On a cold winter’s day in January 1905, a baptism of new adult believers took place in the river estuary at Fishguard, a little harbor town in west Wales. It was windy, and there was a storm, yet over 1,000 people stood on the bridge and along the coastal paths to watch and burst out with shouts of praise and singing as 93 people gave profession of faith and were immersed in the water, rising up to newness of life. A contemporary regional newspaper wrote of the event that “even the spray and rocks seemed to join in with the praise”.
On Palm Sunday the multitude had loudly welcomed Jesus, honouring him and glorifying God. Their hearts were open, but fickle. The same voices which called out praises were to call out “crucify” only a few days later. Some of the Pharisees on the other hand were unmoved. They were hard-hearted. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” So much for orthodox legalism, often angry, and utterly powerless to recognise the Prince of life when He appears.
Jesus responds: “I tell you, if these were silent the very stones would cry out”.
Here’s good news for the unmoved, the bruised, hard or dead hearted: if we ask, He will give us a new heart so that we become one of the stones which cannot help but join in the praise.
Why not ask the Lord to soften your heart today, and to open your eyes to recognize the signs of His coming?
It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer”.
If we grew up with children’s Sunday School, this is probably one of the earliest Holy Week stories we remember. It catches our imagination; Jesus overturning the moneylenders tables and driving them out. Trading was necessary in order for people to make right offerings and sacrifices, but here the Marketplace had invaded the Temple. Those traders were robbers and thieves because they charged falsely and ripped off the worshippers.
Years later, Paul wrote that our bodies are supposed to be temples of the Holy Spirit. If we are following Jesus and have committed our lives to Him as Lord, His Spirit comes to dwell within us. Wherever we are we carry His presence. We need to make sure that no trading, no deception, is working in our hearts and robbing us of our inheritance; the life, peace, and joy that Jesus has promised. “I came that they might have life abundantly.”
So many Christians who are sincere, committed believers are being robbed. We can give names to many of those thieves, such as: past hurts; low self-esteem; not understanding that Jesus has made us acceptable; self- guilt for sins which have been forgiven; a background of abuse; failing to trust in the Lord’s faithfulness and love. You might name others from experience.
Why not check your heart now? Are any robbers in residence? Are you living in the joy of the Lord? Does peace rule in your heart? Take your weapon, the Word of God, and drive those robbers out!
“Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?”
This challenge of civil law and personal liberty was presented by spies (verse 20) in order to trap Jesus. Living in an occupied land, should the orthodox followers of God pay tribute – taxes – to Caesar or not? It looked like an innocent question, but the wisdom of God was made manifest in Jesus. He saw straight through their subterfuge and struck at the heart of the matter.
Jesus pointed them to the image of Caesar stamped on a coin and said they should give to Caesar what was his due. That speaks directly to those who use tax evasion schemes today in order to escape bearing their personal social responsibility. Jesus says directly “pay up”, and that they should also bring tribute to God by recognizing what it is that bears God’s image.
What exactly is it that bears the stamp of God’s image? We might point to the miracle of life itself, the beauty of nature, a sunset, birdsong, a majestic landscape or seascape, but what Jesus was actually referring to was YOU! You are made in the image of God. He designed you, called your name, seeks to make you aware of His love in a zillion ways. He sent His Son to carry your sins away and deliver you out of the kingdom of darkness and into His glorious light. He gives you true status; you are called a child of God. You – yes you – are the apple of His eye!
So, pay your due taxes to the State but also bring tribute to your maker. Give to God what is His due. Bring yourself to Him in worship and service.
Whereas taxes are mandatory, worship and honour come out from a heart decision, a choice, a commitment. Why not make, or renew, that choice now? Perhaps you could pray like this:
Father God, thank you for making me your child; for choosing me, loving me and sustaining me through the good times and the bad. Please accept my offering of worship as I say thank you. Please reveal more of Yourself to me so that I might see more of You, love You more, and show me who You say I am. Help me to live a life that honours you. Amen.
“By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
How are we to endure the circumstances and challenges of life? Each generation faces its own unique challenges. We hope to learn from the lessons of history, even while we know that history has a horrible pattern of repeating itself. The “war to end all wars” was quickly followed by another. Reason, science, communism, socialism all spoke of a new golden age on the horizon, as though mature mankind can deliver itself, become its own savior, endure. Human history shows how futile that idea is.
We all need a Saviour who can really save. To save is to rescue, deliver, restore, preserve, bless. Of all the major world religions, only Jesus lays claim to the be the savior of the world. The biblical record and 2,000 years of Christian history attest to the validity of that claim. He alone truly stands the test of time. Jesus is our Savior and the only hope for the world. Not only for eternal salvation but also within the practicalities and challenges of our daily lives.
Jesus highlights the question of endurance and reliance when speaking to the disciples. The truth is, He says, that the world will not get better. It’s going to get worse. Persecution will come. Don’t rely on yourself when that happens; renounce self-reliance. Rely on the Lord’s provision and promises instead. Trust the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to guide you, even to giving you every word you should speak. Your heavenly Father cares for you. He is a saving God for His people. He can enable you to endure whatever the world, the flesh and the devil throws at you.
Have you tended to rely on your own skills, gifts, abilities, to help you endure? Why not go to a quiet place and make an act of repentance? Fetch two pieces of paper; write your name on one piece and Jesus on the other. Put the Bible as a sign of God’s promises by the paper bearing His name. Choose any object that you can use as a symbol of reliance and put it on your name. You could pray like this:
“Jesus, I claim all your promises and provision for my life so that I can endure. I am sorry for the times that I have relied on myself to be my own savior. I acknowledge that only you are my Saviour. (Lift the object and transfer it to the paper named Jesus.) I choose to trust and believe that you are my provider, my deliverer. Please help me to look to You in confidence and to wait upon You. Amen.
Would you betray…with a kiss?
As we move into the Easter events, we find Jesus entering into the pain and grief of human experience; personal betrayal by one of His close friends. Then came Judas, with a kiss.
If we have lived life and interacted with others, we may well have experienced the darkness and pain of betrayal ourselves. It probably comes as a shock. Trust has been violated. Maybe we have loved and believed ourselves loved in return, yet it’s that very person who has betrayed us; may have humiliated us. Maybe we have trusted someone unwisely. So often it’s our closest friend, a marriage partner, a trusted adviser, who has betrayed us, and that makes it feel so much worse. King David experienced this. “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me”. (Psalm 41:9)
Some describe it as an excruciating pain, as though we have been pierced to the heart with a sword; a form of dying. We feel as though our life is out of control. If we cannot trust them, who can we trust? How could we have been so deceived? It’s as though the very ground of our world has shifted.
In the Garden, Jesus had agonized over His freedom to choose the way ahead. Oh, the depth of that conflict! In a sense, Jesus died on that Thursday evening; He died to His flesh and chose to fulfil the Father’s will in an agony of self-denial for your sake and for mine. As His flesh cried out against all that was to be triggered by Judas’ betrayal, love won the day. Love for the Father, love for you and me. “Father, your will be done” – all for love’s sake.
This is what you and I are worth. This is the value of your personal worth in the heart of God Himself.
In Jesus we have a Great High Priest who, while fully God, has born the pain of betrayal Himself, one who can therefore sympathize with us in our pain. (Heb 4:15)
But what if you are the betrayer? What if, somehow, it is you who have broken a confidence, betrayed trust, destroyed someone’s reputation, betrayed your partner or a friend? Is there any hope for you, then? Yes, there is.
The Good News is that, whether betrayer or betrayed, you can come now to that Great High Priest, Jesus Christ Himself, and find mercy.
First, though, we need to consider whether there is someone to forgive, or say sorry to, or something to put right, as far as we are able (read Matt 5: 23-24). Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Tomorrow never comes. Once we have taken any necessary practical steps, we can grasp God’s promise: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16)
To those watching, it must have seemed like the end of the world. Jesus, who only days previously had triumphantly ridden into Jerusalem to the adulation of the crowd’s loud shouts, cries, and praises to God, now dragged out of His overnight stay in a pit to be tried in kangaroo courts, appearing before earthly authority to hear himself slandered and lied against. Then tortured by the soldiers; mocked, beaten; whipped with leather thongs containing fragments of bone that ripped the skin open. Carrying the top bar of His cross through the Jerusalem streets which were now transformed; not praise but laughter, shouts, curses. Stumbling. Lifted up on the cross naked and humiliated before the spectators. Mocked again and laughed at. The interaction with the two thieves. The skies going black as night as though the very sun was ashamed to shine, as Jesus prays and commits His spirit to the Father. Breathes His last.
The Son of God, did you say? The Saviour of the world? He cannot even save himself.
But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, this is true wonder. Things are not what they seem. Jesus, truly the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, embraces weakness, vulnerability, and is overcoming the world. Mercy triumphs. We see Him whipped? By His stripes we are healed. Enduring shame? Yet He despised shame, hanging there in our place, and look! It is our shame that He is carrying. The weight of mankind’s sin is resting upon Him and see! It is our sin that He is carrying. See, he carries the curse of the law, of sin and death, away from us for “cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”. Gal 3:13.
Hear His cry:
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. And having said this, he breathed his last.
And his legacy for you and for me: healing, reconciliation, freedom, liberation from the law of sin and death; shame mocked and disempowered forever. Curses broken. His dying gift to you and me is life. To the worldly-wise, the proud, the cross of Christ is utter foolishness, but for those of us who believe, it is the power of God unto salvation.
What wisdom from God! So absolutely unlike the wisdom of this world. The weak destroys the strong.
Have you ever found yourself walking in the valley of the shadow of death? Been misunderstood, lead about, mocked, cursed? Found yourself where you would never choose to be? Fallen into sin? Felt the guilt, and sensed Satan breathing down your neck? Believing that even God has abandoned you? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Friends gone, utter darkness, no hope? If you have – Quick! Look again at Jesus on the cross. See him there, his nail-pierced hands outstretched to welcome you and to take it all away. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. It’s the Divine Exchange; he who was rich became poor, that we who are poor might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
And such a Life, as killeth death.
In the darkness and gloom of Good Friday, look up, not down. Marvel at such a Saviour; such love, such amazing grace, and welcome him afresh to come and find rest in your heart.
The only thing we know about the disciples on Easter Saturday is from a solemn, brief sentence.
“On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” That is, from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.
I don’t believe that those words meant they were enjoying a nice rest at all. Can we imagine the horror, the shock, the disappointment and disillusion that flooded their hearts and minds? All their faith, all their hope, now buried in a stranger’s grave. It must have seemed as though their own lives had been destroyed. Every moment with Jesus, every teaching, every miracle, all the vision – worse than futile. Their thoughts will have been going haywire. What had happened to justice? How could darkness overcome light? Jesus was crucified – would they be next? Panic. Who could they trust? How could Judas be a traitor? Did people know where they were? Flight was not an option; it was the sabbath.
As we look at the story, we are able to do so with full knowledge that Sunday is coming, but of course the disciples didn’t know that.
Have you ever felt angry with God? Most of us have. Found faith-filled prayer unanswered? Poured your heart out and seemed to receive the opposite? Trusted in, pleaded, God’s promise, but nothing has happened. Maybe you beseeched God for a loved-one’s life but lost them. Pinned your hope on a positive outcome, only to see everything collapse? Suffered false accusation and felt helpless, wanted to hide for shame, wondered what your family and friends thought of you now? Panicked about rumours getting out? Might you too be falsely accused and sentenced?
Even if we identify with any or all the above, which is the normal Christian’s experience, we are only scratching the surface of the depth and darkness of the disciple’s grief. Thank goodness they were under lockdown (sabbath). Who knows what they might have done, or where they might have fled.
Meanwhile, we know that the Pharisees and chief priests were meeting with Pilate who agreed that the tomb should be sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:62-66). What strange fear had gripped them? Here we see hypocritical religion in cahoots with earthly power in order to stifle life.
When things go wrong in life it’s normal for Christians to suffer every fear, every anger, every reaction that every other human being will suffer given similar circumstances. When the darkness of disappointment and disillusionment overwhelm us, it is normal to feel unfairly treated, to be angry, to need to express the anger that has been unleashed within us. We might fear losing self-control but that’s OK too. We might be unspeakably angry with God, disappointed and disillusioned in him and bottle it up out of fear rather than tell him how we feel.
The good news is that our God is big enough to cope with our anger; it is healthy to be honest with him. He will not be angry when we are honest.
We do, of course, know what was to come the next day. Our God reigns! And whatever we are going through, however black and lost it all feels; however angry, however alone; because God reigns, Sunday will always come.
‘Weeping might tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
After the blackness of the night, morning dawned on Easter Sunday. The new day still looked black to the disciples, but this very day, in the middle of such untold despair, is the day of joy. The impossible has happened: Jesus is alive! Gloriously alive! It is in the darkness that the light shines brightest, and even when our senses seem to say the opposite, the darkness has never extinguished the light. (John 1:5)
Have you ever been in a situation where you have tried to give wonderful news to someone, only to have it discounted because it seems too good to be true? How often is bad news more readily acceptable than good!
When the women arrived at the tomb at dawn, they found the imprisoning stone of death rolled away, and the tomb empty. The women were confused by what they found, and only believed because angels bore testimony and awakened their recollection of Jesus’ words that he would “on the third day rise” (verse 7). Then, writes Luke, they remembered. How fitting that if it was angels who announced the incarnation of Jesus, angels should announce his resurrection.
Bringing their stunning news to the eleven and all the rest, they were disbelieved, and no wonder. Jesus was dead and buried. When Jesus died, hope died. It was over. Their senses and understanding of life made real resurrection seem impossible, even if they believed in it doctrinally, unless Jesus was involved and, in this case, that was a nonsense. It seemed to them an idle tale (Lk 24:11). How frustrated must the women have felt. Carrying the greatest message ever known to mankind, they were rebuffed by the closest followers of Jesus who needed to hear it most. How typical of the Lord that it’s the women, not the men, who are entrusted with the first witness of his resurrection.
Later that day they were all visited by those who had encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus and who had rushed back to tell the others with joy. As if that wasn’t enough, Jesus himself appeared to them all (Verse 36) and they went through the gamut of fear, doubt, confusion. No wonder Jesus said: “Peace to you”. Showing them his hands and feet, he invited them to touch him. Shared food with them. This was Jesus alive and he was with them again. Now it was personal. Now they believed. Faith, hope and love awoke.
Do you remember where you were when you first encountered the living Jesus Christ? You may have heard or read about the gospel from others, but suddenly you knew it to be true. And the joy that filled your heart? That was Easter Joy, and it wasn’t supposed to be a Sundays only, once in a year or once in a lifetime experience. That joy is supposed to be our daily bread. It’s a gift from God. It transforms our life. And hope: Jesus has opened heaven for us and we too shall rise and be with him. Could you become an Easter joy person? Someone who asks the Holy Spirit to fill them with the joy of his resurrection every day. Then why not start right now. You might pray:
“Heavenly Father, thank you for such love and mercy towards me. I believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Holy Spirit, I ask you to fill me with resurrection joy for every day of my life, until I too am raised and see him face to face. Amen.”