Category: Passion Week
April 5, 2015 by Al Gardner

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” – 1 Corinthians 15:14, 20

 

Today’s Scripture Reading:

John 20

 

Three days have passed since Jesus was placed in the grave. It’s Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene and some other women converge on the tomb. As they approach, they discover the giant stone that blocked the entrance, has been dislodged and set aside. Mary, in panic, runs to tell Peter and John: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”[1]

 

Peter and John come running towards the tomb, along with Mary. When they arrive, they are in awe. The grave is wide open. The grave clothes are still there, together and intact. But the body is gone! They are dumbstruck for a bit. But they soon rouse out of their stupor and return to tell the others.

 

Mary remains, standing outside the tomb. As she stands there, sobbing, she notices two angels sitting inside the tomb, right where Jesus’ body had been. One asks her why she is crying. She explains; her Lord has been taken. Then Jesus appears behind her. He also asks why she is crying. He wonders who she is seeking. She thinks Jesus is the gardener. She asks if he’s the one who removed the body. At this, Jesus makes himself known to her. After a warm exchange, she excitedly rushes to tell the disciples.

 

That evening, the disciples are all gathered in one place, all but Thomas. They had the doors locked tight, because they feared the Jewish leaders might come after them. Soon, a familiar voice speaks right in their midst. “Peace be with you.” Jesus had appeared out of nowhere right in the middle of the room! Later in the week, he appears to Thomas. Throughout the week, other scripture tells us Jesus appears to many others, before ascending back to the Father.

 

The Apostle Paul tell us that among the “many others” that Jesus reveals himself to, following his resurrection, are five hundred people he appears to all at once![2] Maybe one person was hallucinating. Possibly two. But five hundred people, all hallucinating at once, seeing the same thing at the same time? Paul, writing this many years after the death of Jesus, says most of the witnesses are still alive. In other words, if you don’t believe me, ask them!

 

The dead body of Jesus was never produced. He appears alive before hundreds of witnesses. He foretold that he would do this. His enemies try to prevent the resurrection from taking place. They try to avert even rumors of a resurrection. But his resurrection happens anyway. Jesus does rise from the dead and the news of it spreads everywhere. And the news still spreads to this day! And we respond in the only way that makes any sense. We believe him. We follow him. We give our best for him. We worship him.

 

Questions:

  • What does Jesus’ resurrection mean to you personally?
  • How could your life really come to life, because Jesus really came to life?

 


 

[1] John 20:2

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:6

April 4, 2015 by Al Gardner

“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:26

 

Today’s Scripture Reading:

Matthew 27:62-66

 

Saturday must have been a very sad day for those close to Jesus. It was also the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. Scripture doesn’t mention what Jesus’ followers did on this day, except to mention that the women, who had earlier been busy making preparation for Jesus’ burial, are today taking the traditional Sabbath rest.[i]

 

Though the Jewish people may have refrained from working on this day, it certainly didn’t stop their leaders from further scheming. You would think that with Jesus dead, and his body lying in a tomb, his enemies would be satisfied. But they weren’t. These Jewish leaders hated Jesus, but not as much as the threat he posed to their power. And that threat still remained so long as the people believed he lived. And why might they believe Jesus lived?

 

Before his death, Jesus had made veiled references to his own resurrection following his death.[ii] The Jewish leaders were concerned his disciples might steal his body from the tomb and claim he had risen from the dead. This would be a never-ending threat to their authority. The burden of proof would be upon them to demonstrate Jesus was indeed dead. And without a body, they could never prove that. The dead body of Jesus was important for them to preserve, for this reason.

 

Their plot was to convince Pilate to secure the grave, protecting it from any mischief. The Jewish leaders pleaded their case with Pilate and he gave them what they wanted. Pilate allowed the Jews to use the resources of Rome to guard the entrance to the tomb, even using a Roman seal to secure its entrance. With the seal attached, the stone could not be moved without the seal being broken, proving mischief.

 

The body of Jesus proved that Jesus was in every way dead. His body was broken and he bled out . . . and died. That’s not a topic usually appropriate for mealtime discussion. Yet, as followers of Jesus, we celebrate it! We celebrate his death because it’s what secured our life and freedom. It secured all of this because Jesus did indeed die, paying the price for our sins! But also because we know Jesus ultimately doesn’t remain dead. So, there’s victory in his death. Therefore, we proclaim it, and do so until he returns in glory. We proclaim his death when we gather together. We proclaim his death when we disperse throughout the community. We proclaim it inside the church and proclaim it outside the church. With our words and with our lives, we proclaim Jesus and his death . . . until he returns!

 

Questions:

  • Are you proclaiming the death of Jesus through your words and through your life?
  • Do you regularly participate in the Lord’s Supper with the church body?

 


 

[i] Luke 23:56

[ii] John 2:19

April 3, 2015 by Al Gardner

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:3

 

Today’s Scripture Reading:

Mark 14:43-15:47

 

Today is traditionally known as Good Friday. It’s the most difficult day of Passion Week. Jesus’ journey turns ugly in these final hours leading to his death. Judas Iscariot, the disciple who has already betrayed Jesus, becomes overcome with guilt early on this day and commits suicide, by hanging himself.

 

Meanwhile, all before 9 a.m., Jesus experiences tremendous humiliation. He endures false accusations, denunciation, ridicule, thrashings, and abandonment. Yes, even his closest friends and followers desert him. After multiple unlawful trials, he is sentenced to death by crucifixion, one of the most horrifying and dreadful forms of capital punishment. He is forced to carry his cross until he can no longer move beneath its weight.

 

At 9 a.m., Jesus is nailed to the cross and the torture of crucifixion begins. He is crucified alongside two common thieves. While he hangs there in agony, Jewish priests and theologians hurl insults at him and mock him. His disciples have fled and are scattered. They are hiding in the crowds or in the shadows.

 

At noon, darkness falls over the whole region and God, himself, abandons Jesus. The Father cannot continue to associate with his own Son. Jesus realizing God has left him, shouts in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[i] The external, physical pain is beyond comprehension. Yet, greater still is the internal pain of separation from his Father.

 

Why did God abandon his Son? One word: Sin. As we discovered on Monday, sin is going against God and against his design. Sin is going astray. It’s going A.W.O.L. It’s venturing out on our own. The Prophet Isaiah puts it this way: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”[ii] Everything said, done, or thought against God, and against his perfect will, is sin. As Jesus hangs on the cross, all our sin rests on him. Sin has a price and that price is death.[iii] Jesus is paying the price for our sin. And each one of us has sinned.[iv] With our sin resting upon Jesus, the Father can no longer associate with him. God turns his back on him. Jesus must pay the price.

 

What torture Jesus had to endure on this Friday for us to be set free! Satan and the world unleashed its fury against him and the God he represented. Jesus wins in the end but it costs him a great price. Our responsibility is to embrace what he did for us, follow his leadership, and consider what he endured. By considering him, we can have strength to endure also in our struggles. Considering him, empowers us.

 

Questions:

  • Did you discover anything fresh about Jesus in your reading today? Anything personal?
  • How could considering what Jesus endured on this day give you greater strength in your trials?

 


 

[i] Matthew 27:46

[ii] Isaiah 53:6

[iii] Romans 6:23

[iv] Romans 3:23

April 2, 2015 by Al Gardner

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” – John 13:15

 

Today’s Scripture Reading:

John 13:1-17

 

Our journey through Passion Week takes a somber turn on Thursday. From Bethany Jesus sends Peter and John ahead to a special upper room in Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover meal. After sunset, Jesus takes the place of a house servant and washes the feet of his disciples as they prepared to share the Passover meal together. By performing this humble act of service, Jesus demonstrates, by example, what it truly means for us to love one another.

 

This day is Maundy Thursday in church tradition. “Maundy” comes from mandé, a word that has its roots in the Latin mandatum. In the Latin text, it’s the first word of John 13:34, where Jesus states: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus makes this statement shortly after washing his disciples’ feet. Maundy Thursday is the day Jesus shows, by example, what it truly means to love someone. It’s simply being a servant.

 

Ask just about anybody, in any church gathering, if they’d like to be a servant, and you’ll probably get the same response. The answer, most definitely, will be a resounding yes. As followers of Jesus, we all want to feel we’re serving the King. We all want to experience that warm feeling inside from serving someone in need. We want to see the smiles of appreciation and feel the hugs of gratitude. We want to be known as servants, willing to do anything and sacrifice everything for our magnificent Savior. We all want to be servants. That is, until we’re treated like servants. Then we complain.

 

Service is not always very fun. It can get dirty. It can get ugly. It can get risky. It’s not always tidy, or safe. But it’s always appropriate. And, as Jesus demonstrated, you never outgrow it. You’re never too big for it. Never too important.

 

Jesus said when we serve anyone in need, even the least in the eyes of humanity, we are actually serving him.[i] Serving Jesus means serving the person in our path. It means loving the unlovable and offering hope to the hopeless. It means stooping low. It means getting dirty. It means following his example.

 

Today is just a day ahead of the most painful day in Jesus’ life. Jesus understands his origins with the Father in Glory. He knows the torture ahead of him, as well as the resurrected glory that was to follow. Yet, on this day of dread and somber anticipation, Jesus still stoops to take care of the needs around him. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. Yet he willingly gets on his hands and knees and washes their dirty feet. What a model of service! With this example, we have no excuse not to serve.

 

Questions:

  • When is the last time you served someone in need?
  • How could you start developing a habit of service?

 


 

[i] Matthew 25:40

April 1, 2015 by Al Gardner

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

 

Today’s Scripture Reading:

Luke 10:38-42

 

The Bible is silent on what Jesus did on Wednesday of Passion Week. Many scholars speculate he and his disciples spent this day resting in Bethany in anticipation of Passover. It makes sense they would need a break because the last few days appear to be very busy, and no doubt, exhausting. Also, from what we have seen so far, Jesus and his followers do appear to be staying in Bethany. Bethany was close, only about two miles east of Jerusalem. It’s where Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha lived. These three siblings were very close friends of Jesus. It’s extremely likely they hosted him and his disciples during these final days in Jerusalem.

 

While others might still question the origin of Jesus, these three had no doubt. Their faith had been developed, stretched, and tested repeatedly. When their brother, Lazarus, was sick and eventually died, Mary knew Jesus had the power to heal him. She was certain he could have prevented his death, had he been present. She knew he had power over sickness. What she didn’t know yet, was his power over death. She believed in a future resurrection, but never imagined “the Resurrection and the Life” stood before her. She didn’t know, until Jesus spoke the word and out came her once dead brother from the tomb, fully alive! Then she knew.

 

The raising of Lazarus was undoubtedly the most spectacular lesson this family had ever learned. However, it wasn’t necessarily the most profound lesson. Perhaps the most profound lesson was a lesson Jesus taught Martha, at a time when Martha thought someone else needed to be taught. Martha was busy in the kitchen, preparing a huge meal for Jesus and his followers. Her sister, Mary, wasn’t helping with the preparations of the meal. She, instead, was sitting at Jesus’ feet the whole time, spending time with him. Martha was upset and asked Jesus to tell Mary to assist her in the kitchen. But Jesus wasn’t about to take this special moment away from Mary. Mary picked the best option, Jesus tells Martha. Martha’s focus was on her service for her Lord. Mary’s focus was on the Lord she served.

 

It’s probable Jesus did spend this Wednesday with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. If so, we might easily speculate what took place. Throughout his ministry, Jesus seems to have made it a priority to spend time with these three. During this time, he taught them some profound lessons. They knew him, as few others did . . . perhaps better than some of his closest followers. They understood his power. They knew his loving heart. But most of all, they all had come to know the value of enjoying his company. Sometimes doing less, allows God to do more through us. An early Puritan Catechism states: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Perhaps today, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha all spent their time with Jesus glorifying him, by enjoying him. It’s most likely what happened this day.

 

Questions:

  • Is your service for God, replacing the God you serve?
  • How might embracing what God does for you, sometimes be the best thing you can do for him?

 


 

March 31, 2015 by Al Gardner

“Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” – Romans 10:11

 

Today’s Scripture Reading:

Mark 11:20–25

 

Tuesday, Jesus and his disciples travel again back to Jerusalem from Bethany, past the fig tree Jesus cursed yesterday. Peter excitedly notices the tree has withered and points this out to Jesus. Maybe Peter thinks Jesus will be surprised. Jesus is not surprised. He, instead, uses this incident as an opportunity to teach his disciples about the power of believing God. Withered fig trees pale in comparison to what God can do through us. Faith in God can toss mountains in the sea!

 

Some people take this story to mean Jesus will do anything, anywhere, and anyway we so choose, as long as we believe he will. “Name it and claim it,” they say. On the surface, this does seem to be what Jesus is saying. However, remember, Tuesday falls right after Monday. On Monday, Jesus made it clear that everything is all about God’s glory. God’s created order must function as God intends it to function. God intends it to function in a way that brings him the greatest glory.

 

So what does yesterday’s message of God’s glory have to do with today’s message of mountain-moving faith? Everything. Because if it’s not going to bring God glory, God is not going to be interested. If God isn’t interested, what we ask for, probably won’t happen. Yes, sometimes when we beg and plead God does act, against his best wishes. And it seems, at first, we get what we wanted. However, if God isn’t getting the greatest glory, it ultimately will not work out as we had hoped. God will get his glory in the end, as he always does, but it often costs us a lot more.

 

But never hesitate to ask him anything. Even Jesus asked if he could avoid the cross, but added, “Not my will but yours be done.”[i] But ask with an open hand, with his wishes, ultimately, being your wishes. Jesus says it this way in another place: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”[ii] In this statement, “remain in” literally means to make yourselves at home with.” One Bible translation[iii] says it this way, “But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon.” What a difference it makes when we make our home with him and his wishes.

 

When we rid ourselves of all our selfish demands, making his glory supreme, and express our desires and wants to him with unshakeable faith in his ability to act (not necessarily that he will) . . . that’s when the earth quakes, our enemies fall, and mountains uproot and go SPLASH! into the sea! It all happens through the power we see at work next Sunday. Trust him.

 

Questions:

  • Are you willing to empty yourself of all your selfish desires and replace them with God’s desires?
  • Are you taking risks and trusting God in ways that will best bring him glory?

 


 

[i] Luke 22:42

[ii] John 15:7

[iii] The Message, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

March 30, 2015 by Al Gardner

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” – John 15:8

 

Today’s Scripture Reading:

Mark 11:12-19

 

Just yesterday, Jesus was riding into town on a young donkey colt. Today, we see something entirely different. The Jesus we see today is demanding respect. He is angry and even violent! The Jesus we saw yesterday appears to require very little, just asking for a young donkey to ride on. The Jesus we see today appears to require everything, demanding what he wants and when he wants it.

 

Throughout this visit to Jerusalem, Jesus has been staying in Bethany, a town just outside Jerusalem, home to his close friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It’s now Monday morning. Jesus and his disciples are on their way back into Jerusalem. As they travel, Jesus notices a fig tree with fresh spring leaves. Since Jesus hadn’t yet had breakfast, he walks towards the tree to eat some of its fruit. He expects the tree to have fruit, since the fruit and leaves of a fig tree typically appear together. The tree had nothing but leaves. Jesus surprises his disciples, cursing the fig tree, and cursing it forever.

 

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? In God’s created order, everything has a purpose and a function. Intent is behind everything that is. Apple trees make apples. Orange trees make oranges. Fig trees make figs. It’s the way it was meant to be. It’s the way everything originally worked . . . until sin entered the scene. Humanity didn’t just pull a “naughty” when it sinned; it went A.W.O.L., and affected the whole created order. The fig tree was a reminder that humanity had gone astray, and of something even more atrocious. In the Old Testament, the fig tree is a symbol for Israel.[i] A fruitless fig tree, therefore, illustrates how unproductive Israel, God’s chosen people, had been. God had selected Israel to be special. What we see next provides a sampling of how much like the barren fig tree, Israel had become.

 

Upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus visits the temple. In it, he discovers the financial lenders at the temple had become deceitful profiteers. They were there for foreign travelers, to exchange their foreign currency, and sell them animals for sacrifice. But by shrewd marketing, they were charging excessive rates, making a fortune off these sincere pilgrims coming for worship. The whole scene angered Jesus because it went against God’s intent. The temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations.

 

Whatever God does, he does with intent and expectation. When God created humankind, he had intent. When God fashioned the fig tree, he had intent. When God chose Israel, he had intent. When God instructed Israel to build the temple, he had intent. And though God’s intentions differ—depending on what it is he is creating, fashioning, or instructing—he ultimately has only one intent for everything: His Glory. From his disciples, Jesus expects the fruit of a disciple. He saved us by his love and for his glory.

 

Questions:

  • Whose glory are you living for?
  • Are you a fig tree without figs? Are you producing the fruit of a disciple?

 


 

[i] Jeremiah 8:13; Hosea 9:10

March 29, 2015 by Al Gardner

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” – John 1:12

 

Today’s Scripture Reading:

Mark 11:1–11

 

If we were to imagine Jesus showing up, we might picture ourselves welcoming him with open arms. He approaches us as a humble servant. And so we imagine our hearts would be open to him, that we would warmly embrace him. He moves towards us, as one like us, yet like us in our most stripped-down and vulnerable state.

 

But there is something uncomfortable about that. There is something frightful about deity exposing itself like this. It exposes us. We find it painful to dress up, when God, himself, is dressed down. We find it impossible to pose as something we’re not, when he is displaying the reality of what we are. So, we don’t naturally embrace him when he shows up on the young colt of a donkey.

 

Yet, that is exactly how God shows up in Jesus . . . on a donkey. He “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”[i] Or, more literally, “He pitched his tent among us.” God stepped into human flesh and lived right next door! That exposes us. And that makes us uncomfortable.

 

So, we respond by dressing him up. We keep his deity, while making him unapproachable, or difficult to reach. Difficult to reach, unless of course, we’re dressed up also. We dress him up, so we can dress ourselves up. So we don’t have to expose ourselves. And this allows us to feel good about ourselves, because we now feel worthy to approach God. And also because we’re better than most everyone else.

 

If you’ve put your faith in Jesus, by asking him to be the Forgiver of your sins and Leader of your life, then you’ve already received Jesus, just as he came to you. And you embraced him, just as you are, in all your brokenness and shame. But the journey with Jesus doesn’t stop there. The journey continues . . . and this journey requires vulnerability. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”[ii] A life of learning, a life of being yoked to him. Yet not “yoked” in an oppressive way, but in a natural, “let your hair down” way. It’s restful because we receive him, as he is, and embrace him, as we are.

 

Questions:

  • Have you put your faith in Jesus, by asking him to be the Forgiver of your sins and Leader of your life?
  • Are you learning from Jesus, studying his life and words and becoming more like him?
  • Are you living in truth, being real with God and everyone else in your life?

 


 

[i] John 1:14

[ii] Matthew 11:29

Posted in Passion Week | 1 Comment
March 24, 2015 by Al Gardner

“For to me, to live is Christ” – Philippians 1:21

 

Throughout most of church history, Christians everywhere have set aside these eight days—Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday—as a time of solemn focus and reflection. And there’s good reason for it. These eight days contain the greatest, most dramatic, wholly transformative events in all of human history. They are the epic climax to what is commonly known as “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

 

This week, sometimes referred to as Passion Week, is particularly epic. The events of this week have global and universal impact. Yet they also affect us individually and personally. They changed the course of history, as well as that of our own individual lives. These are the days of our redemption, as it was divinely accomplished in time and space. They were the final days on earth of the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world.

 

Every year, these eight days provide an opportunity for us to pause and focus attentively on what really matters. Regardless of how many times we may have heard it, this story is worth revisiting again and again. It’s through these events we come to appreciate the enormity of the price and sacrifice that had to be made in order for us to receive the greatest gift the world has ever known.

 

Let’s devote this week to “fixing our eyes on Jesus,”[i] as he resolutely sets out toward Jerusalem.[ii] Let’s identify with him, as he identifies with us on the cross. Let’s rise with him, as he leaves the tomb behind, breaking the power of sin and death. Let’s live for him with passion, because he lives for us in Glory!

 

We’ll update our blog every morning with a new post helping us prepare our hearts for Easter. So check back each day.

 


 

[i] Hebrews 12:2

[ii] Luke 9:51

 
© 2009 - 2017 Relevant Community Church
info@relevantcommunity.org   |   (402) 957-5966   |   PO Box 520, Elkhorn, NE 68022