Pain has purpose.
God is victorious.
We are redeemed.
Jesus is alive… alive… alive!
He lives so we also live.
Stone rolled away.
“He is not here… He is risen!”
Soldiers faint and run.
Disciples confused and run.
Women terrified… and run.
Grave cloth left.
The World has changed.
Everything has changed.
Resurrection has come.
Sin is defeated.
Death is powerless.
Grave cannot sting.
Life cannot be overcome by death.
Christ is victorious.
Jesus is alive!
HE IS RISEN!
HE IS RISEN INDEED!
“He is not here! He is risen as he said!” Matthew 28:6
FOR REFLECTION: How will you celebrate this wonderful news… today?
Silence. It is ominous and eerie to be in a place where you can hear nothing. Sometimes I am thankful for a good, tight set of headphones as I walk onto a crowded commercial flight with crying babies and screaming children. Sometimes, silence is very, very good!
But it’s not good when the silence is a spiritual one. When you cry out to the heavens but no one answers. When life hands you a curve ball with no explanation how to hit it. Silence isn’t always golden especially, when you are waiting for God to speak.
On Saturday, He didn’t. Heaven was locked in silence against the pounding of the disciples’ fists asking, “Why” and “what’s next” or “what now”?? Saturday. No adjective to define it. That day following the unthinkable and preceding the miracle of resurrection. The day between. “Between Saturday” just doesn’t have a ring to it.
It is the day when hope is dashed and the wind is knocked out of you. The day after the doctor says, “The tests don’t look good,” and the period before we know if treatment will work. The day after your husband says, “I’m leaving,” and that aching before he turns around and comes back home to his family. Saturday. The day you learn your family has to move and that season before you find a new home in a new part of the country.
You know… Saturday. The day of silence. The season of not-knowing. The period where it seems all hope is gone. The moment before God acts radically to redeem the crucifixion we are experiencing. Saturday.
The day it seems God forgot to show up. We are left hanging by a thread with no rescue in sight. This is the day the disciples lived through, as they suffered something akin to post traumatic stress disorder and were in hiding for their lives.
A life they were not sure they wanted to continue living.
Maybe today is Saturday for you. That forlorn, soul-wrenching, gut punch of a day when there seem to be no solutions… no way out. It’s a black day. It’s a long day.
But I promise you this… it’s not the last day.
Sunday is coming.
“It is good to wait in silence on the Lord.” Lamentations 3:26
FOR REFLECTION: What have you learned about God and yourself in silence that you could not have learned in the noise of normal life? How can you intentionally build silence into your life to listen to God?
The crucifixion of Jesus caught everyone by surprise… but Jesus. No one else saw Judas as the betrayer of the Lord. Jesus did. No one saw the false witnesses coming to twist Jesus’ words against him. But Jesus did. No one saw the charge of blasphemy being leveled against him. But Jesus did.
Over and again in the last months of their journey together Jesus spoke to prepare the disciples for what He was going to meet in Jerusalem… a midnight arrest; a travesty of a trial; an execution. Some heard these words as the words of a fatalist. Thomas said, “Let’s go to Jerusalem that we can die with him.” He saw it as a suicidal mission. It was inevitable; as angry as Jesus made the religious leaders, as jealous and envious as they were over His stealing away their hearts… and as paranoid as the Romans were over any would-be messianic pretender… crucifixion was the only logical end.
But Jesus had predicted it. He wanted them to know that, when He went to the cross, it was not defeat but destiny. Not the end but the beginning. He wanted them to look beyond the horror of what they were seeing and see with eyes of faith what God was accomplishing through Jesus.
And He wanted them to know that He was not a victim but a victor and the cross was not a place of shame but a throne of honor as He followed His Father even in obedience to that place. He wanted them to see this bad day… as a good one.
The darkness that descended that Friday noon was literal but was more a symbolic “pulling of the shade” over the traumatic sight of the Son of God, second person of the Trinity, Deity incarnate, being pulled away from the Father’s love as “He became sin for us who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He took our place and the Father treated Him as a person who deserved our punishment. “All of our sins were upon Him and by His wounds we are healed.”
And so the darkness descended on a bad day… turned good.
And Jesus died.
And they crucified Him. Mark 15:24
FOR REFLECTION: How has the death of Jesus been made good for you?
Who Do You Say I Am?
For Jesus, the entry to Jerusalem served as the prelude to a week with a full itinerary. As Jesus visited this city that He deeply loved, His path inevitably led to the temple. Answering the question of Jesus’ identity… who do you say that I am… requires that we see His visit to the temple as more than a casual worshiper. He was the Lord of the house.
For Jesus, coming to the Temple was coming home. It was a place of precious childhood memories. It was there that He came and confounded the rabbis with His knowledge at age 12. Even as a child, Jesus was comfortable in the temple. He was not anxious to leave, even when His parents did! His trips back to Jerusalem were few and limited by distance of travel.
But now, He was home. The temple. But His expectations of devotees filling the corridors and the courtyard of the house of God were soon dashed by a crowd of people more reminiscent of Disney World on spring break than devout worshipers seeking God in prayer and offerings.
There was buying and selling of merchandise. Religious merchandise, mind you. Doves and goats and trinkets for sale to enhance the worshipers’ approach to God in His house. Money changers designed to turn your pagan coin into acceptable temple currency… for a reasonable price, of course. These tables and displays littered the outer courts of the temple, where women and Gentiles could come to worship. They wouldn’t complain about the inconvenience… and who would listen if they did?
The words of the prophet Isaiah perhaps welled up inside of Jesus… “who has required of you this trampling of my courts…” as He took in the sight. And then, grabbing a whip used to drive animals, Jesus went in… swinging. He turned over the tables of those who defiled the outer temple corridors and sent doves, coins, and goats fleeing. Merchants scrambled to the floor to recover their lost money while others scattered to recapture their fleeing animals. Chaos ensued.
The disciples were the first to notice the visible change in Jesus’ face. They had seen it before. Once in a dispute with religious police over healing on the Sabbath. Another time as He stood at Lazarus’ graveside toe-to-toe with death. A storm cloud covered His normally peaceful and even docile expression. Now His eyes were no longer kind. Fury is more descriptive. His face was terrifying to behold… His words authoritative but angry and punctuated with the whistle of the whip as it fell again and again. Anger does not describe this moment. Rage is more like it.
And the disciples stood cowering, wide-eyed and afraid at what this would bring. Over and over Jesus shouted, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den for thieves!!” If rage described Jesus’ actions and words in that moment, there was terror on the face of those who were the target of this rampage.
But confusion reigned still on the face of the disciples. Who is this man they follow? What is He walking them towards?
And just what does He mean, “My house??”
“It is written,” He said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:13
FOR REFLECTION: If Jesus came to your church today, what would his reaction be?
Who Do You Say I Am?
The disciples had to make a decision. Who was this itinerant rabbi-carpenter they had been following now for three years? This one who could calm a wind-blown storm on the Sea of Galilee and walk on the same water. The one who could heal a leper or cast out a demon with a word. This one the religious authorities and legal scholars hated. This one who could multiply bread to feed a crowd of thousands.
He was only 33. Old enough to grow a beard but not old enough to be a grandfather. Young enough to have a strong physical presence but too young to know the things He knew. He spoke with kindness but also, with a depth of authority none of them had ever heard before.
And they knew He loved them… deeply. They were loyal but confused. Followers, but they had their doubts about where He was leading them. This blind-man-healer, sea-walking, tomb-raiding, rabbi-scholar-sage… could He really be God’s Messiah? If He was, what would that mean to them… to their status… to their future? Would they rule with him? Beside him?
But if Rome burned him down, wouldn’t they burn with him as well? He had certainly been in their cross-hairs. What if He was wrong and the way to ascend the throne of David was by the overthrow of their Roman captors? And what if today, as the people gather and chat excitedly and cheer as Jesus draws near to His destiny in Jerusalem, the battle begins? Will He try today to raise an army and begin a revolution… or will He walk straight into the arms of the waiting religious police or Roman guards?
The week has begun. Hosanna has been echoing down the streets of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Revolution has come. War has been declared.
Just not in the way they thought.
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him. John 12:16
FOR REFLECTION: If you had been alive on the day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem where would you have been? In the crowd rejoicing or on the sidelines disappointed? Would you be ready to see Jesus crowned or crucified?
The crowds gathered anxiously, breathlessly awaiting the opportunity for a glance at the new Messiah. Palm branches at the ready… garments for the King of David to walk on as he enters on his white horse littering the cobblestone street through the Beautiful Gate. An entrance for a King. Finally, a deliverer from the Romans! Finally, justice is accomplished! The wicked will be overthrown… God is faithful to His word… He is coming… HOSANNA TO THE SON OF DAVID!
But when they saw him, some went away disappointed. Instead of a white horse… a small donkey… a symbol of peace not war. Jesus was not sitting astride a strong horse but sidesaddle on a mule. And a king….well, He sure didn’t look like one. A road-weary, dusty rabbi maybe… but not one that would strike terror in the hearts of an oppressive government or the war machine of the Roman empire.
He looked so… ordinary. So human. So unlike a conquering hero. So unlike what they really wanted. And by the end of this most un-ordinary and holy week, they would tell him what they thought.
Jesus fought misunderstanding and misinterpretation of His Father’s mission fervently, even among those closest to Him. His entrance to the Holy City that Sunday we know as Palm Sunday was carefully orchestrated not to give the wrong impression… to the people or to Rome. It no doubt made him slightly uncomfortable, if for no other reason than that He knew He was not going to live up to their messianic expectations and He knew how often the wrong expectations had been communicated.
The crowd remembered the Messianic prophecy which said, “Your King comes on the foal of a donkey…” to the shouts of Hosanna! But they forgot that the prophecy of Isaiah also said of him, “He is a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” And they never paid attention to His prophecies which predicted how this week would play out.
We too, are guilty of placing expectations on Jesus that are not true. Like the people of His day, we also want to create our savior in our own image. We want to win on our terms, not lose. We want a savior on a conquering steed, not one riding a baby donkey. We want our savior swooping in on a private jet or in a chauffeur-driven limo, not one who arrives in a car with an Uber driver.
But our Savior arrives at His coronation in the same way He arrived at His birth… in utmost humility. Not seeking attention or applause.
And that is a King worth following.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9
FOR REFLECTION: How can you best welcome Jesus into your Easter celebration this year?
The cross of Christ, as horrific as it was, could not be considered a murder and Jesus was not a victim of Roman injustice. He was no victim. He was no helpless pawn.
No, the cross of Christ was the crowning moment of the Savior’s assignment. It was the Father’s affirmation before the cross that Jesus was His Son in whom He was well pleased.
Jesus completed the purpose for which the Father had sent Him. And since the assignment was fulfilled perfectly, it was time for Jesus to release His spirit back to the Father.
Jesus said, “No man takes my life from me… I lay it down.” Jesus was both sacrifice and priest; and now that the sacrificial lamb had been slain, all that remained was for Jesus to go home.
“Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus laid His life down from start to finish. He laid it down as He became an embryonic presence in Mary’s womb. He laid it down as He emptied Himself of eternal glory and refused to cling to equality with God.
He laid it down as He became a Jewish man, a servant, and a human son. He laid it down as He died to Himself in Gethsemane, praying, “not my will but yours be done.”
And he laid it down ultimately on Calvary as “He became sin for us who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
This final word that Jesus spoke was not a word of defeat but a word of life;
For him as well as for us.
And when he had breathed his last Jesus said, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46
FOR REFLECTION: This Easter season what might God be saying to you about surrendering your life to Him? Jesus laid down His life willingly for you. Will you give your life to Him? You can do this today and begin a new life. Pray:
Father, I surrender all to you. Will you forgive me and make me new? I give my life up for the Savior who died on the cross to forgive my sin. I follow Him gladly.
In Jesus name,
Finished. A glorious word to the graduate student who has labored long to finish a degree; to the cancer patient who has suffered through radiation; to the soldier who is being honorably discharged after serving well.
Finished. A victorious word to the athlete who has strained toward the finish line; to the newly minted retiree who has logged a forty year career.
Finished. A frightening word to the host of Hell seeking to stop the inevitability of the Savior’s sacrifice.
“Tetelesthai.” In Greek only one word to convey the Lords victory shout… a declaration that sin’s reign is now over… that the way to Heaven is now opened… that the debt has been paid in full. Finished.
No more wonderful word could ever be spoken. Or ever will.
Lifted up was He to die,
It is finished was His cry,
Now in heaven exalted high,
Hallelujah what a Savior!
“When he had received the drink he said, ‘It is finished.” John 19:30
FOR REFLECTION: What has Jesus victory finished in your life?
“I thirst.” Human words, humbly spoken. Jesus was, after all, a man of sorrows. A man. And men get thirsty, bleed when they’re cut, weep when they grieve, and feel alone at times.
All of these were experienced by Jesus. “We do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our weaknesses.” No, we have a great high priest who was tempted in all points just as we are… yet without sin.
But let us never forget that the Divine Son who hung on Calvary’s cross was also fully a human being. And that human being was dehydrated and needed the relief of a drink of water to mend his parched lips and burning tongue.
“I thirst.” Here, even the Son of God needed the help of others. Never be ashamed to seek or to ask for that help…
…when you’re alone.
…when you’re afraid.
…when you’re confused.
Jesus reached out for assistance while accomplishing His God designed purpose. As God, Jesus required nothing. But as a man he suffered as a man.
And God heard His cry… as He will hear yours.
“I am poured out like water….” Psalm 22:14
FOR REFLECTION: What circumstance of your life do you need to decide no longer to face alone?
Jesus went beyond agony on the cross for us. The “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” suffered a magnitude of pain that was off the charts as He hung suspended between earth and heaven… in this moment belonging to neither, but Creator of both. Though three hours now hanging in the Palestinian sun, the worst of His agony was about to begin; the moment when the sky would darken and His soul would be torn away from His Father. The moment which caused Him to cry out,
“Eloi, Eloi, lamasabathani… which means My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?”
In that dark moment the great pinnacle of redemption’s plan would be fulfilled… the moment when Jesus, who knew no sin… would be made sin for us… that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. An amazing plan. Amazing grace. Amazing love.
Our Triune God, Trinity incarnate, is now torn apart between His love for His own glory and holiness and His love for us. An early glimpse of this moment can be seen in the words of the prophet Hosea, who cried out with God’s voice to a disobedient nation,
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
Some have suggested that Jesus descended into Hell at this point. I don’t know that this is true. I do know that the suffering Jesus willingly bore in this period was as hellish an experience as could be endured. This One Who had always lived in relationship now stood alone as our scapegoat, as the sinbearer, as the target of God’s righteous wrath and anger against every and all sin. He became all of our sin… we received all of His righteousness. All of our sin… not just that in the past until our conversion but all of it… past, present, and future… is now forgiven. It isn’t a fair exchange
…but it’s what love did.
“My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from the words of my groaning?” Psalm 22:1
FOR REFLECTION: If Jesus bore (paid the price for, became) all of your sin on the cross, why would you allow condemnation for sin into your life? Confess your sins to the Lord… forsake them… and walk in freedom He died to bring you!