because of his incurable, contagious -- flat out gross, if I’m honest -- skin condition. Our family ripped apart, mandatory separation. Of course, I understood. He was unclean, plus we could not risk it spreading to the rest of us. But that doesn’t dull the pain. Then everything changed that day nearly two Sabbaths ago. A day seared into my memory. At the time we didn’t know much about this traveling teacher, but we heard he could heal. That was all we needed to know. Looking back, we were so naïve. He has so much more to offer us, but when you have leprosy, it’s hard to think beyond the scabs and loneliness. I remember my stomach in knots as Simon approached the teacher, pressing through the shouting crowds. He noticed Simon. I knew he would notice him…and I can’t believe it all at the same time. A word. One word. It only took a word from the teacher, and he was healed. Instantly. Without even a scar remaining to tattoo the pain. I’m not sure I’ve fully wrapped my head around it all.
And now he is here. The teacher is dining with us. The healed and the healer. Our tiny home packed with the teacher’s usual followers and many of our longtime friends.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot her walking through the door. Mary, I think her name is. Her eyes a combination of peace and fierce determination. In her hand, I see a jar. Her fingers are circling the top of the long neck of the bottle. What is in the bottle?
The other guests notice her too. All eyes are shifting her way. She has an incredible presence. I should welcome her, but I am frozen.
She confidently walks up to the teacher. His eyes lock on hers. He has a way of doing that; of making you feel like you are the only one in the room. The once noisy space is eerily silent.
She lifts the alabaster jar over the teacher’s head and breaks the thin glass neck. Instantly I know what is in the bottle. We all do. The room is flooded with the strong aroma. Expensive perfume, dripping over the teacher’s head. Soaking his hair, running down his face, pouring over his clothes, remnants dropping to the table and onto the floor. If I had to guess, at least 12 ounces. I cup my hand over my mouth and nose. The potent smell is overwhelming.
What is she doing? Why would she do such a thing? Tears stream down her face. She is filled with emotion. With love. She drops to her knees. What a display of worship. She cares not a shred what anyone in the room thinks. I wish I were more like that.
Not everyone is thinking the same. It is acutely apparent from the voices talking over each other.
“Why this waste?” one of the disciples shouted. He has a point. A year’s worth of wages in a pool on my just swept floor.
“For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor,” another said. I wonder to myself if this disciple even cares about the poor. Such indignation in their voices. Such a contrast with her peaceful countenance.
All eyes shift to the teacher. What will he say? He seems to hate extravagance and is always quick to remind us to care for the poor.
He surprises us all with his response, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”
Prepare me for burial? He isn’t even dead. Is that what she is doing? Oooohhh…now I remember where I know her. Yes, it was her brother, Lazarus, that the teacher raised from the dead. A quick look at her face shows she is as surprised by his words about his burial as I am.
The teacher continues, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
What an honor he has bestowed on her. What the others call a waste, the teacher, Jesus, calls beautiful and worthy of retelling. I know I will never forget this moment.
But it stings a little too. Such extravagant worship. That should be me! This man saved my husband. This man brought our family back together again. The long-awaited Messiah comes and eats at our table. Why do I not worship him as she does? I tuck this thought in my heart as the guests scramble around.
The rest of the night a blur...
Charles Spurgeon says…
“The door was shut.” (Matthew 25:10)
“Lord, lord, open [the door] to us.” (Matthew 25:11)
“Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:12)
All accept the invitation.
All dressed for the occasion.
All carrying lamps.
All eagerly awaiting the celebration.
On the outside, no difference could be seen.
But only 5 enter.
Only 5 brought the extra oil needed to keep their lamps lit. Only 5 were prepared.
Jesus and the apostles tell us over and over again to be ready, for we do not know the exact time Jesus will return again.
This parable is a stern wake-up call about the consequences of not being ready. While the door is open wide now and Jesus is patient for all to enter, a time will come when the door is shut. And we won’t be able to borrow, transfer or share in the preparedness of others; it has to be our own.
There is no mention of the 5 on the outside being sinners. All 10 are sinners. We are all sinners. Sinless and perfect aren't the criteria for entry.
The difference between those who enter and those who are shut out is genuine faith in the work of Jesus and repentance (asking forgiveness and truly wanting to follow Him and change…even if we mess up frequently). It isn’t just receiving the invitation, looking the part, and carrying around an empty lamp. It is constantly refilling our lamps, making sure they are shining the light of Jesus. We can’t make the light shine just by holding the lamp. We need the Holy Spirit. We need to want to keep it full and bright. And it doesn't mean we get it right all the time...we won't! It is about deeply wanting to. It isn’t reciting magic words or being sprinkled with water as an infant; it is a changed heart. Jesus regularly points out the hypocrisy of the “religious” people He encounters who look the part on the outside, who say all the right things, who even want to be with God for eternity. They have on elaborate wedding clothes and carry a beautifully polished lamp, but they have no oil. The miss the key ingredient to create light.
This parable isn’t for us to look to the right or left to examine who has oil and who doesn’t. We likely won’t be able to identify them, and it is not for us to do. This parable is for us to look within to examine whether or not we are prepared. How will Jesus – who sees straight inside us – find us when He returns?
God, turn my eyes inward to see what You see. Let me never get too apathetic, lazy, content, assuming, to not be prepared for Your glorious return. Help me to be poor in Spirit, with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness.
Be diligently ready;
Stay spiritually awake.
False prophets are coming
in His name sake.
Remain ever alert!
Do not be led astray.
Times will be trying
leading up to that day.
Wars and rumors
throughout the land,
It’s not the end yet,
but it’s close at hand.
Nation against nation,
Satan’s last stand;
he knows what’s at stake.
love growing cold;
It’s not time to cower,
It’s time to be bold.
Flee to the mountains,
no time to look back.
of time, you’ll lose track.
Great signs and wonders
false prophets display.
But do not believe it;
don’t be led astray.
You’ll know it for sure
when the Son of Man comes.
An incredible sight
where He hails from.
the sun will go dark.
The heavens shaken;
the contrast stark.
From clouds of heaven
the Son of Man appears.
All look upon it,
shaking in fear.
Next come the angels
with a loud trumpet sound;
all the elect
they gather around.
When it will happen,
only the Father knows,
but when you see all these things,
you’ll know it is close.
The final admonition:
since we don’t know the time,
be always expecting
to meet the Divine.
Matthew 23 is a lesson on how not to live out our Christian faith. Jesus calls out the religious elite big time.
How does this happen? How does one go from devotion to God to completely missing the mark? Why is it so easy to get to the place where we miss the forest for the trees?
In His critique of the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus gives us a picture of what it looks like when we get to this point…and it isn’t pretty!
Yikes! It is easy to look at this list and quickly see other people while overlooking where we should see ourselves.
Tucked in these critiques are the ways we should instead conduct ourselves as followers and disciples:
God, let me never be about me and my glory, instead of You and Your glory! Quickly bring to my awareness times when I am living contrary to Your ways and truths. Give me clean hands and a pure heart. Help me humbly serve Your people, those You put in my path. May I always concern myself with justice, mercy, and faith.
the wedding day is here.
Call all the guests
from far and near.
No interest in attending,
other things more urgent;
declining the invitation,
even killing the servant.
Go invite others,
as many as you can.
The feast will continue,
I’ve got another plan.
Oh, but look at that man,
the one in the wing.
He’s here at the feast,
but he’s mocking the king.
Out he must go,
no room for him here.
Weeping he’ll do;
an eternity in fear.
You see, all are invited,
but not all say yes.
What about you?
Come, time to get dressed.
Put on humility,
love and submission.
Step into freedom and grace,
you’ve been given permission.
For all are welcome;
all have a choice:
eternally suffer or
The tension is building as the culmination of what Jesus came for is approaching. It is a mix of people welcoming with shouts of, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and the anger of the religious leaders reaching a boiling point.
Jesus enters Jerusalem during the Passover Celebration. The once a year commemoration of God freeing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery; from passing over the Jewish houses with blood on the doorposts when death came at the door of all Egyptian firstborn sons.
Jewish faithful from all over the world convene in Jerusalem to celebrate, worship, and offer sacrifices. The temple the focal point; God’s presence dwelling in the innermost parts…the Holy of Holies. The city is bustling; visitors everywhere.
Jesus approaches the temple – the house of God, His Father. Though he has seen injustice, hypocrisy, greed, selfishness, and worse His entire life, the scene at the temple fans His anger and zeal.
The outer court, the only place Gentiles are permitted to enter and pray, is consumed by commerce. Booth upon booth set up to sell animals to sacrifice for those who chose not to travel with them or those who had none pure enough to offer. Booth upon booth set up to exchange currency for the temple tax that had to be paid in local currency. At first glance, this doesn’t appear to be a bad thing. It is a convenience for the travelers and a way to support the temple. But that isn’t how it is operating. They charge an exorbitant fee for both, extorting and taking advantage of the people who have no other option. The religious leaders not only approve of this activity, they too are profiting from it. And they are doing it all on holy temple grounds.
They have replaced worship with worldliness and wealth-generation. They have pushed out space for Gentiles to come – the place to evangelize to those on the outside; to show them God’s love and a way to salvation – and exchanged it for a place of business.
Jesus came to cleanse. And on His way to the cross to cleanse us with His blood, He stops at the temple to cleanse God’s temporary dwelling place. He turns over the tables of the merchants and money changers. He calls them out, “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you make it a den of robbers.”
The holy place of God has taken on the look and feel and attitude of the culture and environment, leaving little room for worship and communion with God. Jesus had no choice but to clean house.
What about the Church at large today? Have we crowded out the paths for non-believers to come and worship? Have we filled the space with individual motives, legalism, hatred, favoritism, leaving no room for others to come and worship?
And on a more personal level, now we as believers are the temple of God. How is our temple looking? Have we squeezed out space for worship and communion with God and replaced it with worldly things? Do we need to clean house to make room for God?
God, please show me where tables need to be overturned in my life. Show me places and things that are crowding out space that should be filled with You alone. Let this temple within me be a place of pure and holy worship to You alone.
“Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The cries of two blind men. The following crowds attempt to silence them, but they cry out even louder and more determined, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.
There is no hesitation. They know what they came for and what they want. “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” They want to be healed; to see.
Immediately their sight is restored. Immediately they follow Him.
The contrast between the blind men and the rich young man from Matthew 19 is not lost on me. The blind men come in desperation. They know they are utterly unable to help themselves. The rich man comes pretty comfortable with his situation, but looking for that one missing thing…assuming it isn’t too costly to get. The blind men, poor in spirit. The young man, rich in worldly possessions.
“Teacher,” the young man calls out as he addresses Jesus. “Lord, Son of David,” the blind men cry out. The young man looking for a little more knowledge; the blind men looking for a Savior.
Sorrowful, the young man walks away from Jesus. Restored, the blind men follow Jesus. Oh, how it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. The perceived sacrifice is just too much. The perceived need is not quite as deep. But in walking away, the restoration never comes. Because the sacrifice is nothing compared to the reward and the need is so much deeper than realized.
The rich young man looks to his possessions, and clings tighter. The laborers in the parable look to the right and left, comparing work and wages. The disciples look to the future, hoping for royal status and position. The followers of Jesus continue trying to receive rewards according to the world’s standards, while Jesus continues explaining that His kingdom and reward system are unlike any other. It can’t be earned. There will be persecution and suffering. The cost of following is no joke. The first will be last and the last first. The great one is the one who is the serves, not the one being served.
Though Jesus already knows, He asks, “dear child, ______ [insert name], what do you want me to do for you?” He wants to hear it from our own mouth. He already knows what we need. Do we?
God, today I commit to spend time in thought and prayer about specific requests. You know what I need. I want to be in agreement with You over it, and then firmly planted in Your truth, I want to boldly approach You and ask for it.
Background Photo: 31 Bits
Matthew tells of an encounter between Jesus and a young man that is a huge gut check on who we believe Jesus is and what we are willing to do as a result.
“Teacher,” the man calls to Jesus. Immediately we get an idea of who he thinks Jesus is.
The young man doesn’t recognize Jesus as Lord, but rather another good teacher who may be able to point him to that nagging thing that is missing in his life, despite all of his hard work, success, and wealth.
When we don’t rightly recognize who Jesus is, everything else is meaningless. Many throughout history and even today are quick to acknowledge Jesus as a good man and teacher who walked the earth. C.S. Lewis points out this can’t be. He either lied about who He was, was crazy for thinking He was someone He wasn’t, or He was truly the Son of God.
The young rich man continues with his question, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
This man is looking for that one last thing he can check off his list to be satisfied and EARN eternal life. Jesus knows that none of us can do it without Him; that we can’t earn salvation.
Jesus plays along, basically responding if he wants to do it on his own, he needs to keep the commandments. Something Jesus knows full well no one but Him could do.
“All of these I have kept,” the man says, shedding light on another flaw in his quest for salvation…the inability to see his own sin. Does he really believe he has kept all the commandments his entire life? Impossible.
“What do I still lack?” the man continues. Although he thinks he has kept all the Jewish laws and commandments, in his soul he knows something is lacking. It hasn’t brought him the satisfaction he thought it would.
Jesus cuts to the heart of the man’s problem -- the thing in his life that is keeping him from being fully devoted to God and putting Him first in all things. For this man, it is his wealth and possessions.
“Sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me,” Jesus responds.
Later in discussing the conversation with the disciples, Jesus tells them it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…harder than a camel getting through the eye of a needle hard. The disciples are amazed and perplexed. They have grown up wrongly believing that riches are a sign of God’s blessing and favor. How then could anyone get into heaven, they whisper among themselves.
Jesus agrees it is impossible. Impossible for man to do it alone. But with God, all things are possible.
Jesus knows many things can take first place over God, but money is a big one, tricking us into thinking we can control things; tricking us into thinking we are fulfilled; tricking us with just enough temporary satisfaction to keep us from seeking God.
While it was money and possessions for this man, it may be something else for you and me. It is anything we value over God; anything we are unwilling to give up to have more of Him. What God calls one person to give up, He allows another to keep. He alone knows what our heart is so tightly attached to over Him.
So, how does this young rich man respond? He sorrowfully walks away from Jesus. He walks away from the one thing he needed.
He knew something was missing; something was keeping him from life and peace. But when confronted with how to fill that hole, still he clings to that which he thinks he needs even more.
What is that thing for me? What am I clinging to that keeps me from entering into the closest relationship with Jesus? My family, health, possessions, reputation, security, control…?
On my own, letting go is impossible. On my own, saving myself is impossible. I must rightly recognize Jesus for who He is. Not just a great teacher, a humble servant, a gifted healer, a talented storyteller. He is the Son of God; the Messiah; my Savior; my Lord. Only with Him in His rightful position, with an accurate understanding of grace and salvation through Him alone, can I dig deep and recognize my sins and my need for Him to save me. Only then can I loosen my grip on the things I put above Him and follow Him. Because when I know who He is, what He did for me, and what He promises to do for me, then I can trust Him enough to let go and follow.
God, this is hard stuff. Soften my heart to know You, believe You, trust You, love You…so I can wholeheartedly follow You. Thank you for your love and patience.
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