Dreading the Worse

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?

Psalm 27:1

People wearing a face masks to protecting themself because of epidemic in China. Selective Focus. Concept of coronavirus quarantine.

We live in a desperate time where fear is rampant. The COVID-19 virus has turned the world upside down, sending humans into hysterics. I happen to believe from a “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” viewpoint (Ephesians 6:12) that there has never been a more diabolical plot hatched and shrewdly implemented by Satan. He has shuttered humankind and even the church in a way no war or threat of war could.

“But God,” my wife is fond of saying, “But God!”

In the first verse of Psalm 27, we’re asked who is worth fearing, and who is worth dreading? Fear is to be afraid of, or to have a healthy respect for something. The virus is worthy of both, and that’s why we’ve taken many precautions to keep ourselves and others healthy. But it is comforting and encouraging to know that whatever happens, our God is our light in the darkness and our salvation.

But the word “dread” is what most of us are experiencing in these days of spiking curves and rising death counts. This word can mean to “live in terror.” This kind of living is debilitating. To this the Lord says, “I am the defense of your life.”

It’s understandable to be fearful these days, but unhealthy to dread. Pray instead that God will protect you, and everyone.

And there’s much more encouragement to be had as you read on in the Psalm!

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Who’s in Charge?

Judas was on his “high horse” striding into the garden, finally in the lead. Jesus was on the move to intercept him. Judas was empowered by darkness and a crowd of temple guards and Roman soldiers wielding swords and clubs. The sound of approaching sandals on the the ground was terrifying to the disciples. You could see glimpses of armor in the flashes of torch light.

Jesus had just been strengthened by an angel of God and was resolute, just as he was when he set his face toward Jerusalem. Behind him was an apprehensive band of men, jolted from their slumbers. One palmed his small sword at his side, his heart now racing.

The intense drama in the Lord’s betrayal and arrest is undeniable. There would be a clash of good and evil like never before. You must read all the gospel accounts to get the full story (Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:3-11). A lot happened in just a few seconds. On the surface you would think Jesus was overwhelmed by the evil one, bound and wisked away. But he was in full control of every detail in order that the scriptures were fulfilled.

He initiated the encounter, perhaps after the fervent kiss of his betrayer, with “whom do you seek?” They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” The Lord exclaimed, “I am he!” And they all fell to the ground. Stunning. He then cut a deal for his men to go free, and they ultimately scattered like sheep as predicted.

Jesus was often called “teacher” in the accounts of his ministry. While he didn’t fight back as they bound him, he schooled Judas, Peter, and the arresting party.

First, he questioned the use of a kiss to betray him, and called Judas “friend.” Whatever adrenaline high Judas was on suddenly burst with unbearable remorse. I’d have him standing stunned at the term “friend” while all the ensuing chaos swirled around him, then slowly slinking back into the darkness.

Peter, perhaps following through on his overconfident pledge in the Upper Room, unsheathed his sword with the intent of splitting the skull of the high priest’s servant Malchus, who was likely in front of the crowd. He missed and took off his ear. The Lord scolded Peter for his methodology in light the Lord’s formidable backup at a snap of his finger (twelve legions of angels), and for trying to thwart the will of God. But the Lord healed the man’s ear in a split second, no doubt setting the stage for Peter’s coming threefold denial. I can’t help but wonder if Malchus ultimately became a believer.

Then the Lord chided those who came to arrest him in the cloak of darkness as though he was a robber. After all, he’d been in broad daylight for days teaching in the temple. Why not then?

But all this happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled. The cup that Jesus chose to drink was now at his lips.

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Eyes Wide Open

And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” Mark 14:33-34

003-tis-jesus-gethsemane

Mark 14:32-42

Gethsemane, an olive orchard on the Mount of Olives, was quite familiar to the disciples. It was Jesus’ favorite place to pray. As such, Judas, who left the disciples and Jesus in the Upper Room to betray the Lord, knew right where to find him. It didn’t matter though, because reading on (in Mark 14:42), it was the Lord who came to him.

In the midst of the olive trees perhaps were olive presses to squeeze the oil from the fruit. In the same way, the Lord’s blood would soon be crushed out of him by evil men. But it was, in turn, sold to redeem our souls! In an ironic twist of fate, only Satan was “crushed” in the end.

Lost in the telling of this story with its groggy men failing to keep their eyes open to “watch and pray,” was the transformation of Jesus’ countenance before them. The words “distressed” and “troubled” are greatly understated in English. The Greek word for “distressed” is “to throw into amazement or terror, to alarm thoroughly, to terrify, to be struck with terror.” “Troubled” means “uncomfortable,” as one not at home. In that moment was revealed (I guess to the Lord’s human side), all the horror that awaited him.

One can only imagine the swirling “coming scenes” in the Savior’s mind’s eye, of the spiteful jeering faces yelling “crucify him” as he faced Pilate, the stones along the Via Delarosa spattered with his own blood, and the foreboding gloom of Golgotha. Far worse was the startling realization of the severing of his fellowship with his “Abba Father,” and the nauseating thought of receiving the sins of the whole world into his spotless body. These realities are what continually threw him to the ground. This living nightmare caused him to sweat profusely with drops like blood (Luke 22:44).

While certainly with Judas and a band of soldiers rapidly  approaching, the idea was for Peter, James and John to “keep watch” in the classic sense. More importantly, though, the Lord wanted the men to watch his ensuing desperate struggle with the will of God. We all would benefit in knowing, regardless the situation, that we must in everything exchange our will for God’s, that it’s natural to want whatever bitter cup we must drink to pass. Realizing this, it’s somewhat of a relief to know even Jesus petitioned God three times (or repeatedly in three sessions) that he might not have to do what he was called to do. But he, even given the horrifying thought of his “Abba Father” turning his back on him, still trusted Him that it was all for good.

In the end, Jesus rose up resolved to drink the cup. He did not proceed blindly into the great unknown, but with eyes wide open. His sleepy Apostles-in-waiting would someday do the same, after successfully battling temptation and doubt, and make him proud. He asks the same of all of us in such perilous times.

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Proof Positive

“Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:25

Jesus made important predictions of near future things at this last Passover meal. He foretold of his imminent betrayal, and the traitor left the room and did the deed. He said his body would be broken and blood spent, and in a day it was. Then he predicted to all in earshot they would abandon him, and they scattered like sheep within hours. After proudly exclaiming his undying devotion, Peter denied Jesus as vehemently as he claimed he would defend him (three times). And did the remaining eleven disciples join him in Galilee after his resurrection? Yes they did (Matthew 28:16). Five for five.

Lest we forget in Mark 8:31, Jesus set the stage for what was in store for him with this sweeping summary:

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Accordingly, is there anything more we need to know to believe in him? Is he not now alive and positioned to enjoy the fruit of the vine again someday with us? Is there any denying that he will return just as he left?

Just asking!

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Just As It Is Written

“For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born. Mark 14:21

Don’t think for a moment that the Lord’s betrayal and crucifixion was happenstance. Jesus clearly knew what was going to happen to him, as well as all the players who would be involved.

It would unfold just as he had told the disciples that a donkey would be waiting for them in the village and that a large room would be available for his Last Supper.

You see, when he hung from the cross, it was he who surrendered his life, just as planned. Seeing this, some would see the plight of Judas as unfair. But such is the mystery of God’s workings. Unfolded by his hand, yet perpetrated by a man in full possession of free will.

You don’t dwell on these things too long. You accept them and exercise your free will in favor of the one with the foreknowledge.

To be safe, just stick with what was written!

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All to Him We Owe

While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. Mark 14:3

This act of anointing with oil was done to honored quests upon arrival. Olive oil was mixed with perfume then poured on the head. In this case the woman broke a vial of perfume worth a year’s salary and presumably added it to oil. Mouths dropped when she did this.

But the woman recognized who it was in her presence and that he was worth every denarii and more. This was an act of worship. In Jesus’ eyes, it was even more. It was a symbolic preparation for his soon coming death and burial.

Reading on, the guests’ alternative use for the perfume was to sell it and give the proceeds to the poor. This hypothetical sounded lofty, but I’m not so sure this would have ever happened given human nature. Surely Judas Iscariot would have pocketed the proceeds.

The question for us is this. Our turn on this earth is brief. Will our devotion, time and resources be poured out on the head of Jesus, or kept selfishly for ourselves? After all we owe everything to him!

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Coming Soon!

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Mark 13:26

Christians face times of crisis and uncertainty with the hope that Jesus is returning someday soon. Some believe they’ll be taken out before the Great Tribulation that Jesus talks about in Matthew 13. Others are not so certain.

I believe the Bible supports our early exit, but for the sake of not missing some big truths in this chapter, we should all at least agree to take him at his word that he is coming back.

If we choose to live in the here and now, we’ll miss out on this hope. There’s something about getting ready for something big that builds anticipation and excitement. But you’ll have to rein yourself in sometimes because you’ll grow impatient. I do.

I think the Lord would rather us be on the tip of our toes watching and waiting than living life unexpectantly. You don’t want to be caught flat footed as they say.

Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. Mark 13:33

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