PASSION WEEK: The Days in Between, Part One

To my readers: Last year, I posted a series of blog posts on the theme of Passion Week, the events leading up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I wanted to share those with you again, beginning with this post, PASSION WEEK: THE DAYS IN BETWEEN, PART ONE.

Throughout the world this week, Christians will be focusing on the Passion of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the emphasis is on the events that took place on the three days we know as Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday. On those days, we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper and prayer at Gethsemane, and Jesus’ arrest, suffering, and crucifixion. But what happened during the days between the triumphal entry and the Last Supper, between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday?

Following the triumphal entry, Jesus spent some time looking around the temple. Then, in what seems like an anti-climactic end to a day that began with crowds cheering and praising Him, calling out to Him, “Hosanna!” which means “save us,” Jesus returned to Bethany, where He had been staying along with His disciples. Over the next few days, Jesus and His disciples would travel back and forth between Bethany and Jerusalem, a trip of about two miles. The clock was ticking as the days and hours brought Jesus closer to what He had been sent here for, His suffering, His death and His resurrection.

The next day, Jesus and the disciples made their way back to Jerusalem. At the temple that day, an event occurred that was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to the chief priests’ and scribes’ opinion of Jesus. As He entered the temple, Jesus began driving out the buyers and sellers, overturning the tables of the money-changers, saying, “My house shall be a house of prayer! But you have made it a den of thieves!” The chief priests and the scribes saw and heard all this and began seeking a way to destroy Jesus. Their anger must have burned at Jesus, a person they perceived as nothing more than a rabble-rouser and a blasphemer. But since they feared the crowds who were amazed at Jesus’ words, they did nothing, and Jesus left Jerusalem for Bethany once again that evening (Mark 11:15-19). But He was now one day closer to that which He had come for, to suffer and die for the sins of man.

On the second day following the triumphal entry, as they made their way back to Jerusalem, Jesus taught His disciples (and us) an important in faith and forgiveness. Jesus said that, through faith, we can move a mountain and that any prayer that is offered with faith, without doubting, is a prayer that will receive an answer. He also spoke about the importance of forgiving the trespasses of others, pointing out that when we do, God will also forgive us (Mark 11:20-25). That began what would be one of the most event-filled days leading up to the Passion.

PASSION WEEK: So It Begins…

“So it begins.”

These were the words uttered by King Théoden, the king and Lord of the Mark of Rohan in The Two Towers, the second part of the movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Théoden uttered this phrase as he prepared for a fictional battle between good and evil at Helm’s Deep. About two thousand years ago, a real battle between good and evil was about to begin. But this was not a battle that would be fought with the weapons of the world. This battle would take place in the spiritual realm.

So it begins…

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. (John 12:1-2, NLT)

On the day before the day we now know as Palm Sunday, a special dinner was taking place in Bethany, at the home of Lazarus to honor Jesus. When people heard of Jesus’ arrival in Bethany, they flocked to see Him, as well as to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead. This angered the chief priests because they saw the large number of Jews who were following Jesus because of that miracle. The chief priests plotted to kill Jesus and Lazarus, as well.

So it begins…

The very next day, Jesus made His way to Jerusalem. Jesus rode triumphantly into the city, not on a magnificent steed, but on the back of a lowly donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah, which said, “Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9, NLT).”

As He entered the city, He was met by a great crowd of people who had heard that He was coming. Many of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of Jesus, and others cut down palm branches and spread them on the road. As they did this they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9-11, NIV)

The crowd was recognizing Jesus as the awaited Messiah, the Son of David. And so they shouted, “Hosanna!” The word hosanna comes from the Hebrew phrase hoshi’ ah na’, which means “save us.” They believed that the Messiah would one day come to save them from their oppressors, who at the time of Jesus were the Romans. And so, as the crowd spread their garments on the road before Jesus, they were welcoming Him and recognizing Him as their king, just as they had done long before when Jehu was their king (2 Kings 9:13). But, in just a matter of a few days, many of those who shouted “Hosanna!” would be yelling “Crucify Him!” as the battle between good and evil, the battle to save the souls of mankind, began.

So it begins…

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Be Holy Because I Am Holy

You just received a letter from Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth II is coming to America and she wants to visit you. After you pick your jaw up from the floor, you continue reading. The Queen will be arriving soon but, for reasons of security, she cannot give you an exact date or time that she will visit you. What do you do next? After reading the letter again to be sure you read it correctly, you look around your house. It seems reasonably clean and orderly but, hey, the Queen of England is coming to visit. So you get out the mop and broom and begin to give your house a thorough cleaning.

Over 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist traveled the Judean wilderness with a message for all within earshot, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” (Matthew 3:2). John was letting the people know that Jesus, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, was about to arrive. But John did not know the day or the time at which Jesus would arrive, and so he wanted those to whom he preached to be ready, to get their houses in order. But John was not talking about their physical houses, the places in which they ate and slept. John was talking about their hearts and their lives. They needed to repent of their sins and turn their hearts to God. They needed to do a thorough spiritual cleaning.

The word repent means “to change one’s mind and act on that change.” It doesn’t mean just being sorry for what you’ve done. It doesn’t mean just expressing regret or remorse over your sins. Those things are good and necessary, but what is truly needed is a changed mind and a changed life. And that change needs to be evident. In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist said, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” In other words, we can’t just look all neat and clean on the outside, we need to be clean on the inside, as well. And the evidence of that is in how we live our lives. We are called to be holy, to live in accordance with the Spirit and not in accordance with the flesh.

1 Peter 1:14-16 says, “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.'” Peter is addressing those of us who have already received the gift of salvation, those of us who have already accepted Jesus as Savior and have given our hearts to Him, those who have already repented and turned our hearts to God. When we entered that life-changing relationship with Jesus, we did our spiritual spring cleaning. Before we knew Jesus, we did not know any better. But now that we know Him, we must keep our house clean. We must be ready to do our spiritual house cleaning because we must be holy for Jesus is holy.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Preaching the Good News to Nineveh

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2 NIV)

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, a nation which, in the days of Jonah, was not only the major power in the Middle East, but also an enemy of Israel. So, when God told Jonah that He wanted him to go to Nineveh and preach against it, you would think that Jonah would have said, “On my way, Lord!” After all, because of the wickedness that God saw in that city, He was ready to cast judgment on it and to destroy it. But instead, Jonah got up and hightailed it in the opposite direction (Jonah 1:3). He went to Joppa and took the next boat out of town, heading for Tarshish, which was as far in the opposite direction from Nineveh as Jonah could possibly go at that time. Jonah was a reluctant prophet.

But God was not letting Jonah off that easily. God sent a raging storm that threatened not only Jonah’s life, but also the lives of the sailors on the ship headed to Tarshish. To stop the storm from destroying the ship and everyone on it, the sailors threw Jonah overboard. The storm was quieted and God gave Jonah a “time out” by sending a great fish to swallow Jonah and give him time to think. Jonah sat in the belly of that fish for three days and when he prayed and gave praise to God, God ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach. God gave Jonah a second chance. Once again, he told Jonah to get up and deliver His message to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-2). This time, Jonah did what God told him to do (Jonah 3:3-4).

What was the reason for Jonah’s reluctance the first time God told him to preach against Nineveh? Perhaps he was afraid of what the Ninevites might do to him. After all, they were known for their violence. Perhaps it was because, as an Israelite, Jonah felt he would be betraying his own country by warning the Ninevites of God’s impending judgment. But, if you read through the book of Jonah, you’ll discover that what was really behind Jonah’s reluctance, what really sent him on a journey to try to flee from God’s presence and God’s plan for him was because Jonah knew God. Jonah knew that the God he served was merciful and compassionate. He knew that his God was slow to anger and filled with a love that never fails. And that means that Jonah knew that if Nineveh repented, they would not face the judgment and destruction that they deserved.

Nineveh did repent. As a result, they were spared the judgment and destruction that Jonah had told them they were facing (Jonah 3:5-10). And Jonah? Was he happy that, as a result of his preaching God’s word, the Ninevites repented and were spared the consequences of their wickedness? Nope! Jonah was upset and became angry with God (Jonah 4:1-3). Basically, he said, “God, I knew this was going to happen! I knew that because You are merciful, loving, and compassionate, You would spare these people! That’s why I didn’t want to do this to begin with! Kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than to see this.”

God responded to Jonah’s tantrum by saying, “Is it right for you to be so angry about this?” And Jonah went off and sulked (Jonah 4:4-5). It’s easy for us to read this and say, “Right, God! You tell him! What right does he have to be so angry that his enemy was spared?” But, if we’re really honest about it, although we may not have ever said it, we probably would feel the same way Jonah felt if God were to spare those whom we dislike, those whom we consider enemies, those who, in our eyes, don’t deserve God’s mercy and compassion. The book of Jonah ends with a question, asked by God: “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:11 NLT)

God created all people. He created us. He created our enemies. He created those who live in ways that deserve His judgment. Truth is, we are all sinners. But when you read Jonah 4:11, when you read Matthew 18:12-14, and when you read 2 Peter 3:9, it is very clear that God desires that all people should be saved, that all people should be given the chance to receive eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV) says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God loves the world. Not the planet, but the people who live on it. And, if God loves them, so should we. We have a mission, given to us by Jesus (Matthew 28:19, Acts 1:8). We are to preach the good news of salvation through Jesus to all people, not just to those we love, not to our neighbors and friends, but even to those whom we do not like, even to our enemies. We are to preach the good news to Nineveh.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Keys to Victory

2 Chronicles 20:1-30 outlines one of the greatest achievements in the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. It’s also one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament. It’s the story of Judah’s defeat of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites, who had banded together to attack Judah. Judah’s victory in this battle resulted in a kingdom that was at peace. It’s an amazing, inspiring story. But more than being just an inspiring story it points to some key things that the Holy Spirit is prompting me to talk about, things that are keys to victory in our lives.

Jehoshaphat had received the alarming news that this vast army of the combined enemies of the nation of Judah was quickly marching against it. The news terrified Jehoshaphat but it also put into motion some keys, some actions on the part of Jehoshaphat and Judah, that resulted in victory. The first key is found in verse 3:

Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance.

Jehoshaphat’s first response to the alarming news he received was to get on his knees and seek the Lord in prayer, asking the Lord for guidance. This immediately led to Jehoshaphat’s next response, also in verse 3:

He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting.

Rather than try in his own strength to come up with a battle plan, Jehoshaphat first sought God’s divine guidance and then ordered all of Judah to fast. As a good and godly leader, Jehoshaphat set the example for the people of Judah, which led to the response that we see in verse 4:

So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.

All of Judah began to seek the Lord’s help. So, the first two keys that led to Judah’s victory were prayer and fasting. In verses 6 through 12, we see that Jehoshaphat prayed an incredibly powerful prayer. He admitted that they were powerless to stop the enemy that was about to attack them but he knew that the Lord was not, the Lord was powerful and mighty, and He would hear and rescue them. When Jehoshaphat finished praying, the Holy Spirit came upon a Levite named Jahaziel and he began to prophecy, saying:

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!”

This prophetic word led to the next key to victory: praise and worship. Jehoshaphat and all of Judah began praising and worshiping the Lord. They knew that He was on their side, that He would ensure their victory over the enemies who sought to destroy them. And then, the next morning, Jehoshaphat appointed the singers to lead the army of Judah as they went out to meet the enemy. Not the soldiers, not the most skilled archers. He sent the worship team out in front! They would fight not with the weapons of the world, but with the heavenly weapon of praise. The result? The Lord caused the armies of Judah’s enemies to start fighting among themselves. When the army of Judah arrived, not a single one of the enemy was left alive. What an amazing story!

So, how can we can apply this to our lives? Just as Judah had enemies that sought to destroy it, we have an enemy who seeks to destroy us and he will do whatever he can to cause us to despair, to become discouraged, and to cringe in fear when facing difficult circumstances. When that happens, we need to follow the example we see in 2 Chronicles 20. We need to use the keys to victory that Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah used: prayer, fasting, praise and worship. We need to seek the Lord’s guidance through prayer and fasting and we need to give Him the praise, worshiping Him for the victory that, through Him, will come.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

How Big Are Your Giants?

In Numbers 13, the twelve men that were sent out to explore the Promised Land returned to give their report to Moses. They began their report by telling Moses and the rest of the Israelites that the land God had promised them was bountiful, a land flowing with milk and honey that produced the most amazing fruit (v. 27). And then, after showing the people the samples of the fruit they brought back with them, the next word out of their mouths was, “but…” They then proceeded to tell the people that the land was occupied by powerful people living in fortified cities and not only that, but there were also giants there (v. 28).

When Caleb tried to assure the people that he was certain that they could and should conquer the land (v. 30), ten of the other men then began telling the Israelites that all of the people who occupied the land were huge, so huge in fact that, next to them, they felt like grasshoppers. The Israelites listened to this negative report and, in disobedience to God, chose not to try to take the land. In fact, God told them that none of their generation would live to see the Promised Land, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. For these Israelites, their giants were so big that they kept them from receiving what God had for them. They were looking at their giants through the lens of fear. The lens of fear is like a magnifying glass that makes things look bigger than they actually are.

How big are your “giants?”

How big are the things in your life that keep you from stepping into what God has for you? Are your “giants” so big that they keep you wandering in the “wilderness?” Maybe your “giants” are unemployment, addiction, marital problems, or health issues. Here’s the thing, just as the ten spies looked at the people who lived in Canaan and only saw “giants,” when you look at your problems through the lens of fear, they become magnified, they become “giants.” And when our problems become “giants” in our eyes, fear paralyzes us and keeps us from stepping into God’s plan and purpose for our lives.

Let’s fast forward through the Old Testament to 1 Samuel 17. The Israelites, under King Saul, were preparing to do battle with the Philistines. As they gathered near the valley of Elah, the two armies faced each other from the hills on opposite sides of the valley (v. 1-3). The Israelites were probably confident that they would have victory over the Philistines but then it happened. A giant appeared. His name was Goliath, and he stood about nine feet, nine inches tall (v.4). Goliath issued a challenge (v. 8-9), “Send one man to fight me. If I am defeated, we will become your slaves. But if I am victorious, then you will become our slaves.” And so, a giant stood before the Israelites, threatening to come between them and victory. How did they react? Verse 11 says that they were terrified and deeply shaken! None of the Israelites would accept Goliath’s challenge. They looked at the giant through the lens of fear. But then came David.

David was a boy and a shepherd. He had never fought in a battle, had no experience as a soldier, but David stepped forward and told King Saul not to worry about the Philistine giant. He would fight him (v. 32). Saul gave his own armor and sword to David but, after trying them out, David took them off and gave them back (v. 38-39). David then picked up some smooth stones, put them in his shepherd’s bag, and headed off to face Goliath with only a sling and a shepherd’s staff (v. 40). Why was David able to do what the entire army of Israel could not? It’s because David looked at his giant not through the lens of fear, but through the lens of faith. Look at what David said to Goliath as he stood facing this giant:

David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the LORD will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the LORD rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the LORD’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).

David knew that his God was bigger than the giant that faced him. And so, when Goliath made a move to attack, David did not walk up to this giant, he “quickly ran to meet him” (v. 48). And with just a sling and a stone, and God on his side, David took down that giant.

We have two choices when we face the “giants” in our lives. We can either look at them through the lens of fear and allow them to keep us from what God has for us. Or we can look at them through the lens of faith, knowing that God is with us and that He will help us to defeat them. Nothing is impossible when we have God on our side. In Luke 18:27, Jesus said, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”

So, how big are your giants? Or, perhaps the better question is, how big is your God?

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Be Prepared: No One Knows the Day or the Time

Twenty years ago, the United States, like many other countries throughout the world, was preparing for what was expected to be a catastrophic, almost apocalyptic event: Y2K. It was feared that when the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999, disaster would strike. Why? Because computers had been programmed using only two-digits to denote the year in dates. So the concern was that when the year 2000 began, computers would not know if it was 2000 or 1900. In the years leading up to 2000, there was a lot of fear about what the results would be if there was a computer problem.

People began preparing for doomsday. Would the power grid go down? Would we be unable to access our money in the banks? Non-perishable foods were stockpiled. A multitude of Y2K survival books hit the bookshelves. People built shelters in which they could hide from the inevitable wave of crime that would occur. Bootcamps that taught wilderness survival became popular. And NBC even made a TV movie about the disaster that was to come.

Y2K came and went without a problem. But the reaction of people to what might have happened but didn’t indicated a strong desire for survival. People wanted to avoid the trials and tribulation that the Y2K problem could possibly bring. But there is a time coming that will bring trials and tribulation like none ever seen before. Earthquakes, wars, famine, plagues. These are just a few of the things that will accompany this time of tribulation. How do we know that this will happen? Because it has been prophesied in the Word of God. Prophets such as Daniel and Isaiah spoke of this time. The apostle John wrote about it in the book of Revelation.

Jesus Himself said, “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place… Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again.” (Matthew 24:15–21)

No one knows when this time of great tribulation will take place. No one. No person here on earth, none of the angels in heaven, not even the Son of God Himself. No one knows but God the Father (Matthew 24:36). When Y2K was approaching, we knew when it would come. It would arrive when the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999. And so, many of us began preparing for the disaster that was anticipated. But there is no date we can look to for the great tribulation. It will come unexpectedly, and so we must be prepared.

We don’t need to stockpile food or sign up for a wilderness-survival bootcamp. To prepare for the great tribulation, we need to repent of our sins and turn to Jesus. Joel 2:12 says, “That is why the LORD says,
‘Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.'”
We need to believe that Jesus died for us and that He rose again so that we may have eternal life. We need to make Him the Lord of our lives and follow His ways. Because here’s the thing. Although we don’t know when that time of tribulation will begin, what we do know is this. It will be preceded by an event that is the hope of all believers in Jesus:

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17)

Before that time of great tribulation, Jesus will return. But He will not set foot on the earth at that time. That will take place at the end of the time of tribulation. Instead, all who believe in him, both living in dead, will be caught up to meet Him in the air. That is the Blessed Hope, and that is good reason to be prepared.

If you have never given your heart to Jesus, there’s no better time to do that than now. All it takes is pray to Him, to confess that you are a sinner, ask Him to forgive you, declare that you believe that He died for you and that you will make Him the Lord of your life, as you choose to follow Him all the days of your life.

If you have made that decision today, if you have turned your heart and your life to Jesus, let someone know. Find a Bible-believing church and talk to a pastor.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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