Prayer Orients and Prioritizes Me

Red Admiral butterfly on my lilac tree

I’m still reading, very slowly, James Houston’s The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God. This is a very good, very deep book. I recommend it to anyone who is acgively engaged in praying.
Houston tells us, among other things, why praying is so important in these times.
First, we live in an incersingly fragmented world. We have increasing specialization, which distances people from one another. The idea of the “Renaissance man,” someone who was knowledgeable, educated, or proficient in a wide range of fields, is largely gone. In religion, faith is being presented as a marketable commodity. “All this specialization shows how our society has broken up into separate fragments.” (56)
Houston writes (this is so good!):
“Prayer alone can give us a sense of coherence in the broken-up world. Prayer at the beginning and end of each day and meal, prayer at the beginning of each week and with each cycle of the year, reminds us that our practical, everyday pursuits are not the whole of life.
Prayer shows us that life makes little sense if this is all it is: making money, making love, making a name for ourselves, making idols. The poverty of affluence, the failure of success, the emptiness of material plenty, the moral laziness of being busy – all these only make us hungry for something deeper. They drive us to a new concern for our inner needs, for friendships that last, and for spiritual resources that strengthen us inside. They make us long for a personal relationship with God to replace the emptiness of modern life.
Prayer too can overcome our  own fragmentation inside. Many people have an internal division between what they think and what they do, between belief and action. In fact, many religious people see their faith as a set of beliefs, rather than as a living relationship with God. Only a life of prayer can bring healing to our divided selves, and to our divided relationships with other people.” (56)
I love how Houston expresses this. I have found, and continue to discover, that in my times of prayer God shows me what is really important in life. Prayer orients and prioritizes me. Prayer kindles the fire in me towards:

  • knowing and loving God
  • Linda and my sons
  • my church family and friends
  • my students

Prayer keeps me in meaningful relationship. This is all that is truly important in life.

10 Reasons to Come to Redeemer Ministry School 2012-2013

Yes, it’s five months away, but I’m putting out the invitation to join me and our excellent staff and faculty at Redeemer Ministry School for our 2012-2013 school year.
I think this is an experience that will be life-transforming. Here are…
10 REASONS TO COME TO REDEEMER MINISTRY SCHOOL
1. We focus on Jesus and the Kingdom of God. If you want to do intensive Jesus-studies and Jesus-research, our core focus on the Kingdom of God and the Real Jesus may be just what you are looking for.
2. We focus is on growing deep. We’ll teach you how to abide more deeply in Christ, and show you how out of this deep abiding every Jesus-follower can do the things that he did.  Abiding in Christ comes first; obedience follows. 3. We emphasize both the heart and the head. If you are the kind of Jesus-follower that wants both more experience of the Real Jesus and a strong biblical and theological foundation, then RMS may be the place for you. RMS combines “academic” and “experiential.” We will teach you how to love the Lord with both heart and mind. 4. You will receive a high level of personal attention. Our faculty will function as mentors, teaching and guiding you in their areas of expertise. 5. Our faculty brings a high level of excellence and experience. Our focus is on giving RMS students the very best of what God has given us.
6. You’ll make a lot of new Jesus-following friends. We value authenticity and transparency in relationships. You’ll see this in our faculty and staff as we pass it on to you.
7. There is a move of God in our midst. God is doing great things in our ministry context. Why not come and be part of this? 8. RMS is a 9-month intensive experience. If you can’t take 2-3 years away and are looking for a shorter ministry school program, then why not consider coming to RMS? Even though it’s only 9 months, I feel you will get more out of these nine months that you may get in some three-year programs.
9. We’re a Spirit-led ministry. We are fully heart-committed to this. Which means that we cannot predict what God’s Spirit will do in our midst, who He will lead us to, and what the 9 months will exactly look like. We cultivate this Spirit-led atmosphere in RMS.
10. Your life will be forever changed! You will be a different person upon graduation than you were when you came: closer to God, more grounded in your faith, and equipped with more tools for life and ministry.
See our website for application information.

Easter Week #7 – Jesus’ Body Lies in a Tomb Owned by Joseph of Arimathea

 
Linda, before her mother’s grave in DeKalb, Illinois

SATURDAY, APRIL 7
SCRIPTURE – MATTHEW 27:57-66
57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?
As a new Jesus-follower many years ago there were factual, historical pieces of evidence that were serving to strengthen by new-found faith. While I have since changed my mind about a number of things, some facts remain. One remaining fact is this: Jesus’ dead body was placed in a tomb owned by Sanhedrin member Joseph of Arimathea. This is important to me, still. Because it provides a piece of evidence that, along with other facts (esp. Jesus’ postmortem appearances), forms an inductively strong argument for the resurrection of Jesus. Here is how I still think about this.
On that Saturday following Good Friday, Jesus’ body lie inert in Joseph of Arimathea’s family tomb. We can be certain, historically (which means “inductively certain”), that this was the case. How so? Here are two reasons: 1) this story, in the 4 Gospels and Paul, is found in independent sources that together, or multiply, attest to this; and 2) by the “criterion of embarassment” a story of a member of the Sanhedrin helping Jesus’ family is unlikely, and not plausibly invented by Christians. This argues in favor of its historicity.
We have sources that multiply attest to Jesus’ burial in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea.
Paul Barnett writes: “Careful comparison of the texts of Mark and John indicate that neither of these Gospels is dependent on the other. Yet they have a number of incidents in common: For example, . . . the burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea” (Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History, 1997, pp. 104-5). Regarding the burial stories, the differences between Mark and the other Synoptics point to other independent sources behind Matthew and Luke.
So what’s the point? The point is this. If, e.g., a police officer had multiple, independent (unrelated) witnesses to a crime, and they all gave the same report (even if worded differently), this would provide stronger evidence than if only one report had been given. We have this, re. the burial stories, in the Gospels and Paul. Here is the key Pauline text.
1 Corinthians 15:3 ff.: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
This is an old tradition, handed on by Paul to the Corinthian church, which is among the earliest traditions identifiable in the NT. It refers to Jesus’ burial in the second line of the tradition. That this is the same event as the burial described in the Gospels becomes evident by comparing Paul’s tradition with the Passion narratives on the one hand and the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles on the other. The four-line tradition handed on by Paul is a summary of the central events of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, and his appearances to the disciples. (From William Lane Craig)
Most NT scholars say it is highly likely that Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.
Sometimes I hear someone say, “OK, but Christians just made these stories up.” This is improbable. As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that was against Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention. In this regard New Testament  New Testament scholar Raymond Brown says burial by Joseph of Arimathea is very probable. Why? Because: It is almost inexplicable why Christians would make up a story about a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who does what is right by Jesus. This would, for a Jesus-follower in the days after Easter weekend, be an embarrassment. Craig Keener writes: “Given early Christian experiences with and feelings toward the Sanhedrin, the invention of a Sanhedrist acting piously toward Jesus is not likely.” (Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio- Rhetorical Commentary, 690)
Why is this important? It’s important because the location of the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed was known. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (the mother of James and Joseph) knew where it was, as did the chief priests and the Pharisees. Tomorrow, this tomb will be empty. If Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, it could and would have been seen or exhumed on the days following Easter.
Why would Joseph of Arimathea do such a thing? The answer is: he had become a disciple of Jesus. (Matt. 27:57) Both he and Sanhedrin member Nicodemus saw something in Jesus and stepped out of the box to follow Him. In this sense Joseph is a risk-taker who is willing to put aside his place of political and religious power to go after the truth and love he sees in Jesus. He doesn’t realize what’s going to happen on Sunday. But he wants to make sure his new Lord receives a proper Jewish burial. REFLECTION
1. Joseph of Arimathea risked his reputation and career to follow Jesus. Reflect on if and how you are risking all for Jesus. A PHOTO PUZZLE
I took this picture in Jerusalem. Where is this place?

 

Easter Week #6 – Jesus Screams In the Absolute Darkness

 
Candles, in the Church of the Nativity, Jerusalem

FRIDAY, APRIL 6
SCRIPTURE – MATTHEW 27:45-46

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?
As Jesus hung suspended on a cross an unnatural darkness began in the middle of the day and continued into the natural darkness of sunset.
New Testament scholar R. T. France writes: “Given the symbolic significance of the darkness as a divine communication there is little point in speculating on its natural cause: a solar eclipse could not occur at the time of the Passover full moon though a dust storm (‘sirocco’) or heavy cloud are possible.” (France, Mark, 651)
N.T. Wright writes: “It can’t have been an eclipse, because Passover happened at full moon, so that the moon would be in the wrong part of the sky.” (Wright, Mark for Everyone, 215)
Craig Keener says that the darkness “could come from heavy cloud cover. But the Gospel writers use it to convey a more profound theological point. (Keener, Matthew, 685)
However it was brought about, this was a God-caused darkness. For Jesus is bearing the load of the sins of all humanity. And sin causes separation; in this case, essentially from God. Sin separates us from Light. Sin and light cannot coexist.

Years ago Linda and I and our sons visited Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs. We were guided into the depths of these tunnels to a place where we were told that, when the lights in the cave were turned off, we would experience “absolute darkness.” I thought, “This is cool!” The lights went off. We just stood there, for several seconds. Our guide said, “You are now experiencing absolute darkness. Place your hand right in front of your eyes. You will not be able to see it.” Our guide was right. It was so completely dark that I could not see what was right before me. Had the lights failed us that day, we would not be able to see each other. I imagine we would say things like, “Are you still near me?” “Are you here?” “We’ve got to stay close to each other!” And, “Don’t abandon me while I’m in this darkness!”

On that day 2000 years ago, the darkness that covered the land was not absolute. But the existential darkness was. The absolute darkness of all this world’s sin and failure and shame and guilt now weighed on the heart of One Man. Out of this physical and ungodly darkness Jesus screamed the opening words of Psalm 22, asking why God had abandoned him.
“Screamed?” I think so. The Greek wording here is: ἐβόησεν  ὁἸησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ. Those last two Greek words are transliterated: phone megale. A mega-phone! A scream. Many scholars believe he mega-screamed these very words over and over and over again and again, since the verb indicates continuous action.

He doesn’t call God “Father” but Ὁ θεόςμου ὁ θεός μου… “My God… My God…” Jesus is still in relationship with Abba Father God, but it is a relationship which feels like abandonment. Six hours after he was placed on the cross, three of them being hours of darkness, Jesus feels abandoned by God. We do not know how long the feeling lasted.” Assume it lasted at least three hours. Perhaps He screamed over and over for that long. And know that, for Jesus, it was utterly real and all-embracing. (Craig Keener comments that “the early church would hardly have invented Jesus’ cry of despair in uttering a complaint about alienation from God, quoting Ps. 22.” Keener, Matthew, 682)
As the weight of this world’s evil converged upon Jesus He was giving his life as “a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). The sins of the “many,” which he is bearing, have for the first and only time in his experience caused a cloud to come between him and “Abba” – Father God. 1 Peter 2:24 explains it this way: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. Paul, in Galatians 3:13, writes: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
The curse of sin is that it makes a great divide between us and God. Sin breaches relationship. As Jesus bears our sin He experiences the Great Separation.
Listen to how N.T. Wright expresses this.
“Out of the unexplained cosmic darkness comes God’s new word of creation, as at the beginning… And all happens because of the God-forsakenness of the son of God. The horror which overwhelmed Jesus in Gethsemane, and then seems to have retreated again for a few hours, came back in all its awfulness, a horror of drinking the cup of God’s wrath, of sharing the depth of suffering, mental and emotional as well as physical, that characterized the world in general and Israel in particular. The dark cloud of evil, Israel’s evil, the world’s evil, Evil greater than the sum of its parts, cut him off from the one he called ‘Abba’ in a way he had never known before. And welling up from his heart there came, as though by a reflex, a cry not of rebellion, but of despair and sorrow, yet still a despair that, having lost contact with God, still asks God why this should be.” (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 216-217)

REFLECTION
1. Take time today to slow down in your heart, get alone by yourself, bow before God, and think of the passion of the Christ.
2. Resolve in your heart to never again take for granted what Jesus has done for you. Consider how and what it means that He bore your sins, and by His stripes you are healed.
3. Express in your own words thanks to God for what He has accomplished on the cross, which is: your justification; your being set right with God.
A PHOTO PUZZLE
Where in Israel did I shoot this photo?

Easter Week #5 – Jesus Takes the Second Cup

 
Linda, walking in Jerusalem

SCRIPTURE – LUKE 22:14-18
14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?
The cup Jesus takes is one of the four cups taken at the Passover meal. New Testament scholar Joel Green thinks it was the second cup. This is important.
Cup #1 – the head of the family gave a blessing over that cup. Cups 3 & 4 came after the Passover meal, and then Psalms 114-118 were sung – “The Great Hallel.”
But Cup #2 – that’s the point of the Passover Meal where the youngest son in the family asks the father, “Why is this night different from other nights?” “Why is unleavened bread eaten on this night?” And other questions… Jesus, on that night 2000 years ago, took the second cup. It was a different night, and would change the world. At the Passover meal the father, on taking Cup #2, would tell the story of the exodus, and gives a message on Deut. 26:5-11. The meal was interpreted as, was seen as, an act of remembering and thanking God for his past liberation of an oppressed people. It was a celebration of God’s faithfulness and hope for the future deliverance of God’s people.
They would eat lamb and bitter herbs. They would drink the series of four cups of wine.
At the original Exodus Passover lambs were slaughtered. The blood of these lambs was applied to the doorways of the Jewish homes as a sign for the Angel of Death to pass over their homes and spare the life of their first born. When the father tells this story, the Jews at the meal imagine themselves right back in the world of Moses in Egypt. Haven’t you ever heard someone tell a story in such a way that you feel as if you are right there? You feel the emotions that were felt way back then, as if you could smell the food being described and sense the oppression yourself, and then…
… experiencing the incredible thing of being set free!
Here, as recorded in Luke 22, unknown at the time to the disciples, it was one of those different nights. The Jewish Meal of all Meals was happening, for the one-thousandth time. The original Passover WAS a night different from all other nights. It was the night when the avenging angel of death “passed over” the homes of the Israelites so God could LIBERATE the people of Israel! But this night, recorded here in Luke 22, is going to be very, very different from any other night. And it will be remembered forever, not just by Jews, but by the peoples of the world.
This quite-and-very different night begins by Jesus talking, not of the Moses-Exodus story, but about His impending death, and His Kingdom that is coming in its fullness. Jesus is changing the meaning of Passover. This is shocking and unexpected.
Can we just stop here for a moment?
Change is hard. This change is beyond hard. Because up to this point Passover was celebrated in the SAME WAY ALL THE TIME! “We always have done it this way!” (These, BTW, are the 7 Last Words of the Church.) The same questions are asked. The same answers are given. And it has been this way, this very same way, for hundreds of years.
But ON THIS NIGHT, as Joel Green says: “Instead of the expected focus on the historic deliverance enacted by God in Israel’s past, Jesus talks about his own death and vindication, and the coming of God’s dominion.” (JG, L, 761) “As you drink Cup #2, this cup, remember Me.” What Jesus does on this night draws on the Exodus story. But, as N.T. Wright is so fond of saying, this is the “New Exodus.”
“After taking the [second] cup, Jesus gave thanks and said…” He did this on a night that is different from any before it, and from any that will follow. In doing this Jesus was showing that He was the “New Moses” who was, at that time and through those days, leading not only Israel, but all of humanity, in the New Exodus, in the Liberation of all humanity.
Tonight, the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus lifted the second cup. It was the night before  the day when all humanity would be set free.
REFLECTION
1. Had you been one of Jesus’ disciples at that Passover Meal, how would you have felt when Jesus reinterprets hundreds of years of tradition in terms of His own life and sacrificial death?
2. Think of how Jesus has liberated you from your enslavement to sin. Count the ways He has done this. Give thanks to God for this.
A PHOTO PUZZLE
I took this photo in Israel. Where was it taken?

Easter Week #4 – Jesus Warns People About Showy Religious Leaders Who Have Lots of Titles

Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem

SCRIPTURE READING – LUKE 20:45-47
45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?
Among things I never wanted to be when I was a child was a public speaker. I am an introvert, by personality. I didn’t terribly mind being on stage if I could hide behind my guitar. But I would feel physically sick days before having to get up in front of a class to give a book report or show-‘n-tell. I would rather have a root canal than do that.
So what did God do with me? In spite of my fear and reluctance He called me to speak in front of people. If anything good comes out of my teaching and preaching I find it easy to thank God, who has made this possible.
I spoke, publicly, 6 times yesterday. At 7:30 AM I addressed 250 freshman and sophomores at Airport High School in Carleton. I was asked to speak on Character, Integrity, Respect, and Tolerance. At 8:30 I stood before 200 students in Airport’s junior and senior classes.  In both talks I used Aristotle’s ideas of virtuous behavior and character as wisdom, kindness, and goodness. I also used “The Hunger Games,” especially the heroine Katniss Everdeen, to illustrate this.
Then I went to teach in my RMS Apologetics class. I taught from 10-11 on The Worldview of the Hunger Games and Apologetics. From 11-11:30 I introduced RMS students to Anselm’s Ontological Argument for God’s Existence.
After a half hour break I spoke, in Redeemer’s sanctuary, on A Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Christ. 40 people showed up. I was so pleased! This is difficult material for those who’ve not studied this stuff before. I asked a few people afterwards if it was clear to them.
Finally, I taught the 30 students in my Logic class at Monroe County Community College from 7-8:30. The lesson was: Informal Fallacies in Logic.
That was a lot of speaking, and I was tired afterwards!
Yesterday morning I awoke at 5 AM. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was thinking about speaking to 250 freshman and sophomores at 7:30 AM. Would I be boring to them? Will they be able to stay awake? I felt confident that I had something to say to them that was important. Would it be clear to them? Would I be able to get on their level and speak their language? The truth is, I was nervous about this. I was confident in what I had to say; nervous about my ability to say it.
After years of doing this kind of thing I would rather be confident-yet-nervous than arrogant and presumptuous. I’d rather be personally insecure and forced to find my security in God, than some Big Speaker who can’t wait to be seen by others. In the verses above, Jesus warns the people about Big-Speaking, showy, pretentious religious preachers who absolutely love to be seen by others in all the glory of their personal abilities and religiousness.
In these verses we find Jesus teaching in the Temple courtyards a few days before going to the cross. As He says these words it is nearly certain that “teachers of the law” are also listening. Jesus just flat-out tells His followers to stay away from such people, for they are neither servants nor humble. They have neither God’s interests nor your’s in mind.
In the Matthew version of this passage Jesus goes on to say:
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Professional titles, to Jesus, are irrelevant. Servanthood is what is required. In order to be a Jesus-like servant leader humility is the proper attitude. I confess to still be learning this.
As I was speaking to the freshman and sophomores, all 250 of them, I had a moment where I felt like every one of them was listening to what I was saying. Afterwards Airport High’s principal told me, “They were all quiet; they were all focused on what you were teaching them.” Then he added, “And that… is no small accomplishment.”
I agree. And, I am certain it wasn’t me at that accomplished it. So God, thank You! Even though I was asked not to speak about religious things, I sensed God in that room, addressing the students’ hearts in ways I could not. I, therefore, can gladly step aside, and allow God to receive all the accolades, should there come any.
REFLECTION
1. Jesus was a Servant-Leader. How can you follow Jesus in this way and serve other people today?
2. Take some time to get alone with God today. Confess any desire to want to be applauded by people. Ask Him to create more humility in your heart. Exalt and glorify Him in prayer and song.
A PHOTO PUZZLE
I took this picture in Jerusalem. Where is it?

Easter Week #3 – Jesus Brings In a Love Revolution

During Easter Week, 2,000 years ago, Jesus was doing and saying Messianic, Kingly things in the city of Jerusalem. The tensions about Him were escalating, and would eventually lead to His crucifixion. Certain Jewish religious leaders were confronting Jesus. In Matthew 22:34-40 some of the rules-righteousness Pharisees, who are really angry about Jesus and His failure to abide by all the religious rules they have accumulated, address Him with The Big Question. Here are two translation of that text. Only one of them is accurate.
SCRIPTURE READING – MATTHEW 22:34-40 – TWO VERSIONS
Version 1:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Turn off your cell phone.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Turn off your neighbor’s cell phone as your own.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Version 2:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES
The correct translation, from
the original Greek text (which, BTW, and contra KJV-only worshipers, we are very close to having), is Version 2. Version 1 is false for the following reasons:
  1. There were no cell phones in the first century.
  2. Even if there were cell phones in the first century Jesus would not have needed one, since the Father in Him knows the hearts and minds of people.
  3. Version 1 is too legalistic-Pharisaic sounding. Jesus would never have said such a thing; i.e., Jesus would never have singled out a human-made unwritten rule as the greatest rule of all.
  4. Jesus wouldn’t turn and give someone the evil eye if, while He was speaking, their cell phone went off.

Behind the Pharisees’ question and Jesus’ response lie the ongoing “Sabbath Controversies” they were engaged in. I’m going to illustrate this by using an example that happened to me recently. Recently I was driving in downtown Monroe, stopped at a light, when a car pulled up behind me. The man driving appeared angry – at me! He honked his horn, then drove next to me, and gave me “The Look.” It was not the look of love. Something, apparently, about my driving had not been pleasing to him. I have no idea what it was. But I knew that, in his mind, I had violated one of his rules of driving. As a result I received The Look, not of love, but of condemnation. “The Look” is what happens in a rule-governed world where following a set of rules is the means of acceptance and social righteousness. The prevailing mood in such a world is judgment and condemnation, because rules get transgressed. I do think it is polite to silence my cell phone in a Sunday morning worship service. I do not think it is a Jesus-thing to give someone The Look when their phone goes off. Because love is patient, love is kind, love is not easily angered, and love keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus, it appears, was constantly breaking religious rules. One example is Mark 2:22-28. Here some rule-watching Pharisees to Jesus about the behavior of His disciples on the Sabbath. Contrary to Exodus 16:25-26, which rules out gleaning and plucking grain on the Sabbath, Jesus allows His disciples to do so. For this he receives “The Look.” Jesus’ response is to reinterpret the Exodus passage, placing it in the greater context of God’s overall purposes for humanity. Ben Witherington writes: “Jesus’ point of view seems to be that human beings do not exist for the sake of the law, but rather the converse. The function of the Sabbath is to restore and renew creation to its full capacity, just as leaving the land fallow for a sabbatical year might do. The disciples’ eating was a means of renewal and restoration for them. Thus, they should be permitted to eat, even at the expense of specific, clear prohibitions in the law. In short, Jesus sees it as part of his mission to interpret matters according to their true or original intention, no longer making allowances for the hardness of human hearts.” (Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus, 68) If the love of God was abundantly poured into my heart (Romans 5:5), at that point I would not need rules such as “You shall not steal,” or “You shall not commit adultery.” That’s why Jesus said that all the Law and prophets hand on the two Love-Commandments.
Jesus’ revolution is, essentially, a Love Revolution. He was bringing in a love and grace environment, rather than a rules-environment. That’s why Paul wrote, in Romans 5:2, that “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” “Gained access” is Temple language; meaning we who trust in Christ as ushered into the fields of God’s grace.
Love, not law, wins. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)
REFLECTION
1. Thinking of Romans 5:5, ask God for a fresh outpouring, a fresh deluge, a “rainstorm” of God’s love to be poured into your heart today.
A PHOTO PUZZLE
I took this picture in Jerusalem. Where is it taken?

Easter Week #2 – The Cursing of the Fig Tree Is Really About the End of the Temple

Jerusalem – Church of the Nativity

MONDAY, APRIL 2
This is Easter Week – the days leading up to Good Friday and the cross .After Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of “Save us now!” (“Hosanna!”), he did some radical and revealing things in the city. One of them was His “cursing of the fig tree.”
SCRIPTURE READING – MATTHEW 21:18-22
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. 20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES
Jesus and his disciples are walking up Mount Zion, upon which Jerusalem is seated. On top of the mountain is the Temple. The Temple was in full view as they ascended. It’s probable that the fig tree was higher up on the road. between Jesus and the Temple. As they walk to the Temple, Jesus see the fig tree ahead.
As H points to the fig tree, he is really pointing to the Temple. That is, the barrenness of the fig tree is a visual analogy for the barrenness of the presence of God within the Temple. God is no longer showing up in the Temple. The religious leaders, instead of welcoming God’s presence and introducing people to that presence, shut the door of heaven in people’s faces and themeselves do not enter in. (Matthew 23:13) Their “religion” was rule-based, and filled with self-centered pride.  Nothing worse could be said of a religious leader; viz., that they do their religious thing and bar God from the activities.
In the case of the Temple, God himself exited. How sad and worthless this is, since what people need is God and His manifest “with-us” presence.
When Jesus curses the barren fig tree, and then talks about “this mountain” being thrown into the sea, he’s referring not to just any ountain, but to Mount Zion. Some people talk about a faith that can move mountains and use this passage as an example, but Jesus was really talking about a new kind of faith that would exist without the Temple. The Temple, where God had showed up for hundreds of years, was going down, never to be inhabited by God again. The day was near true worship will not happen on this mountain or any mountain. Thus, “this mountain” (Mt Zion) can be cast into the sea.
Later, as Jesus and his disciples are walking down Mount Zion from the Temple area, his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)
With the Temple now God-less, where will God manifest Himself? The answer, as the disciples will realize on the Day of Pentecost, is that the dwelling place of God will be in His people, both individually and corporately. The great, revolutonary new truth of Jesus, in this story, is that if you are a Jesus-follower then you are a temple of the presence of God. You are, as Richard Foster has written, a “portable sanctuary.”
You host the presence of God.
REFLECTION
1. Consider ways in which you will welcome God’s presence in your life today, ways in which you will welcome his presence.
A PHOTO PUZZLE
I took this picture in Jerusalem. Where is it taken? What is it a picture of;,and what is this for?

Jesus Comes to Hosanna Us

SCRIPTURE READING: Mark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:4-5

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ”
[Matthew 21:4-5 adds these verses: 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to the Daughter of Zion,       ‘See, your king comes to you,    gentle and riding on a donkey,       on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” ]
Back to Mark…
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,    “Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”    “Hosanna in the highest!”

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES

When the people saw Jesus and began shouting “Hosanna!,” they were calling out to Jesus “Save us!” “Rescue us!” The cry of Hosanna! is a Hebrew word (hoshi`ah-na) that had become a greeting or shout of praise but that actually meant “Save!” or “Help!” Not surprisingly, forms of this word were used to address the king with a need (cf. 2 Sam 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26). The palm branches the people carry are symbolic of a victorious ruler.
“Hosanna” has the sense of immediacy, and so it would be correct to this word as “Please save us, and do it now!”
When Jesus rode in his upside-down Kingdom-way on a donkey (not a stallion) into Jerusalem, there was desperation in the air. These Jewish citizens of Jerusalem were under the heavy yoke of the Roman Empire. They had heard about Jesus. The rumor was that he claimed to be a king. Even the Messiah. So when word got out that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, he was greeted as a king would be greeted.
As shouts of “Blessed is the King of Israel!” are heard, clearly the people see in Jesus the answer to their nationalistic, messianic hopes. Earlier a crowd had wanted to make Jesus king (6:15), and now this crowd is recognizing him as king in the city of the great King. Here is the great dream of a Davidic ruler who would come and liberate Israel, establishing peace and subduing the Gentiles.
The way Jesus entered Jerusalem was a deliberate, prophetic “Zechariah 9:9 act” on his part. Zech. 9:9 reads: Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt. Jesus comes into Jerusalem in a kingly way, and the people respond in a kingly fashion. The imagery is regal and even messianic, though it is a humble Messiah who makes the ride. As the people spread their garments (NIV: their cloaks) on the road, a “red carpet” of sorts is produced.
He was there to rescue them. The people were about to get “hosanna-ed,” “rescued.” But it wasn’t going to look like they thought it should. Jesus is a different kind of King. He’s going to “Hosanna” the world by dying on a cross. N.T. Wright writes: “The meaning Jesus attaches to this “triumphal entry” is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today.”
People turn to God when there’s something they want very badly. That’s like deciding to use a telephone when you desperately need an ambulance to come and help you. Church attendance – generally – was up, briefly, after “9-1-1.” Suddenly everyone wanted to ask the big, hard questions.
Here, in our Palm Sunday story taking place just outside Jerusalem, suddenly everyone wants Jesus to ride into the city and be the kind of king they want him to be. “Help!” “Save the life of my sick child!” “Pay my bills!” “Give us peace, now!”
Jesus does intend to respond to the people’s cries. He has come to seek and save the lost. He has come for people who need help, people who are sick and need a doctor. Yet he’s not coming to be all things to all people. He’s not riding into Jerusalem to conform to the expectations of the crowds of people. He is going to answer in his own way.
The people wanted a prophet. This prophet, Jesus, is going to tell the people that they are under coming judgment. They wanted a Messiah. This one is going to be enthroned on a pagan cross. The crowds wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression. This person Jesus is going to do that, but in a far, far deeper way than they were thinking.
Jesus is going beneath surface evil and in to the depths of the human heart. N.T. Wright says: “Precisely because Jesus says ‘yes’ to their desires at the deepest level, he will have to say ‘no’ or ‘wait’ to the desires they are conscious of, and expressed.” (NTW, Matt, 68)
Once you really cry out “Hosanna,” Jesus is going to “hosanna” you more thoroughly than you imagine, maybe more deeply than you wanted. The Hosanna-ing Jesus brings is not just a band-aide. This story of Jesus entering Jerusalem is “an object lesson in the mismatch between our expectations and God’s answer.” (NTW, Matt, 69)
The bad news is that the crowds are going to be disappointed. The good news is that their disappointment is on a surface, shallow level. “Deep down, Jesus’ arrival at the great city is indeed the moment when salvation is dawning… The “Hosannas” were justified… they were correct…. but not for the reasons they supposed. To learn this lesson is to take a large step towards wisdom and humility, and towards genuine Christian faith.” (NTW, Matt, 69)
REFLECTION

1.    If you are a Jesus-follower, then you have been Hosanna-ed. You called, He answered, and He came to your rescue. Think of how God, in Christ, has been your Rescuer. Make a list of some God-redemptive things in your life.
2.    Christ has not ceased to love us as Redeemer and Rescuer. If there is an area in your life you now need rescue and deliverance from, identify it, and cry out “Hosanna, Lord!”