He Is Alive!


Sunday we’ll celebrate Easter. Those adventurous enough to awake in the waning hours of night and find their way to a Sunrise service actually commemorate the moment of discovery.

Grieving women, determined to provide Jesus with a proper burial, made their way to the tomb where they’d seen His body laid. They brought with them the necessary spices to preserve His corpse, but the tomb had been closed with a stone too big for them to maneuver.

According to Mark’s account this difficulty hadn’t dawned on them before they set out. Otherwise they could have asked a couple of the disciples to accompany them. Interestingly, they didn’t decide to turn back once they realized they couldn’t get into the tomb with that boulder blocking the entrance. Perhaps they kept going instead of searching for a few strong men because they knew a Roman guard had been stationed there. Were they hoping to find mercy from their persecutors?

No telling what kept them going, but their persistence paid off. When they got to the tomb, the stone was already rolled aside. That’s when they first heard the truth: Jesus isn’t in the tomb because He’s alive. Not, mysteriously missing. Alive!

While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:4-7)

I love this announcement. It carries a subtle rebuke—as if the angels are saying, Hel-lo! Weren’t you paying attention? He told you He’d be out of here in three days. And you’re still looking for Him in this tomb? Why? Why would you do that?

The_Empty_Tomb004I can only imagine the confusion those women felt. The shock at not finding His body, the questioning—yes they remembered His words; could it be true? Had He meant literally “rise from the dead”? The flicker of hope fanning ever brighter. And at last they went to report what they’d seen to the disciples.

Two at least, Peter and John, went to see for themselves. But seeing, they still didn’t totally get it. They recognized that the women had told the truth—the tomb was open and there was no body, even though the grave wrappings were still in place. It was as if His body had evaporated. Today we might think it looked as if His body had been transported elsewhere, leaving the grave wrappings undisturbed.

All they knew was that there was no explanation—apart from the one Jesus had given them repeatedly and with increased frequency: He had risen from the dead. He was alive.

The Living Christ makes Christianity unique among all other religions. And wonderfully, the Bible tells us His resurrection is emblematic of our own resurrection to new life: “and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18b).

Paul clarified this in his first letter to the church in Corinth. Apparently some people were teaching that there was no resurrection. Paul said Christ’s resurrection proved this to be false:

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming (1 Cor. 15:20-23)

So, yes, come Easter morning, celebrate because Jesus has risen; He has risen indeed! He is alive!

This post first appeared here in March 2013.

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Published in: on March 31, 2018 at 4:08 pm  Comments Off on He Is Alive!  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Good Friday?


When I was younger, I was troubled by the fact that Jesus said He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights and yet apparently spent something closer to a day and two nights in the grave.

When I was older, I learned that the way the Jews reckoned time, He would have been considered to be dead and buried for three days. They began reckoning for each day at sunset, not sunrise, so the day He died and was buried would be day one, the Sabbath would be day two, and the end of the Sabbath, at sunset the first day of the week would begin and that would be day three.

I’ll admit, ever since I heard that explanation, I thought it was cheating. Besides, it didn’t answer what Jesus said specifically:

for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt. 12:40 – all caps indicates a quote of the Old Testament, boldface emphasis is mine)

Years and years ago, Pastor Charles Swindoll, who used to pastor my church, preached about Christ’s death and burial, postulating that perhaps we’ve figured His day of death incorrectly. Using the information from the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath and that He was resurrected on the first day of the week, at or before sunrise after the Sabbath.

But there’s a very good possibility that He may have been crucified, not the day before the Sabbath, but before a Sabbath.

First, the crucifixion took place during Passover–not a one-day event, but an eight-day celebration. How the commemoration was to take place is explained in both Leviticus and Numbers. Here’s the description from the latter:

Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover. On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast, unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work . . . On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. (Numbers 28:16-17, 25 – emphasis mine)

These days of “holy convocation,” which could fall on any day of the week, apparently were understood to be a type of Sabbath. Leviticus 23 lists the holy convocations, starting first with the weekly Sabbath, then Passover and finally the Day of Atonement. In describing the latter, the term Sabbath appears:

You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath. (Lev 23:31-32 – emphasis mine)

Now add in the information from the gospels. Mark and Luke say Jesus died on the day of preparation, the next day being the Sabbath (Matthew simply refers to it as the preparation), but John adds some information, clarifying the day of preparation:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14)

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31 – emphasis mine)

A High Day, one of those Holy Convocations, perhaps–treated as a Sabbath. And in this instance, perhaps falling in the middle of the week, a Wednesday, meaning that Jesus would have been buried on Wednesday night, and remained in the tomb all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, just as He said.

How important is our celebration of Good Friday rather than Good Wednesday? Should we start a campaign to get it changed? Hold boycotts of Good Friday services? It’s not an issue that should divide churches and no one’s salvation hangs in the balance because of the day we choose to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And no one should do any of the above to try and sway others into believing something different from the traditional understanding.

There’s much more we could discuss about the events surrounding Jesus’s death: Judas’s betrayal, for instance, and his subsequent suicide; Peter’s adamant statements that he didn’t know Jesus, hours after his failed attempt to prevent His arrest; the passerby named Simon who was commandeered to carry Christ’s cross; the seven recorded statements Jesus made from the cross; the soldiers gamboling for His clothes; the thief making a statement of faith as he hung dying, and Christ’s response to him. Each event is significant and has much to teach.

There’s also a common understanding of what took place after Christ’s death, from three in the afternoon until six. When the Romans realized that Jesus was already dead, they pierced His side “to make sure.” The blood and the water that poured from his pierced heart convinced them He had died.

One of his disciples, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate and claimed the body. He gave up his own grave on Christ’s behalf, then he, along with Nicodemus, wrapped the body in burial cloths with some spices, laid it in the tomb, and rolled the stone in front of the entrance.

This was a hasty burial, no doubt, because they had to finish before the Sabbath which began at six that evening.

Significantly, a group of women who we don’t hear a lot about, but who had followed Jesus also, saw where they put His body: “Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Mark names two of these women: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of a man named Joses. Matthew mentions these two women also, apparently because they stayed by the tomb for a time: “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave” (Matt. 27:61).

Why this is important becomes clear later. But at this point, Jesus was dead.

Of course, we know the end of the story—something none of those first century people understood. Jesus was about to do something new and miraculous and amazing and earth-shattering and death-defying—something only God could do.

This post is a combination of two previous articles: one posted originally in March 2013 and the other in April 2014.

Published in: on March 30, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Passion Of The Christ: The Remaining Four Trials — A Reprise


Arrest_and_Trial011The more closely I read the details of the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, the more convinced I am that they unfolded over a period of days, not hours.

The morning after his arrest, Jesus was hauled in front of the Sanhedrin for a final religious kangaroo court. The decision had been predetermined the night before, but to simulate legality, the elders, chief priests, and scribes gathered together to make it official.

Having declared Jesus a blasphemer, they dragged Him off to Pilate. Not wanting to defile themselves by entering into a Gentile home, which would make them unclean and unable to eat the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they remained outside while Pilate came to them.

I don’t know what they expected. A rubber stamp on their guilty verdict? They didn’t seem prepared. Pilate asked them what Jesus was guilty of and they said, in essence, Trust us, he’s no good. In other words, they made no accusation at first, apart from calling him an evildoer—a fact, they told Pilate, he could believe because they would not have brought him otherwise. A rather circular argument, and one Pilate wasn’t buying.

His first ruling was, You take him and punish him if he’s broken your law.

The Jews cut to the chase, then: “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” But they still had the problem that their accusation of blasphemy was not a crime against Rome.

That’s when they changed tactics and started accusing Jesus of things that would be an affront to the Roman government: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” (Luke 23:2-3)

The last point got Pilate’s attention. Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, he went into the judgment hall and called Jesus to him. In reality, this interview began the first of the three political trials Jesus faced.

Did all these events happen in less than an hour? I have my doubts. In fact, because it was the day after Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath according to Old Testament law, I would postulate that the Pharisees delivered Jesus over to Pilate’s soldiers and scurried on home without hanging around the Gentile judgment hall.

I could be wrong about this. Pilate might have concluded this first trial some time that day, but I think it’s just as possible he didn’t rush right out when the Jews came calling, that he dealt with this legal matter in order, after he’d tended to the usual matters of the day. At this point he would certainly not have had reason to think the situation was an emergency.

At any rate, at some point, whether that day or whether several days later, after the Special Sabbath and the regular Sabbath, in his interview with Jesus, the governor tried to nail him down regarding this accusation that He claimed to be a king.

Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Pilate went outside to the waiting Jewish leaders or those he’d called to him and rendered his verdict regarding Jesus—not guilty. The Pharisees, perhaps growing somewhat desperate, tried to strengthen their case against Jesus, telling Pilate He was stirring up the people from as far away as Galilee.

At last Pilate saw a way out of this mess. King Herod, ruler of the Galilean district, was in Jerusalem for Passover. He could deal with Jesus.

And so ended the first trial.

Did the second trial start that same day? Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. But we are told that up to this point Herod and Pilate didn’t get along. Would Herod have rushed to respond to a message from Pilate that he was sending him a prisoner to examine?

Possibly. Scripture says Herod was eager to talk to Jesus. But did he know at once that Jesus was the prisoner?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know what the protocol was for judicial hearings. I do know that John the Baptist had been kept in prison for days and that Paul, when he was to be tried by Festus, also remained locked up for days. I don’t think there was a Roman policy about a speedy trial.

Scripture does say, Herod “questioned Him at some length” (Luke 23:9a). Was that for hours? All day? We don’t know for sure, but I suspect it was longer than the hour the traditional view of these events would allow.

The thing was, Jesus wouldn’t placate Herod’s curiosity. He refused to answer his questions. Even when the chief priests and scribes showed up to accuse Jesus of crimes He hadn’t committed, He made no defense.

Herod didn’t render a finding but that didn’t stop his soldiers from making sport of Jesus. After the official part of the trial, they decked Him out in a robe, mocked him, and treated him with contempt.

Back Jesus went to Pilate. The governor, according to Luke, had to call the chief priests and scribes together, again an indication that they weren’t standing in the streets waiting for this decision to be handed down.

I suspect by this time they realized they needed more leverage against Pilate. And if these trials were spread over several days, they would have had a reasonable amount of time to stir up some opposition to Jesus.

I don’t see the crowd who welcomed Him into Jerusalem turning against Him in a matter of an hour or so. But given time, word would get out that the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty.

On top of that, there were a number of Messiah claimants who preceded Jesus. Were the people once again disillusioned when the Passover came and went and Jesus didn’t lead them against Roman rule? That’s what most of the Jews expected from the Messiah: He would come as the descendant of David to claim his throne.

At any rate, when Jesus returned to Pilate, the Jewish leaders were prepared. They had the charges they could bring and the people primed to do their part.

Pilate again declared Jesus to be innocent and turned to the people, hoping they would side with him. Instead they clamored for the release of a real insurrectionist named Barabbas, and cried for Jesus to be crucified.

The governor had one ally, though. His wife had had a dream—which fits more perfectly into the timeline of events if she had heard about Jesus appearing before her husband, then had a dream in the night. Whenever this dream occurred, it unsettled her for some time, (“last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him” Matt. 27:19b) to the point that she had to warn Pilate not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.”

Pilate settled on a different punishment from crucifixion—scourging. His soldiers beat Jesus, mocked Him, feigned obeisance to the “King of the Jews”—the people they hated. None of this satisfied the Jewish leaders.

Again they threw the original charge at Jesus: “He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Now Pilate was terrified. But he was more terrified of Rome. When it looked like he’d have a riot on his hands, when the Jewish leaders accused him of being no friend of Caesar’s because he was allowing this rival king to live, he relented.

And so, after all his findings of not guilty, Pilate washed his hands of the matter, literally, and told the Jewish leaders to do what they wanted to do.

Three political trials and one religious trial, all in the space of three hours? It doesn’t seem likely. But if these events were spread out over days, not hours, it’s easy to see them unfold logically—particularly the crowd growing more and more hostile and Pilate’s resistance wearing down.

A non-traditional view of the timeline of the Passion events

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April 2014.

Published in: on March 29, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: The Remaining Four Trials — A Reprise  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Arrest And First Trials – A Reprise


The events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion were kicked off by what we’ve traditionally called “the last supper.” Jesus instructed some of His followers to get things ready for the Passover meal, the first of the eight days of celebration:

Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” (Luke 22:7-8)

Much happened at that meal: Jesus instituted a remembrance ceremony:

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

He also outed Judas—or at least made it known that one of the twelve would betray Him. At some point in the evening, Satan entered Judas.

Another important event during this meal was Jesus confronting Peter with the truth that despite his protestations of loyalty, he would deny Jesus that very night.

Amazingly, in the face of doubts and denials and betrayal, Jesus spent a good deal of time talking with His followers about what was about to happen. He also washed their feet, prayed for them, sang a hymn with them, then headed out to a quiet garden where He could pray.

After a time of fervent communion with His Father and a period of ministry by angels, during which His disciples slept, a group of Roman soldiers and a mob from the chief priests, scribes, and elders, led by Judas, came looking for Jesus. His arrest was nearly without incident.

Peter tried to back up his bold words earlier and took a sword to one of the Roman servants. I used to be bothered by the Biblical record that Peter lopped off this guys ear. It seemed so odd. I couldn’t picture how or why Peter would go after the guy’s ear.

Except, the word for sword, machaira means “a small sword, as distinguished from a large sword,” or “large knife,” the kind a person would most likely use to cleave downward. A possible explanation, then, is that Peter intended to cleave this man’s skull in two, but either he wore a helmet which deflected the blow or he moved to evade it. At any rate, his ear took the brunt of Peter’s action.

After Jesus restored Malchus’s ear, his disciples ran off. I imagine the appearance of a sword riled up the soldiers and they wanted a little payback. At any rate, Jesus was alone with the crowd of Jews and Romans who led him off to his first trial.

He actually had three religious trials of a sort and three political trials. That night after his arrest, He faced the first two religious trials.

First He was led to the house of Annas whose son-in-law was the current High Priest. Here’s what Strong’s Lexicon says about Annas:

high priest of the Jews, elevated to the priesthood by Quirinius the governor of Syria c. 6 or 7 A.D., but afterwards deposed by Valerius Gratus, the procurator of Judaea, who put in his place, first Ismael, son of Phabi, and shortly after Eleazar, son of Annas. From the latter, the office passed to Simon; from Simon c. 18 A.D. to Caiaphas; but Annas even after he had been put out of office, continued to have great influence.

I should say he had influence—over his son, then his son-in-law, if not with the other high priests and elders.

How long did this phase of Jesus’s trial last? We don’t know. But at some point Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, the sitting high priest. He was the one who had counseled the other leaders that they needed to kill Jesus (John 18:14).

No surprise then, that Jesus faced a series of trumped up charges brought by false witnesses. And yet, they couldn’t get the required number of two to agree.

Caiaphas resorted to another illegal tactic—he directly questioned Jesus. The accused was not to give testimony against himself. However, when Jesus answered, Caiaphas declared Him guilty based on the “blasphemy” they’d just heard.

But there were a couple problems. Among the illegal aspects of this trial was the fact that only the Sanhedrin, the group of seventy elders, could determine guilt and only during the day. In addition, Jews, living under the authority of Rome, couldn’t carry out the death sentence. On top of that, blasphemy was not an offense Romans cared about.

Hence, trial number two was not sufficient to accomplish what Caiaphas wanted. There had to be a third religious trial, and then they had to deal with the Romans.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2014.

Published in: on March 28, 2018 at 5:30 pm  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: Arrest And First Trials – A Reprise  
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Jesus, Facing Death


Jesus knew His time had arrived, not for a coronation but for a trial and an execution. But knowing what awaited Him, He still went into Jerusalem.

I imagine most people, including those closest to Him, thought things were pretty much as usual. Sure, they had hopes that Jesus would publicly declare Himself to be the Messiah and seize the throne. But things didn’t start off so well.

I mean, His first stop was the temple, as it so often was, where He once again kicked out the merchants and money changers. I suppose some people might have seen this as an act of defiance toward the powers that be, and perhaps a foreshadowing of the Messiah exercising His authority over the nation. I don’t know. Clearly the Pharisees saw His actions as unwelcome.

The thing that catches my attention most of all is the Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples. In reality, Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor and treated with special respect. Instead, He played the role of host which involved washing the feet of the group. Tradition had the host arrange for the foot-washing when the guests arrived. After all, people mostly walked from place to place, but when they ate, they reclined. In other words, their feet could easily end up in someone else’s face.

At this meal, no one washed feet when they arrived. I don’t know what prompted Jesus to get up from the table and start washing feet. Maybe someone’s feet smelled, but I doubt it. I think He wanted to take the opportunity to teach one of the most important principles He wanted His men to learn: to love one another.

After all, they’d been arguing about who was the greatest and about who would sit on his left and His right hand. He wanted to give them a living example they would remember of selflessness: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14).

The fact that Jesus washed their feet is amazing enough, but when I realize that Judas was still with them and Jesus washed the feet of the very man who would sell Him out, seems shocking. Peter was there to, and before the night was out he’d swear he didn’t know Jesus. Of course, the rest weren’t much better: they all left Him when the mob came to arrest Him.

And Jesus knew those events would take place—the betrayal, the denial, the desertions. Yet He washed their feet.

John, at the beginning of his account of that last supper, included this statement, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1b).

His act of washing feet had to be an act of love. He was doing servants’ work. But who could miss His injunction to go and do likewise. I know some churches in the past took that idea literally and had feet-washing services.

I attended a few of those when I was growing up. The way it worked was like this: men went in one room and women in another. Then the people paired up. So one woman washed the feet of one other woman, and then they reversed the role.

Jesus washed the feet of twelve men.

I’m guessing they stayed reclined at the table while He moved from person to person. I wonder if any of them looked for another towel and tried to come alongside Him to get the job done. We certainly have no record of that, and I wonder why. Wouldn’t it have been shocking to see Jesus bending over those dirty, calloused feet, scrubbing away the road dirt, and drying them so they could continue their time around the table without irritating each other with the filth that did not belong at a meal. I can’t imagine all those guys just sitting there munching away at the Passover lamb while the Lamb of God did the work of a servant.

But that’s what He wanted to show them. I know some people mock the idea of servant leadership, but that’s precisely what Jesus modeled for us, and then commanded us to do.

Lots of people understand the verses in Philippians 2 about Christ’s humility, and they are very important.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In reality, this simple act of washing the disciples’ feet fits in with those verses in a powerful way. Not only did Jesus give up the glory of heaven, come to earth as a man, and ultimately died the death we deserved—a huge sacrifice—He also did the small sacrifice, the private sacrifice behind closed doors, the act of service that demonstrated His love in the face of indifference, at best. Because clearly, none of those men cared enough to wash His feet.

It’s like a microcosm of His offer of salvation. He came to save even the people who nailed Him to the cross. In the face of their rejection—Pilate caring more about the approval of Caesar than true justice, the Jewish leaders concerned more about keeping Rome out of their business, the Roman centurions concerned more about doing what they were told, the people more concerned about their dashed hopes—Jesus offered forgiveness.

Just as He does today.

Published in: on March 27, 2018 at 5:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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Only Sinners Need A Savior


Jesus made the point to the Pharisees that only sick people need a physician. He finished by telling them, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I think Christians today come to faith in Jesus Christ because we realize we aren’t righteous. We are, in fact, sinners.

Of all the ways in which society has changed during my life time—and it is quite different than when I was growing up—one of the changes that is hardest for me to understand is the prevailing thought that humans are good, that we deserve all that is deemed good.

We are good but we aren’t perfect, some will say. Which calls into question the meaning of good. Is good a relative term, as in, I’m not as bad as I am good. Or is it comparative, as in, That guy isn’t as good as I am? We could also say, My quota of good is greater than it was five years ago.

None of those ideas of “good” eliminates any “bad” however. So how can a person ever know if he is good enough?

The Christian has an easy answer, one that isn’t original with any of us. It’s actually something God revealed. Simply put, no good outweighs even the smallest bad. Because the definition of good is, perfect.

The truth, then, is that only perfect people don’t need a Savior. And who among us is perfect?

We can equivocate all we want, but eventually we have to face the facts that either in our thought life or our actions or in what we say we have not been good, we are not always good.

Ben Franklin is a good example. He analyzed his character and thought there were some traits he needed to improve, so he decided to concentrate on one at a time for a set period of time. The problem was, when he felt he had improved that one trait and moved on to concentrate on a new area, he found that the first trait had slid right back into the bin of “needs improvement.” He simply could not change by self-effort.

So even if we determined that the not perfect parts of us should change, we simply are not in a position to do more than cosmetically improve them. And we’re left with the consequences of our being “not good” in a specific area. For instance, what about lying? We might otherwise use our speech in beneficial ways, but if we lie, we can damage ourselves and others. We can break relationships because others no longer trust us, so if we praise them, they don’t believe us. If we report that we’ve finished a task at work, the boss doubts us. If we tell our spouse we have to work late, they are suspicious of us.

But we only have one little problem.

The real point here is that the relationship most at risk is a relationship with God. He is perfect and we are not, so how is that supposed to work? The closest I can come to picture this is a person with hands coated with mud attempting to shake hands with someone wearing white gloves. The contact would immediately transfer some amount of mud onto the gloves, so the handshake isn’t going to happen.

Unless . . .

The person with the gloves could take them off and give them to us to wipe away the mud. Then we’d have clean hands and could have the contact the mud prevented. In other words, we need someone to step in who is in a position to do what we couldn’t do. We need someone to remove our sin.

So Jesus did that. For sinners who come to Him.

Published in: on March 26, 2018 at 5:41 pm  Comments Off on Only Sinners Need A Savior  
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Why Did Jesus Come?


Most Christians can give a Biblical answer to the question, why did Jesus come to earth? As the Son of God, as a person in the Trinity, He certainly had no burning need to share in the experience of humanity. He came because He had some things that He could best accomplish in the likeness of mankind.

One thing is clear to us now that was not clear for the people of the first century. That is, Jesus came to die.

But before He fulfilled that pivotal role, He first came to live. He clarified this purpose to His closest followers the night before His arrest. He explained that He walked among us in order to show us the Father.

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. (John 14:8-10)

It’s kind of funny that some people who do not believe in God’s existence say that if he would just come down and show himself then they could believe, but since he is invisible, they have no way to verify that he’s real.

I say it’s funny, but in a sad sort of way, because that’s exactly what Jesus did. He came to earth to show us what God is like. To make the point, He did all kinds of miraculous things, the kinds of things that only God can do.

One of my favorites was when some of the religious Jews confronted Peter about whether or not Jesus paid the temple tax. Peter said He did, though as the story unfolds, it’s clear He hadn’t paid it that year, or that month, or whenever it was collected. Jesus basically told Peter that the family of God was exempt, but in order not to offend, they’d pay. Then He sent the fisherman out to catch a fish. And inside the mouth of the fish, he’d find a gold coin that would cover the tax for both of them. (See Matthew 17:24-27). Really? Did Jesus have miraculous knowledge of what that fish had ingested? Did He miraculously put the coin in the fish’s mouth? Did He miraculously put the fish in Peter’s net?

Pretty much we have to say no amount of “coincidence” could explain this incredible event. But Matthew wrote about it, so clearly, this was not some secret thing that happened that only Peter and Jesus knew about. This is simply one of those works that Jesus referred to as the Father’s works.

Same with feeding the 5000 hungry men, their wives, and children who also might have been present. All He had were a few loaves of bread and a couple fish, but He blessed it, then started the distribution process. Everyone had enough to eat and there were baskets and baskets of leftovers.

Yes, Jesus blessed the food, as if to make a public display that this work was of God.

As if such a miracle might not be believed by people who weren’t there, He did it again for a crowd of 4000 men. That’s 9000 men, plus women and children, who witnessed this multiplication of food.

That only scratches the surface when it comes to the works of God that Jesus performed. He gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, healed the lame and the maimed, and on and one. Why? Because He came as a healer? Not really. In fact when the word spread in a community, instead of being sure that He healed every last person, He at times moved on. At other times He told the person He healed to tell no one about the miracle.

These were signs, not the reason for His coming. He knew that as a man, His life was just a vapor, same as ours. He knew He faced death, that He wouldn’t be there to heal the people in the next generation or in far away places. He didn’t come to heal everyone any more than He came to set up an earthly kingdom.

Instead, He wanted people far and wide, down through the centuries, to know who God is.

So what do we learn about God by looking at Jesus?

The first thing that comes to my mind is that He welcomes everyone. Jesus wasn’t about finding the richest, though He didn’t turn away the rich; He wasn’t looking for the most religious, though He didn’t turn away the religious; He wasn’t seeking the most powerful, though He didn’t turn away the powerful.

But everyone was welcome. When He went to a new community, He went to the synagogue. When He went to Jerusalem, He went daily to the temple. And yet the people that followed Him were fishermen, tax collectors, even someone we’d probably classify as a terrorist. Women followed Him—some were married to Roman officials, some were prostitutes, some were widows. He really didn’t care. If they came to Him, He welcomed them.

That’s God’s heart. If someone wants to come to Him, He will “in no wise cast Him out.” The NASB translates it this way: “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

The fact that Jesus welcomed everyone, showing us God’s heart and His desire to welcome everyone, shows us more: God’s desire for relationship, even with the people who have turned away from Him. Consequently, He’s also willing to forgive and willing to provide the means to forgive, both the faith we need to believe and the payment of the debt that keeps us separated from Him.

There’s really not much we can’t learn about God by looking at Jesus.

Published in: on March 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off on Why Did Jesus Come?  
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Save Now!


Hosanna! the people cried as Jesus made His way up the road to Jerusalem crowning Mount Zion. Those thousands of Jews gathered from all over the area, making their Passover pilgrimage, had heard about this miracle worker who raised the dead and healed the blind and fed thousands with a few loaves of bread.

Wasn’t he the one they were waiting for? There had been others and even more in the future, all claiming to be the One God had sent to bring the people of Israel back to a place of independence and relevance.

In the years before Christ’s birth, the desire for a savior grew along with the hated Roman rule. So no wonder the crowds who witnessed the signs and wonders Jesus performed, who heard His stories and teaching about the kingdom of God, looked to Him and expected Him to take the next step. They wanted Him to declare Himself, to rally an army or to call down God’s miraculous power and judgment against Israel’s enemies.

They wanted to be saved.

The problem was, they didn’t understand that their real need was the enemy within, not an enemy without.

So on that fateful day when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the people were convinced their Messiah had come. They joined the parade of His followers, adding their cloaks to the path and waving palm branches as they would for a conquering hero. Because that’s exactly who they thought Jesus was. And they cried, Hosanna!

Save now!

And He did.

But no walls fell. No fire and brimstone. No miraculous defeat of the Roman forces.

Oh, sure, Jesus chased out the money changers from the temple. That was promising. But where was the judgment hurled against the Romans?

What the people missed amid their cries of Hosanna was that the judgment they looked for was the judgment Jesus took upon Himself. The innocent one, who knew no sin became sin for us.

The people looking for victory missed the victory over death that Christ’s own death secured.

The crowds were right to cry, Save now! That’s what Jesus came to do. But the spiritual kingdom of the Christ looked far different from the one they expected.

His kingdom included Gentiles and extended for centuries into the future. In fact, it makes possible everlasting life. And it’s built on forgiveness, mercy, compassion, love. Not revenge, judgment, exclusion.

But the people didn’t know that then. They cried Hosanna because they wanted a hero. God’s man who they’d read about in the prophets and the psalms. And this Jesus was clearly from God, wasn’t he? I mean, no sinner would be able to cleanse a leper or make the lame walk.

So cry Hosanna, they did. And they were right, because Jesus does save. They just didn’t understand what He wanted to save them from, not then, and not in the days that followed when the crowd became a mob instead and started chanting, Crucify him, crucify him.

Well, today we can see the irony. Those first century Jews were saying the right thing, but they didn’t understand what it meant. We understand, but are we still saying the right thing?

Published in: on March 22, 2018 at 6:21 pm  Comments Off on Save Now!  
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Spring


Here in SoCal, winter came late this year. We had one devastating rain storm in January, and then nothing until March. Since the storms have come, we’ve had a series of them one after the other. Never much rain, but definitely cooler temperatures.

And now it’s likely over. After tomorrow, there’s just no rain on the horizon. Of course we could break the mold and have rain in April, but that would be a bit shocking.

Elsewhere in our country, people are enjoying a final snow day, but they, too, realize, spring is just around the corner. The signs are there. The old growth is sporting new, birds are singing, squirrels are cavorting from tree to tree, buds are blossoming.

Spring is the greatest testimony to new life that we can possibly imagine.

New life is precisely what Easter celebrates, only on a much greater scale—new life that is everlasting. New life that goes beyond the physical, new life that changes things now and changes things forever after.

Interesting that the Bible uses the metaphor of a seed “dying” only to bring new life up from the soil. That’s the picture of resurrection life, the very thing Jesus experienced so that we would know what’s going to take place in the future.

Because a lot of the fear or dread of dying comes from not knowing.

Jesus simply erased that by showing up so we know. When, that’s still in question. But the fact of the new life, that’s as certain as the dawn.

So is the new life that we enjoy now as people set free from the Law, from guilt, and from slavery to sin. The new life now is just as much a part of Easter as the new life then. It’s not as dramatic, perhaps, though it might be.

When someone has been abusive and no longer is, or addicted and is suddenly set free, their new lives are pretty dramatic and notable. A pastor here in SoCal who I hear from time to time on the radio, admits that his life was headed in the wrong direction when he was a young man. He did any number of things he isn’t proud of, but today he’s the teaching pastor of a church that has as its mission, “To proclaim to the city of Los Angeles that ‘there’s God in heaven who loves you.’ ”

That’s new life in the here and now.

No, Christians don’t suddenly become perfect. But when we blow it, when we revert to the old life, we have God’s love and forgiveness and power through His Spirit so that we can change.

The movie I Can Only Imagine is the true account of another man whose life was a disaster. He wasn’t just heading the wrong way, he was already there. Abusive to his wife and son, to the point that she up and left him, his hard heart only turned harder. Until he met Christ.

Then this “monster” became the kind of man his son wanted to become.

Here’s the movie trailer, which gives an idea of the transformation that took place.

That’s what new life looks like in the here and now. Young or old, rich or poor, male or female, any ethnicity or skin color or language in all the world, and God can transform what we were to the likeness of His Son.

Jesus was the one who welcomed children, who fed the hungry, who invited the outcasts to join him, touched the diseased, brought health and healing to the “crazy man,” praised people the religious folk didn’t even notice. Why? Because just like His Father, He loves the world.

So He wants to bring new life. On a grand scale. On an eternal scale.

He did so by giving up His life so we might be declared free, clean, new.

Published in: on March 21, 2018 at 5:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Walking The Tight Rope – A Reprise



Blondin carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on a tightrope

A few years ago, self-designated King of High Wire, Nik Wallenda, took his act to Niagara Falls.

It had been a hundred and fifty years since anyone made the attempt to cross the raging waters balanced on a wire stretched from shore to shore.

I’m sure there would have been other attempts, but state law banned the feat inside the State Park. Wallenda, following in his famous grandfather’s tragic footsteps, was able to cut through the red tape and gain permission to make the try directly above the Falls, not further downstream where other famous performers worked.

Charles Blondin was one who successfully made the walk. A famous circus performer in the middle of the nineteenth century, he gained special fame for his “different theatrical variations: blindfolded, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying a man (his manager, Harry Colcord) on his back, sitting down midway while he cooked and ate an omelet and standing on a chair with only one chair leg on the rope” (from Wikimedia, “Charles Blondin”).

Call it courageous or call it fool-hearty, these incredible performers know that one misstep may be their last, as was the experience of Nik Wallenda’s 73-year-old grandfather, Karl. There’s no place for detours or side trips, no wandering astray for a time, not even mentally. This is life or death on the straight and narrow.

What a metaphor for life. All of us can take the straight and narrow–choosing the only Way, Jesus Christ who reconciles us with God–or we can step out into the wide open spaces and float or sail or dive merrily toward destruction.

How restrictive, some say, to walk that one path, that only way. Why can’t a different path get us to the other side just as well?

The wire might look scary and the walk might be buffeted by winds, but there simply is no other way. In contrast, free falling might look like fun, but that’s a way down, not a way across.

Myself, I’d rather not make the crossing, but of course, in life, we don’t have that option. One way or the other, we will leave this shore. Knowing this, it seems imperative to learn everything I can about walking the wire.

Of course we can change the metaphor. Rather than me walking the straight and narrow, I can instead put my trust in the skilled and practiced King to carry me across. On his back, in the wheelbarrow–He can take me however He chooses. It’s His show, not mine.

This article is an edited version of one that appeared here in June 2-12.

Published in: on March 20, 2018 at 6:09 pm  Comments Off on Walking The Tight Rope – A Reprise  
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