Missing the Point

Every other year when I was a young boy our colorful, i.e. bombastic, and ambitious choir director would have the chancel choir perform a choral work called “The Seven Last Words of Christ” (Theodore Dubois). One of the lines I remember most was “death he doth merit!” This chorus was delivered with passion and unrestrained volume. One could see all the veins in the throats of the tenors, and the sopranos alone, including my mother, could rend the temple veil in two. Later in the work, the director would himself dramatically and rhythmically utter in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!” He’d go on slowly and solemnly, “That is to say, ‘My God, My God, why hath Thou forsaken me?’”

Mark’s account of the Passion of Christ (Mark 15) seems to whisk along, falling far short of Gibson’s agonizing plodding portrayal. But it’s appropriate in the sense that the chief priests were hellbent to rid themselves of this man who had so dominated them for three years. That they raged with envy was clearly obvious to Pilate. Then there’s the mob mentality on vivid display. The people who had a week ago chanted “Hosanna, Hosanna” to their king, viciously turned on Jesus. Everyone including the thieves crucified with Christ, at least one of them, “hurled abuse” at him. Then huddled together at the foot of the cross were the Roman soldiers, who capped off their fun and games with the King of the Jews by casting lots for Jesus’ bloodstained garment.

One man in all this madness, though, recognized who these crazed people had wanted crucified, and he was the centurion. As the rest of the world danced for joy, his eyes were riveted on the wrenching heaving body of the Lord until it went limp. He heard and hung on all seven of his last words, and came to this undeniable conclusion, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:39

In three short days, he’d have to change “was” to “is.”

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Answering the Call

Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep. Mark 14:72

Jesus directly and calmly answered his accusers. Peter, on the other hand, cowardly denied he knew the Lord. If we associate with Christianity long enough we’ll be called to account. Are we really one of them or not? Pray that you will unequivocally say “Yes!” when they do. In that defining moment you will launch a new phase of your faith. Your words will provide a foundation for works far greater. It may seem that life as you’ve known it is over, but it will have just started.

The apostles were overjoyed at the chance to be persecuted for their Lord, and they didn’t stop rejoicing and spreading the gospel (Acts 5:41). It will be a crying shame if you slink back! Peter was in a bad way until the risen Christ met him face to face later on (1 Corinthians 15:5).

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Evil Unleashed

“Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61-62

Jesus was bound and taken to the house of the high priest. There he was interrogated by the high priest, chief priests, elders and scribes. This was likely a hastily called meeting of the Sanhedrin. They brought in false witnesses who twisted his past words, trying to get him to incriminate himself. He remained silent. Increasingly agitated, the high priest cut to the chase with above question, This was finally a question Jesus would choose to answer. And all of hell broke loose.

Here the Jews were waiting for the Messiah and he comes.  He’s standing right in front of them. They ask the question if he is the one, and he says, quoting scripture about himself, yes. Then they spit on him, pound him with their fists, scorn him and slap him.

If Jesus could call down 12 legions of angels in the garden, it would seem he had the upper hand here, but he allowed them to have their way. They had his blood on their hands now, and their fate would be sealed within hours.

Peter later said this about what they had done. “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:23

We often shake our heads and cluck our tongues at the evil we witness in this world, but it’s par for the course. It knows no bounds, as witnessed here. And now this evil in all of its manifestations is directed full bore toward us, his people. “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37

And “what then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32

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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


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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