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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

12/1/10 Luke 1:18- 25 The Silence of Unbelief

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

(Anunciation to Zechariah- Domenico Ghirlandaio 1490 Florence)


Thoughts: Christmas means God has spoken through the silence- the Word has become flesh.  In contrast, there is a deep silence of unbelief.  Unbelief means no angel is there to speak.  Unbelief means our words and actions are meaningless in the longrun- heading toward a silent grave.  Unbelief means the universe is a lonely, silent place. Unbelief means that even if God has spoken, we have turned our ears to the off position.  But to believe means we have something to say.  How sad for Zechariah who should have believed but did not.  How sad that he had something to say but could not speak.  Christians today are called to believe that God can answer our prayers.  We are called to speak about what we have seen and heard to the world outside for God has allowed us to experience Him and has given us voices to speak.

Prayer:  Thank you that you did not leave us in our silence, but you have spoken. Help me to believe and speak of you to others.

John Calvin abridged: Zechariah had prayed that he might obtain offspring, and now that it is promised he distrusts, as if he had forgotten his own prayers and faith.  Zechariah looks for an excuse for his unbelief in his old age.  Abraham was old as well, but he believed (Rom. 4:19).  Mary asked, "How can this be" when the angel appeared to her.  But God sees the heart and the rebuke to Zechariah is not judged just on his words but on his heart.

11/30/10 Luke 1:11-17 Praying Expectantly

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”


(Zechariah and the angel Gabriel at the altar of incense)

Thoughts: Zechariah was a religious person who was walking by sight rather than by faith.  There's a little Zechariah in all of us.  Zechariah was not expecting the presence of God- or anything supernatural- even in the courtyard of the priests in the very Temple of the Lord.  A lot of us come to church not expecting God to break into our lives.  We pray not expecting God to do anything about it.  The great thing about Zechariah was that he was faithful in his prayers even when his prayers didn't seem to be answered for a son.  But God didn't just answer his prayers for a son- he gave him the one Jesus called "the greatest one born of a woman."  We need to pray expectantly- which is hard when God doesn't seem to answer our prayers.  I think about those praying for a relative who has strayed away- a prodigal- and they don't seem to come back.  Or I think of those praying for someone with a chronic disease.  It is hard to pray expectantly- believing God can do "more than we can ask or imagine" (Eph. 3:20).  Yet, the Lord teaches us faith through prayer.


Prayer: Lord, teach me to pray faithfully and expectantly.  Keep me believing in your power and ability to answer my prayers though it may seem impossible.

John Calvin abridged: By an extraordinary purpose of God, it was appointed that John be born in an unnatural way similar to Isaac in the Old Testament. John is a mortal man born of earthly parents in a supernatural way- almost as if he fell from heaven.  God does not try to terrify his servants, yet it is advantageous and even necessary that they be struck with awe in order to give God the glory due his name (Ps. 29:2).  The presence of God leads people to reverence and humbles the pride of the flesh.  When God is absent we indulge in pride and self-flattery.  It is the godly who shake and tremble at the presence of God (here only a spark of the light- an angel).  It is the ungodly and insensible who hear the voice of God without alarm.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

11/29/10 Luke 1:8-10 Chosen by Lot

8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

(Zechariah's tomb- based on a first century inscription and confirmed by inscriptions in the fourth and sixth century)


Thoughts: Of the 20,000 priests of his day, broken into 24 divisions, one priest was chosen to burn incense in the morning and evening before the sacrifice.  It was possible that a priest would not be chosen during his lifetime.  Proverbs 16:33 says, "The lot is cast into the lap but its every decision is from the Lord."  The priests believed in the sovereignty of God in their appointments. One prominent view in the Old and New Testaments is that there are no room for accidents, but all things work under God's purposes.  Zechariah's choosing was the first part of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist who was a forerunner by a few months of his cousin Jesus.  John had to precede Christ to prepare the way for Him.  We should live our lives with trust in God's purpose being worked out in our lives as well.

Prayer: Sovereign Lord, help me to grow in trust in you.

John Calvin abridged: Exodus 30:7,8 prescribes that incense be offered twice a day (morning and evening) and David arranged the families to take turns 1 Chron. 24:3 .  Zechariah entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple as a priest Mediator for the people, and many people were interceding for him.  The Holy of Holies symbolized the very presence of God. As long as people live on earth they need a Mediator between God and them.  The purpose of having incense was to remind the people that the sweet savor of the sacrifice does not ascend to heaven except through the office of  a Mediator. More about how this applies to us is found in Hebrews.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

11/26/10 Luke 1:5-7 The Fruit of Faithfulness (1st Advent)

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.


(Zechariah- by Michelangelo)
Thoughts: There were 24 divisions of priests and about 20,000 priests in Judea.  Each division served about two weeks a year. A priest was supposed to get married, and have children.  It was a sign of God's blessing to have children. But Zechariah and Elizabeth, though righteous, were unable to conceive.  In our day many Christians try to do things right but feel that they are fruitless.  This whole story of the birth of John, the one Jesus called "greatest born of women", is a story of God's bearing fruit when people thought they should give up on trusting God.  Zechariah and Elizabeth are examples of faithfulness in a faithless age.

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to listen to you and follow in your way faithfully.

John Calvin abridged: Luke begins speaking of John the Baptist just like a person who would speak of daylight starts with the dawn.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous before men and God.  To be righteous before God requires a sincere heart and a pure conscience to God.  But secondly it requires that we listen to God's commands and not make up our own rules of righteousness.  Here John the Baptist is shown to be a mortal man born of ordinary parents but in a supernatural way (like Isaac).

11/27/10- Luke 23:44-49 Jesus' Last Breath

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.


(Jesus' Descent from the cross- Rembrandt)


Thoughts: One scientist estimated that the last breath of Jesus (or anyone) probably released  0.5 x 6 x 10 to the 23rd molecules. Just the 10 to the 23rd is a ridiculously large number—10 with 22 zeros after it. A trillion trillion molecules. Enough of these molecules were released and scattered into the atmosphere that it is mathematically probable that we are breathing at least one of these molecules right now that came from Jesus' last breath (cf. http://www.stpaulsfay.org/id413.html).  The affect of Jesus' last breath, however, is not just that we breathe it now.  The greatest affect of Jesus death is that he died as a sacrifice in our place.  The significance of it was seen in darkness at noon (like an eclipse) and the curtain dividing the presence of God from the unclean in the Holy of Holies was torn in two.  Even a hardened Roman centurion knew this was not an ordinary death.  Being aware of the significance of Christ's death is important in Jesus' own words who described it as a "ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45); as a sacrifice (Jn. 10:15,18)' and as a means to escape eternal death (Jn. 3:16).  His was not just an ordinary life.  His teachings were not ordinary teachings.  His death also was not an ordinary one. 
 
Prayer:  Lord you are a part of who I am.  I give myself to you today because you have given yourself to me.

John Calvin Abridged: Although in the death of Christ the glory of the Godhead was concealed and as Paul said was "emptied" (Phil. 2:7).   Yet even in the crucifixion some hints are given of Christ's future glory.  The obscuration of the sun, the earthquake, the splitting of rocks and the rending of the veil occurred as if heaven and earth were rendering homage to their creator.  Darkness aroused them to consider their rejection of Christ and the astonishing design of God in Christ's death.  I do not think the darkness covered the whole earth, but because it covered Judea it pointed the whole world to this miraculous event. The last cry of Christ shows us the intensity of his sorrow and that he, being separated from the Father, was bearing our judgment and wrath.  That Christ commends his spirit to the Father shows his faith is still entact.  When the centurion, who was an irreligious man, commented that he was righteous, he affirmed his previous claims of being the Son of God.  While the disciples fled, the women were there as witnesses to all these things. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

11/26/10- Luke 23:39-43 Grace at the Last Minute

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Thoughts: Jesus was so full of grace, that he even forgave and offered peace to a robber in the midst of his own torture.  This is a great symbol for us.  It is a living parable of the prodigal son with this twist, it is never too late to come back to the Father as long as you have breath.  Earthly punishment may be by deeds (as the thief admits).  But God judges on relationship- do we know and love God or not?  For many this seems unfair, but it is better than fair.  If things were fair, no one would go to heaven.  But God is gracious and even welcomes a thief who believes in Him into paradise- into His presence. 

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for welcoming me back.  Thank you for your grace that gives another chance.  Help me to be more gracious to others around me, and to invite them too into paradise.

John Calvin abridged:  One of the robbers hurled insults.  When the wicked are in torment they seem to want to take revenge on others for the torments they cannot avoid.  The wicked, when they do not obtain what they want, would willingly tear God away from heaven.  The other thief shows God's amazing grace- that in a moment he would not only be torn from hell to heaven- when he was at death's door; but also that he was forgiven in a moment for the sins of a lifetime.  This robber shows remarkable faith in Christ- more than even the apostles (who ran away) had shown.  For in the midst of Jesus abasement he had faith in his kingdom.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

11/25/10 Luke 17:11-19 Jesus and Thanksgiving

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”


(Norman Rockwell- "Freedom from Want")

Thoughts:  Jesus made a regular practice of giving "thanks" for his meals (Mt. 14:19; 15:36; 26:26 and 7 parallel passages).  Here is a passage where Jesus calls us to be thankful for what God does for us.  All ten went to show themselves to the priests as Jesus asked them too.  Jesus did not ask them to come back and say "thank you."  But gratitude is a sign of our true cleansing from self-centeredness.  In this passage we are all called to give thanks to God as Jesus is clearly disappointed that only 10% of those to whom a miracle had occurred would remember to give thanks.   Yesterday the American president pardoned a turkey- meaning the turkey did not get killed but would live its life out in peace on Mt. Vernon.  The turkey has no idea how much the president did for him yesterday.  We may not realize how much God does for us. That is why it is important to stop and cont our blessings and give thanks. 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for who you are.  All that we have is a gift from you.  Thank you for your faithfulness, and the faith you have given.  For family, friends, and freedom we give you thanks. 



John Calvin abridged: There is displayed here the divine power of Christ and the ingratitude of the religious people of his day.  That they would go on Christ's command alone to the judges of uncleanness shows some measure of faith.  We should be afraid of the temporary nature of the faith of some.  For they seek God until they get their wish, and then turn from Him in ingratitude.  Thus poverty and hunger beget faith, but abundance kills it. The cure itself is debased by their ingratitude.  Faith alone sanctifies the gifts of God to us so that they become pure.  The Samaritan was saved by faith- not because he was cured of leprosy (the other nine were cured physically too- but not spiritually).  But the Samaritan was admitted into the family of God by faith.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

11/24/10 John 19:25-27 Respecting Family in the Midst of Stress

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.


(Mary's house in Ephesus)

Thoughts: In Ephesus there is an ancient house that is commemorated as Mary's home.  It is well known that John lived out his last days in Ephesus.  Strong tradition says Mary died in Ephesus (whereas some Roman Catholic traditions say she died in Jerusalem).  Most traditions say Joseph was older and died while Jesus was fairly young.  Mary was at the cross with her sister- not with Joseph.  Jesus, as the eldest son, sought to take care of his mother.  There are other passages that suggest that Mary did not want Jesus to put himself in a position to be hurt (like a good mother would- Mk. 3:21). While Jesus would not give up his mission, he still sought to honor Mary.  Even to the end of his life Mary and Jesus had a loving, caring relationship.  Luke 2:35 says [Simeon's prophecy to Mary]"a sword will pierce your own soul also."  Clearly at the cross the sword was going deep into her soul.  Yet she stood by her son even at his death.  Her faithfulness to Him is to be admired and followed.  As people come home for Thanskgiving, it is important to remember Chist's example of care and resepct. In a secular time there is tension between family members who have given up on faith and those who keep the faith.  People of faith are still called to show kindness and respect to family- as Jesus did his own mother in the midst of his own trials.

Prayer: As Mary stood by the cross, help me to stand by you, Lord.  Give me grace to not be ashamed of you.  Give me help to be strong when the church is weak or persecuted.

John Calvin abridged: While Christ obeyed God the Father, he did not fail to perform the duty which he owed as a son, towards his mother.  True he forgot himself, and he forgot everything, so far as was necessary for the discharge of obedience to his Father.  But having performed his mission, he did not neglect what he owed to his mother.  So we can learn how we should discharge our duty toward God and people.  Sometimes families call us to do something in the opposite direction of God's call for us.  If we place people in the same status as God, we misjudge.  Though Christ was suffering unbelievable torture, grief, mockings, blasphemies and spiritual struggle with the devil, yet none of these things kept him from being concerned about his mother.  John's obedience to Christ teaches us to revere him as well.  Jesus probably called her "woman" instead of a more endearing term because he did not want to make it harder for her, and because he was leaving this world with its human relationships. That John was able to take her into his home shows that he was able to afford a house and may have had other means of employment and family.  It also shows that John did not give up all of his property as some say we should do.

Monday, November 22, 2010

11/22/10 Luke 23:32-38 The Answer to Ridicule

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.



Thoughts: It seems that the powerless feel they gain power when they are able to make fun of the powerful in a vulnerable position.  So some put others down in order to build themselves up.  The rulers, the soldiers, the robbers all made-fun of him.  He did not need to answer their mockeries, for He had answered them with his innocense, his healings, his teachings of love, and even now- the way He died, asking for forgiveness.  God always, without exception, vindicates righteousness and His own children. We can be thankful that the Lord triumphs over wrong.  As Paul says (speaking of death and sin), "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Jesus Christ!" (I Cor. 15:57).

Prayer:  Lord, when others deride me, help me to remember I am yours.  Help me to remember Christ's patient and forgiving example.

John Calvin abridged: Christ was placed in the center of the two robbers as if he were the Prince of Robbers. Thus Isaiah 53:12 is fulfilled that says he was "numbered with transgressors." We see Christ's love that in admitting us to the society of angels he was classed with the wicked.  The wine vinegar was not to torture Christ, but may have been a concoction to help speed up his death.  As for the gambling for his garment, which was a common action for criminals condemned to die, it is important to see the theological significance.  God determined that his own Son should be stripped of his garment, that we, clothed with righteousness and with abundance of good things, may appear with boldness in company with the angels, whereas formerly we were dressed in filthy and tattered rags and were kept back from approaching heaven.  Christ said, "Father forgive them" that we might see he was the mild and gentle Lamb.  He did not return curses for curses.  Christ saw his enemies rage against him with blind fury, and he had pity on them, even becoming their intercessor.  Believers should pray for those who persecute them, wanting their salvation, and leaving any revenge to God (1 Pt. 2:23). 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

11/21/10 Luke 23:26- 31 Growing Closer by Serving

26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ 31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”



Thoughts: Jesus began by carrying his own cross (Jn. 19:17).  When he collapsed under its weight the Roman soldiers impressed into service Simon of Cyrene (modern day Tripoli, Lybia). Cyrene had a strong Jewish population (100,000 moved there in the second century B.C.), and Jews from Cyrene were there at Pentecost (Acts 2:10) and Jewish Christians from Cyrene and Cyprus first preached the gospel to non-Jews (Acts 11:20).  Simon is considered by most to be the first African Christian.  Obviously serving Christ, even at the forcible hands of the Romans, drew Simon to Christ.  There is a Cyrenian movement in the United Kingdom and Ireland that seeks to share the burden of those who are needy or homeless.  Perhaps we could learn that as we serve Christ- and seek to share the burdens of others, we will be drawn ever closer to Him.  For as we do things for "the least of these" we do it for Christ.

Prayer:  Lord, give me opportunities to serve you, and open my heart to your presence.

John Calvin abridged:  That Christ was not able to bear his own cross shows the cruelty of his torment and his lamb-like weakness.  The Romans chose an ordinary peasant to help do the detestable work of carrying the cross.  But the evangelists relate his name, his country, and the name of his children.  Thus Simon gained in eminence by the cross.  We too are of no rank or estimation in and of ourselves, but the cross enables us to grow in good reputation.  Luke tells us that there remained a remnant of women weeping, but God used their weakness to condemn the haughtiness of the crowd and those who condemned Christ.  This shows us that even when the wicked and mean-spirited appear to triumph and the aid of the Father appears missing, we are still under the watchful eye of God.  Wickedness will be ended and righteousness triumph.  This also shows what a cruel and important act the cross was that the Holy City, where God placed His sanctuary, was razed to its foundations because of its cruelty to the Son of God. Josephus records the horror of the people at the destruction of Jerusalem confirming Christ's prophecy.  The enemies of Christ were made to feel that they had made war not against a mortal man but by God.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Luke 23:18-25 Exchanging the Guilty for the Innocent

18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

(Ecce Homo Antonio Ciseri)


Thoughts: To trade the one who was clearly guilty for the One who was totally innocent should give us pause about human judgment of right and wrong.  Pilate tried at least four times to not condemn Jesus: 1) He told the Jews to settle it themselves; 2) He sent Jesus to Herod; 3) He tried to release him for the Passover; 4) He tried to just have him whipped/scourged.  Each time evil persisted.  Evil persists until it can go no farther.  The bully persists until there is surrender; the abuser will not stop until something is done to stop them;  Human evil seems unstoppable.  But the cross is a sign that evil has an end, and the resurrection is a sign that evil will not win even after it stops.  In the end the guilty are brought to account, and right wins.  Every Christian, especially the persecuted, should have this hope. 

Prayer: Give me discernment, O Lord, to see what is right.  Help me to be just in my judgments, and thankful for your grace.

Friday, November 19, 2010

11/20/10 Luke 23:6-17 The Righteous Judge

6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies. 13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”

(Herod and Jesus- Duccio)

Thoughts: Herod wanted Jesus to entertain him- to perform some miracle to please him- like a magician.  In our entertainment and sports-centered world, many focus their lives on what will entertain them.  Both Herod and Pilate found nothing worthy of condemnation in Jesus.  They both sought to release him, and were probably both afraid of the Jewish leaders and crowd.  They faced the peer pressure to call someone guilty who was innocent, and therefore the guilty would be seen as innocent.  Isaiah (5;20) says, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil."  God is the standard for right and wrong- not the crowd, or the experts.  God alone is the righteous judge. 

Prayer: Lord, may I look to you this day to lead me in the paths of righteousness.  Help me to know I am accountable to you alone, the righteous Judge. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

11/19/10 Luke 23:1-5 The King of Souls

1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” 3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. 4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”  5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”
"Ecce Homo" James Jacques. Tissot d. 1902)
Thoughts: It wasn't one or two who were rejecting and accusing Jesus, but many.  They concocted three different lies against Jesus: 1) encouraging rebellion, 2) not paying taxes, 3) claiming to be an earthly king.  The closest to reality was that Jesus claimed a kingship.  Jesus claims kingship over our souls no matter who collects taxes and makes political decisions.  Pilate, who had judged many cases, knew this and continually sought to avoid pronouncing a guilty verdict.  Many accuse Christ and Christians falsely.  But in the end, the King of kings will be proven.  We know this because despite the worst the Jesus accusers and the mightiest empire could do, Jesus rose from the dead, conquering their cross.  So we should put our trust in the King of kings. 

Prayer: Jesus, you are the lover of my soul and the souls of all those around me.  Let me acknowledge you as my King.  Let me speak truthfully and boldly about you to others.

Stuart Townsend: "Behold the Lamb" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alvX9Fa53-o

John Calvin abridged: It was shocking that the Son of God would be dragged before the judgement seat of a profane man to see if he were worthy of death.  The Son of God chose to stand bound and condemned before an earthly judge that we who deserve condemnation may stand without fear and freely before the throne of God.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

11/18/10 John 18:1-14 Opposing Jesus

1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. 4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” 12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

(Arrest of Jesus)
Thoughts: John focuses on the soldiers and officials who came to arrest Jesus more than Judas (he doesn't even mention a kiss) or the disciples' running away.  They were carrying physical tools- lights and weapons.  But while they sought to see in the darkness, they made the world darker by arresting the Light of the World. Jesus identifies himself to them.  He does not run from them even though he knew what was about to happen.  He was purposefully allowing Himself to be arrested.  John emphasizes the soldiers' powerlessness to arrest the Son.  They fell back.  Later Peter started to defend them, and the soldiers did not fight Peter.  Jesus seeks to drink the cup of the Father.  It seems as if those who opposed Jesus were powerless to do so without his permission.  The opposition to Jesus was used for a higher purpose- to allow Jesus to drink the cup the Father had for Him.  Today there is growing opposition to Christ in our world.  But the opposition is unaware that Christ uses even them for a higher purpose.  The arrest and cross were the means of our forgiveness and salvation. 
 
Prayer: Lord, give me perspective on those who oppose you.  Help me to remember that you are able to work all things together for your good if we are called according to your purpose- even our crosses.

John Calvin abridged: John passes over some of the things the other evangelists mention because that was his purpose. John's was trying to point out that Christ went to his death willingly. He did not suffer death by constraint but willingly that He might be a voluntary sacrifice.  Christ went to his regular place instead of trying to hide from Judas.  The soldiers fell as if struck by lightning- at just a single word from Christ. Thus showing that Christ had power even over them.  When Christ comes back with a shout his power will be well known especially to the wicked (Isa. 11:4).  Even now, when Christ speaks through His ministers, the wicked tremble out of a guilty conscience. 

11/17/10 John 11:38-44 Seeing the Glory of God

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

(The author in Lazarus's tomb in Bethany June 2010)

Thoughts: What does it mean to "see the glory of God if you believe"?  Perhaps Martha thought Jesus was just going to see her dead brother, but by now there was not much to see and the stench of the decaying body was a deterrent.  But Christ is able to turn stench into glory; imprisoning grave clothes into freedom.  Jesus sought to glorify His Father's name (Jn. 8:54; 12:28; 17:1).  We too often seek our own glory.  But when we believe, our eyes are open to seeing God in life.  We are no longer blinded to Him.  Jesus had been waiting until the end of his ministry to fully reveal his power.  But the resurrection of Lazarus shows that Jesus is able to glorify God fully. 

Prayer: May you be glorified in me today, O Lord.  May I trust in your power and glory.
Link to "Glorify Thy Name": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSj8MceGtEI

John Calvin abridged: Martha, when talking of the stench, was inferring that no remedy could be found.  So with us, when we are preoccupied by foolish thoughts, we keep God from working through us.  We need to learn to ascribe far greater power to God's grace than we can perceive.  If it was left up to Martha, her brother would still be in the grave and Jesus would have been kept away.  A miracle is called the glory of God, because God, displaying in it the power of his hand, glorifies his name.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

11/16/10- John 11:17-37 Undercover Lord

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” 28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”


(Church in Bethany (modern Al-Eizariya- named after Lazarus- The fresco commemorates Jesus saying "I am the resurrection and the life")

Thoughts:  Those who put their hope in God have their hopes fulfilled in God's Son- Jesus.  Jesus had not fully revealed his power and person until now. So Martha answered that she had hopes that Lord would raise her brother at the end of time.  This was a great hope.  But real Hope was right their in her midst.  Jesus indicated that the power of the resurrection and the power to give life resides in Him.  This would be a ludicrous statement except that Jesus proved it true by his actions.  He was not like an ordinary preacher/teacher who just talked about the resurrection, He fulfilled the hopes of the resurrection in Himself.  There is a show called "Undercover Boss" about CEOs who disguise themselves and take on a menial job in their company only to reveal themselves at the end of the show usually with reward and recognition.  At the end of his ministry Jesus revealed his power fully.  He revealed also who He really was- the compassionate One who weeps for those who are hurting- and the powerful One who is "The Resurrection and the Life." 

Prayer: Lord, you are the resurrection and the life.  May I grow in my knowledge of you and the power of life and hope that you give. 

John Calvin abridged: Martha went out to meet Jesus, probably in fear for his safety since she knew the Jews had threatened to stone him previously.  Mary, when told of Jesus, left her home.  The Jews thought she was going to the tomb to aggravate her grief (many people, already disordered from grief, seek to excite their grief even more in their actions).  Martha called him "Master" and Mary fell at his feet- which was an honor given to kings.  They had great respect and faith in Jesus in this house. Christ groaned and wept with them- showing his sympathy.  He shows he is as much affected by our distress that he feels it in his own person.  Human feelings can be sinful in their emotions when they 1) are exceeding and not moderated from excess;  2) The feelings do not arise from a lawful or just cause- often because we are overly devoted to the world. Christ was not weeping at their unbelief (as some say), but Christ was focused on what was about to happen. He approached as a champion about to conquer death.

Monday, November 15, 2010

11/15/10 John 11:1-16 Fearless Jesus

1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” 8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”


(Lazarus and Jesus, Carl Bloch 1834-90)

Thoughts: Jesus was fearless.  Of course, some would say that his fearlessness eventually ended up with his being killed on the cross.  But the fearlessness of Jesus relies on the strong power of God- who raised Lazarus and raised Jesus.  We should never look at the cross without peering through the lens of the resurrection.  That would almost be like looking at Lazarus' sickness and death without remembering God was glorified through the sickness and death by Lazarus's resurrection!  Jesus' fearlessness is even contagious to doubting Thomas who was willing to go to his death with Jesus at this point. Jesus was much more focused on doing the work of God than trying to avoid his enemies. 

Prayer: Give me courage, in a fearful age, Lord. Give me courage to rely on you- my ultimate hope.

Joihn Calvin abridged: There were others that Christ raised from the dead, but this was the first time he raised someone that had been a stinking corpse.  This might be said to be the last and concluding miracle of Christ for the time of his death was near.  From Christ's love they had a basis for a confident hope in assistance.  Jesus said that the sickness was not unto death to ease their anxiety.  Here Jesus shows that the glory that is due God is also due the Son.  So those who think they worship God but blaspheme Christ are mistaken in their worship of God (Jn. 5:23).  The disciples feigned fear for their Master, but were really concerned for their own safety.  Those who dread their cross shrink from the performance of their duty, and seek to find an excuse for their indolence, thinking they are not robbing God of the obedience that is due Him. Christ boldly goes into Judea relying on God's protection, for God's light shines on us directing our steps.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

11/14/10 Luke 22:54-62 Denying Amidst Persecution

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

(J.J. Tissot d. 1902 Second Denial of Peter)


Thoughts: Peter denied Jesus to save his own skin.  Doubtless fear of his own arrest and the sensed hostility of the crowd in the courtyard had something to with it.  The world in the West is getting more hostile to Christianity.  In a hostile world will we deny Him?  Today is International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  171,000 Christians die a year from persecution (about 20 an hour).  This past week a Christian pastor in Iran, Youcef Nardarkhani, was sentenced to death for protesting about his son's being forced to study the Quran (see more at http://www.persecution.com/).   The good news is that Peter was restored.  The good news is that Peter died a martyr's death (upside down on a cross) given a second chance to be faithful to Him. 

Prayer: Give us grace, O Lord, to be faithful to you in the midst of our persecution.  If the whole world denies you, O Lord, may I have your grace to never deny you.

Here is a link about persecuted Christians: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oySB4uw4n18&feature=related  Pray for them today.

11/13/10 Luke 22:47-53 Sealed with a Kiss- the Arrest

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”


(Giotti di Bondone Arena Chapel 1304-6)

Thoughts: It was bad enough that one of the chosen twelve should betray his master, but to actually betray Jesus with a kiss is the climax of betrayal and fake-love.  A kiss is a symbol of love and peace.  The early church had "the kiss of peace" in which they would greet each other.  But this was the kiss of death.  One of Jesus' great themes was transparency.  He was more concerned about the heart than the exterior. He called the Pharisees "whitewashed walls" meaning they were concerned about how the exterior looked (the paint) rather than the heart (the rottenness behind the paint).  Judas' kiss is a symbol is of exterior insincerity, impurity, and sin betraying the One who was the greatest representation of sincerity, purity, and innocence.  Let us resolve to never betray our Lord, and to be sincere in our love for Him. 
Prayer: May my love for you, O Lord, grow.  May my heart be sincere and deep with love for you. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

11/12/10 Luke 22:39-46 Thine be Done

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

(The author in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives)

Thoughts: To know your future pain and suffering had to be so hard for Christ.  There are three key parts here: the agony, the prayer, and the submission.  The agony is seen in his anguish, his sweat dropping like blood, his concern about his disciples who were weak and about to facing temptation.  He told his disciples to pray that they not fall into temptation; He prayed take this cup from me.  It is powerful that the Son of God has put Himself in a place where He is in agony and where He must pray.  One of the most practical things for us is this prayer: "Not my will but thine be done."  In some ways this is the key and the goal to Christian devotion.  It means that I am no longer in charge of my life, but God is in charge.  Jesus sets the example to us all of submission and trust.  Christ was willing to trust the Father even in the shadow of the cross of death.  We need to pray and grow to the point of trusting in Christ.

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to face my cross.  Give me strength to submit my will to your will. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

11/11/10 Luke 22:35-38 Jesus and the Sword

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered. 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” 38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied.


(Peter cutting off Malchus' ear at Jesus' arrest)

Thoughts: How had the situation changed from when Jesus sent them out early in his ministry (Lk. 9:1-6; 10:1-16)?  Jesus speaks of this difference (22:35). This was not Galilee with the responding crowds, but Jerusalem with the mob controlled by Jesus' enemies.  This was a time of danger.  "There is a time for war and a time for peace" (Eccles. 3:8).  Jesus was telling them that they were in a time not of seeking hospitality, but a time of conflict.  His words, "That's enough" could very well not be talking of the number of swords but of his wanting to end this conversation.  In John 18:11 Jesus told Peter to "Put your sword away."  Later in Luke Jesus would tell his disciples "No more of this" when one (Peter)  struck the high priest's servant's ear; Jesus would ask rhetorically, "Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs?"  The point is, Jesus was NOT teaching his disciples to physically fight, but to beware that they were in dangerous times. 



Prayer: Lord, let your Spirit give me discernment to know how to act and react to the situation around me today.  Keep me from over-reacting (as Peter), but also keep me from falling asleep to the danger around me.

John Calvin abridged: The purpose of this discourse is to show his disciples that he had previously kept them from facing a burden that they were not ready to bear.  He shows that in the past they had it easy but now they must prepare for the harder warfare they were about to face.  Christ does not hurry us into battle while we are untrained and inexperienced, but before he sends us out he provides us with courage and the weapons we need. Christ does not call them to an outward conflict, but only compares this to fighting.  Just as a general, when calling his soldiers to arms asks them to focus on fighting and leave the other cares of the world behind, so Christ is asking them to take all they have to obtain the spiritual weapons they need. Christ reminded them that God had providentially supplied their needs in the past, and he would do so in their time of temptation and trial. He quotes Isa. 53:12 saying that he has not fulfilled his office completely (as was prophesied about the messiah) until he has been placed in the ranks with the wicked,  It was shameful and unintelligent that the disciples, after having been told so often to bear the cross, would interpret this that Christ wanted them to buy swords of iron.

11/10/10- Luke 22:31-34 Jesus Prepares Us For Trouble

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”


(Statue commemorating Peter's denial- Caiaphas's courtyard in Jerusalem)


Thoughts: This is a wonderful, comforting passage of God's grace.  Jesus is preparing his leading disciple for the trouble ahead.  Christ is trying to encourage Peter who will be devastated that he denies him three times.  He does so by telling him He 1) foresees it- and therefore is in control of it; 2) He prays for Peter (and Peter has seen that his prayers are effectual); 3) that Peter will turn back- (love the "when" here); 4) that Peter has a purpose- strengthening the Church.  Peter thinks his faith is strong and he will never fail, but Jesus tells him the specifics of when he will fail.
     Many good Christians are dismayed when a leader falls.  Leaders are dismayed when they fall too.  Unbelievers make fun of Christian leaders for failing.  Even the Church- which should be full of grace- is not so gracious to those who fall.  We need to try to be as gracious as Christ- who did not just get angry at Peter (and he had every right to be), but sought even before it happened to gently restore him.
     Judas betrayed Christ but never came back.  He was full of guilt and remorse- but not repentance.  Peter denied Christ but came back.  Christ's words to him here probably helped him get over his remorse and regret so that he could do something positive with his life after his failure.
We all will fail in some ways.  But Christ prays for us (Rom. 8:34).

Prayer: Thank you God, that you lead us in our journey despite our failures. Thank you for your prayers and the hope found in your grace.  Give me grace to be gracious to others as you have been gracious to me.

John Calvin abridged: Christ declares they will have a contest with Satan, but at the same time say they will obtain the victory.  It is highly useful to us to know that our struggle is not just against flesh and blood, but also Satan's snares (Eph. 6:12). The "sifting as wheat" is not a sifting for purification (as in other passages), but represents a shaking almost to the point of breaking.  Peter's false confidence in his virtue carries him into foolish boasting. Peter erred in 1) relying on himself instead of God's promises; and 2) he shut his eyes to his own weakness. Everey person ought to be aware of their weaknesses and rely on the Holy Spirit.  We also should not take more to ourselves than the Lord leads us to do or say.  Too many enter into the field of battle over-zealous like drunken soldiers- who start boldly- but when the drunkeness wears off can do nothing but flee.  Nothing is more fading or transitory than inconsiderate zeal. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

11/9/10- Luke 22:28-30 Awards for Faithfulness

28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.



(24 thrones of Rev. 4:4)


Thoughts: Often we think about how the disciples ran away from Jesus, betrayed Jesus, or let Him down.  But here Jesus points out how they stayed by Him.  From the beginning religious leaders were criticizing him, questioning him, and the disciples sometimes bore criticism too.  They were criticized for picking grain on a Sabbath, for not fasting, not washing their hands, not healing the sick.  Certainly there was real danger to the disciples when he was arrested to be crucified.  Peter pointed out that he had left everything to follow Him (Mt. 19:27).  So, Christ awards their faithfulness.  Many fell away when he refused to be king yet claimed divinity (Jn. 6:66).   So our task is to be faithful to Him, even if all fall away from the faith around us.  Christ does not ignore the prices we pay to follow Him truly. 


Prayer: Lord, you have been faithful to me.  Help me to remain faithful to you. 

John Calvin abridged: The disciples seem to demand a triumph from their warfare before they have finished fighting.  Let us learn how our Lord soothes the bitter cup of this world with his hope.   Christ tells them that the glory of his kingdom was about to be revealed.  There were twelve apostles to gather the people scattered from the twelve tribes and would sit on the thrones at the end of history.  We should learn a lesson from Christ who was worthy of kingly honor but humbled himself (Phil. 2:7). 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

11/8/10 Luke 22:24-27 How to Succeed Permanently

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

(Large Lotto Winners- they gave it all away)



Thoughts: Roman Senators and rulers would be benefactors out of self-interest in order to rise in power.  They would tax one people in order to give to another, and then make those to whom they have given submit to them.  Their beneficence was out of selfishness in order to get the esteem of people.  Jesus seeks us to seek the esteem and applause of God.  When we serve others for the glory of God, we bring greatness to God and the kingdom of God. The reward is not found here, but in simply serving God and seeking to please Him.  We may succeed temporarily- for a few years if we seek the applause of others.  But we succeed permanently if we seek to please the eternal God. 
Violet Large has cancer and is a retired cosmetic director and Allen, her husband of 36 years, is a retired steel worker.  They won a $11.2 million lottery, but decided to live simply in the same old house and give all their winnings to family and charity.  They gave money to churches, hospitals, the Salvation Army.  They are an example to us all of people who have learned to be content with what they have.  I am not a believer in the lottery- and too many think the lottery is a way to get rich quick- and not work.  But the Larges can show us that money is not just for selfish uses, and that we should be content with what we have.

Prayer: Give me grace, Lord, to live for your glory and not for mine.

John Calvin abridged: Christ seeks to distinguish between the spiritual government of the Church and the empires of the world. Even godly princes (like David and Hezekiah) would use royal symbols- a scepter, a throne, a crown- to distinguish between themselves and others that they served.  But ministers are to have no such symbols.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

11/7/10 Luke 22:14-23 King Through Pain

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

(Last Supper frescoe- Leonardo Da Vinci 1498 Milan)


Thoughts: Many Christians will have communion today.  Jesus was eager to eat and drink with his disciples, and we should be eager to eat with Him.  Jesus was eager because he wanted them to remember Him after He left.  He also was reinforcing their faith by predicting his suffering and betrayal.  To know that suffering is not done without God's knowledge and even foreknowledge can be a comfort.  But Jesus also saw his suffering as an ushering in of the kingdom.  Certainly the resurrection is a sign of the kingdom- and the resurrection would not happen without his suffering.  But also the cross is the beginning of his kingdom in the sense that the sacrifice has been made for us.  We are brought into the kingdom because the King came and gave Himself for us on the cross. 

Prayer: Lord, today we remember your death for us- giving your body and your blood- that we might have life.  We remember you are King of kings and Lord of Lords.  Rule over us today. 

11/6/10- Luke 22:7-13 Jesus' Arranging Events

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” 9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

(A reading in the Upper Room Crusader Church- it was this upper room in the City of David part of Jerusalem in which the Lord's Supper was held, where Jesus appeared after the resurrection, and where Pentecost began).

Thoughts: Some have thought Jesus had already arranged for the guy carrying the jar to meet them.  But there is no real indication of that.  In fact, it is far more likely that Jesus foresaw this event (and arranged it providentially rather than secularly), and his telling John and Peter about it was memorable because he was prophesying this.  It would be hard for a man to be walking around with a water jar all day waiting for two disciples.  Getting ready for the Passover was not taken lightly but was rather a major event.  In Jewish tradition, even the looking for the last crumb of leavened bread was turned into a liturgy.  The prophesying of where the Last Supper was to take place makes the event that much more special, and even the details of it were not taken lightly by Jesus.  Too often we take our celebration of communion too lightly.  The celebration of The Lord's Supper is the remembering and celebrating of Jesus as our Passover Lamb, and a recognition that He is alive to commune with us each day. 

Prayer: Lord, all things are under your control.  Thank you that you know all things and arrange much more than we recognize.  Give us grace to trust in  your plans.  Give us grateful hearts that you commune with us.

John Calvin: Christ performs this miracle of arranging the supper in order to strengthen their faith- because they would soon see Him in a state of weakness.  The Passover was not just that they would remember their deliverance, but also that they would look forward to their deliverance by the messiah.  Paul says, "Christ our passover lamb was sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7). It should be noted that the disciples did not question Jesus, nor did they question the man (even though many were out to get Christ).  But they peaceably submitted to Him.  So we too should be satisfied with the command alone and go forward wherever God commands;  We should expect the success He promises and not indulge in excessive anxiety.

Friday, November 5, 2010

11/5/10 Luke 22:1-6 The Passover Lamb

In November we will be looking at the Passion (suffering and death) of Christ.  It is a key concept for Christians, and should be studied any time of the year.

 1 Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

(The Adoration of the Lamb- Jan Van Eyck- Ghentt altarpiece)


Thoughts: Each year at Passover, a good Jew always says, "Next year in Jerusalem."  One estimate of how many celebrated Passover in Jerusalem in the first century was 2.7 million (265,000 lambs sacrificed, according to Josephus,- one for every ten people).  The Feast of Unleavened Bread began the week before the Passover and ended with the Passover.  Jesus longed to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, but also knew the danger awaiting him there.  He was to be the Passover Lamb (Ex. 12; 1 Cor. 5:7b). The Passover Lamb was sacrificed to protect God's people from the angel of death.  John the Baptist at the beginning of Jesus' ministry said about our Lord: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29).
At the same time that Jesus was on the way, the chief priests and temple officers sought to kill him.  The commentary in Luke is that Satan entered Judas- one of the twelve.  That is a fearsome thought in and of itself- that the devil could use one of the twelve to betray Jesus.  Yet, despite the devil's efforts, the chief priests' efforts, and Judas's efforts, the Lord triumphed.  The betrayal of Jesus was a horrible thing- but God used it to enable his people to be forgiven of their sin by The Passover Lamb.

Prayer: Deliver us from the evil one, Lord.  Keep me from being used for evil purposes, and help me to honor you this day.  Forbid it that I would betray you, my Lord- my sacrifice.

John Calvin abridged: God appointed that His Son should be offered as a free sacrifice on the day of Passover that the reality and the shadow be seen together.  When Luke says that "Satan entered him" it is not as though the Holy Spirit was there before, but that Judas gave himself fully over to the cause of Satan, desperately seeking the destruction of the Christ. Satan enters into the reprobate when he takes possession of their senses, overthrows the fear of God, extinguishes the light of reason, and destroys every feeling of shame.  It appears that the cause of Judas' evil is greed, which Paul says is the root of all evil.  This shows us that we should repent and not harden our hearts to be used of Satan.  How monstrous it is that people who are designed to be the image of God and the temple of the Holy Spirit should not only be turned into filthy stables and sinks, but the wretched abodes of Satan.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

11/4/10 Matthew 25:1-13 Be Prepared

1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.


(Ten Virgins- Franken 1680)


Thoughts: The motto of the Boy Scouts of America is "Be Prepared."  But how often we let things slip on us- an exam, a deadline, a vacation,  We should be prepared for meeting God every day.  We do not need to start cramming to meet Him like if the doctor tells us we have cancer.  We may let our energy for God run out if we do not feed our energy for God by daily prayer and daily Bible reading and regular worship.  Such things recharge the batteries of our faith so that we are ready.

Prayer: May I always be ready for you, O Lord.  May I always be prepared.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUseW_yJkpg ("Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" Hot Tuna 1986)

John Calvin abridged: it is not enough to have ardent zeal for a short time, if we have not also a constancy that never tires.  Believers need to have unceasing supplies of courage, to support the flame which is kindled in their hearts, otherwise their zeal will fail before they have completed the long journey.

11/3/10 Matthew 25:14-30 Using Talents Wisely

14 "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26 But his master replied, 'You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'




Thoughts: What would have encouraged the wicked and lazy servant to be a better steward?  He thought his master was 1) Harsh and 2) taking more than he gave.  Too many see God as harsh and demanding instead of seeing God as patient and giving- and we are the ones who take God's gifts and hide them or worse use them up selfishly.  Everything we have is a gift from Him.  Nothing we have is from ourselves.  All that we see is made by Him.  Christians are called to be people who are not afraid to take risks- living by faith.  In a time of fear, Christians are called to be people of hope. After an election, it remains to be seen how those elected will use their talents. Calvin might say that all believers are elected and are called to use their talents wisely. 

Prayer: Lord, Help me to be a person who believes in your generosity, and imitates your generosity.  Help me to be a good steward.

John Calvin abridged: In this parable Christ compares himself to a nobleman who is gone on a long journey.  He does not want the disciples to expect an immediate kingdom, but rather a long journey with many toils. Chirst gives one a small amount and another a large amount.  The Lord does not give to each of us the same quantity of gifts (Eph. 4:7; 1 Cor. 12:11- "distributes them variously as He things proper").  Whether we are given much or little we are all still called to account for how we use what we have been given by God.  It would not make sense to hide the gifts, or refuse to use them, so that they do not yield fruit for Him.

Monday, November 1, 2010

11/2/10- Daniel 7:13-14 Who is Really in Charge

13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.  (Matthew 24:30,31)

(The Sign in the Sky- Cross picture taken 10-31-10)





Thoughts: Real devotion comes from a desire to see Him and be with Him more than anything else.  So the Bible ends with the longing, "Come Lord Jesus!"  The great hope is that one day God will set it all straight.  Scoffers act as if God will never act.  Some act as if the election alone will change the world in some kind of ultimate and drastic way.  But we need to remember who is really the king of kings.  Those under a heavy load in life long for relief and things to be set right the way they were meant to be.  One day the weakness of the cross will be replaced by the power and glory of the resurrection.  It is in God's great patience and timing. 

Prayer: Lord, may I long for your coming to set things right. Today we pray for the elections and ask that you would show yourself to be in charge by them.  May you be honored here as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

John Calvin abridged: Daniel has shown how God is on the throne of judgement, and at the end God shows what is now hidden, that He has the supreme authority of all government.  This passage in Daniel definitely refers to the Christ as "Son of Man" and speaks of his ascension to power.  In the end Christ will punish those who rebel against his authority.  He says this in part to encourage those who are persecuted by those in authority.  It is offensive to see the ungodly living without concern because they think their mockery of God will go unpunished.  It is too easy to be captivated by the allurements of our own prosperity and lose the fear of God.

11/1/10 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 All Saints All Ready

1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.



Thoughts: On this "All Saints Day" it is good to remember we are all children of the light and of the day.  One of the difference between all the saints (the invisible/true church in both heaven and here) and those who are not- is that we are to be awake, alert for God's presence, people of faith, hope, and love.

Prayer: Let me, Lord, be a true saint of the Day.  Let me always be ready for your coming; ready for your inbreaking presence.

John Calvin abridged:  He calls them back from a curious and unprofitable fascination with the time of his coming, and reminds them to be a constant state of readiness for his coming. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night for unbelievers because they will be surprised as if they were asleep. No darkness is more dense than ignorance of God.