PASSION WEEK: The Days in Between, Part Two

On the second day following the triumphal entry, when Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem, they were immediately approached by the chief priests and the scribes, who challenged Jesus’ authority to do the things He had been doing. Jesus answered their question with one of His own, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or was it from man?” Perceiving that an answer either way would put them in a lose-lose situation, the chief priests and the scribes responded by saying they did not know, to which Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by whose authority I act.” (Mark 11:26-33).

Jesus then told the parable of the tenants, which spoke of a vineyard owner who sent some of his servants to get fruit from the vineyard from the tenants who were leasing the vineyard. The tenants beat or killed one servant after another, and so the vineyard owner sent his own son, whom the tenants then proceeded to kill. Perceiving that Jesus had told this parable against them, the chief priests and the scribes now sought to arrest Jesus, but they were afraid of the reaction of the people. So, instead of having Jesus arrested, they left Him and went away (Mark 12:1-12).

The chief priests and scribes then sent the Pharisees and Sadducees to question Jesus, with the purpose of trying to trap Him in what He said. Jesus was questioned about taxes, about the resurrection, about which of the commandments is the greatest. Jesus answered each of these in such a way that the Pharisees and Sadducees, seeing that they could not succeed in entrapping Him, did not dare to ask Him any more questions (Mark 12:13-34).

Later that day, Jesus left the temple and went with His disciples to the Mount of Olives. It was there that some of the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of the end of the age. Jesus responded by telling them that there would be many who would be teaching false teachings, there would be wars, rumors of wars, famine, and earthquakes. He warned that believers must be on guard as they will suffer persecution, but they must continue to preach the gospel to all nations. Jesus spoke about tribulation that would come and about His return in glory and power. But, as to when all of these things would place, He taught that no one knows except for the Father (Mark 13:3-37).

On the next day, the day before His Passion would begin, Jesus went to the home of Simon, a leper whom He had healed. While Jesus sat at the table in Simon’s home, a woman came with an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with it. That very same day, the chief priests and scribes began to plot to have Jesus arrested and put to death. And one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus. In return, Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver. Everything was now in place for the Passion of Jesus to begin (Mark 14:1-11).

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.

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