The Ascension                                                    09/02/13

So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:6-7, 9-11

The Jews believed that when the Messiah came, he would save Israel from her enemies and set up the kingdom of God on earth. Since the disciples finally believed that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, they expected him to set up his kingdom. Their expectation was confirmed in several of Paul’s letters and the book of Revelation. However, through the centuries, the Church has usually presented the goal of Salvation in much simpler terms: avoiding hell and going to heaven. Little emphasis has been placed on the subject that was so important to the disciples—serving in the kingdom of God on earth under King Jesus. So which view is correct: Are we saved to live in heaven or to serve God on earth?

While it is true that believers do in fact go to heaven when we die, the Jews rightly understood that we also have a much more practical destination. God’s redemption plan rests on the fact that the earth was made for people, and people were created to rule over the earth. If Adam had not sinned, his descendants would have continued to live and rule on earth, without sin and without experiencing death. The next step in God’s restorative salvation plan “to defeat the work of the devil (1John 3:8)” is to re-establish his righteous, loving rule over all the earth.

When Jesus returns, he will institute his millennial government, remaking the earth even better than it was before the fall, because he will be King of kings. Yet he will not rule alone. He will invest his followers with the responsibility of assisting him in spreading his righteousness and his loving kindness throughout the earth. His government will include Jews as well as Gentiles from every tribe and nation. “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Rev 5:9-10).”

Since we are called to be Christ’s representatives of the Father’s love and righteousness, both now and in the age to come, the goal of our discipleship walk is to become like Jesus. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:28-29).” As we grow in the righteousness and compassion of Christ through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we become his hands and feet in this life. At the same time we are being prepared to serve in his government in the next. That is why Jesus taught very little about heaven itself and a great deal about living according to the principles of the spiritual kingdom of God: walking in light rather than darkness, forgiving rather than judging, sowing to the Spirit instead of the flesh, pleasing the Father rather than ourselves and serving others in humility—because these same principles will govern his earthly kingdom when he returns with his followers at the end of the age.

“I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. – Rev 21:2-3

Just as Jesus discipled the Twelve and taught multiplied thousands more during his three-year ministry, he continues to personally disciple every believer, guiding and comforting us through every situation for the perfecting of our faith. He does not leave our salvation to chance, or leave us on our own, but ‘saves completely those who come to God through him, always interceding for us (Heb 7:25).’ This does not consist, as the popular song suggests, of ‘watching from a distance.’ He continually rejoices over us as his own adopted children, walking with us in every trial and tribulation through the presence of his Holy Spirit in us. He is burdened by our burdens and grieved by our sorrows (Isa 53:4). Because he has promised never to leave us (Heb 13:5), he will see our discipleship training through to the end: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).”

What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. - 2Pet 3:11-14.

Post-Resurrection Miracles – Part 2                           08/26/13

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberius [Sea of Galilee]. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathaniel from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul in the net because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Simon Peter climbed on board and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. – John 21:1-14

This was the second miraculous haul of fish recorded in the gospels. The first occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it was similar in many respects to this one. Both times the disciples had fished all night and caught nothing. When they obeyed Jesus’ instruction to put down their nets one more time, they caught a great number of fish. The main difference was that after the first catch, Peter begged Jesus to go away from him because he was “a sinful man.” Three years later, Peter was still the same sinful man: he had recently denied three times that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. However, instead of asking Jesus to leave him, this time he wanted to be near Jesus. He couldn’t wait for the boat to reach the shore because he finally understood that Jesus fully accepted him, including all his faults and failings, loving him without reservation. He had no fear that Jesus would reject him for what he had done, or what he had failed to do. Peter trusted Jesus as his Teacher, his Lord, and his Friend. He knew that no matter how much or how long we have sinned, the Father will always forgive us when we return to him in a humble, contrite spirit. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).”

Forgiveness is the divine hallmark of God’s love, the underlying motivation of redemption, the reason why Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Yet he did more than die for us; he lived for us. Though he was God, he took on human form and lived life with all its challenges, trials, and temptations in order to leave us an example of how we should live. He was compassionate, humble, forgiving, generous, gracious and kind, patient, self-controlled, willing to serve others. However, because he was human, he was also subject to the same weaknesses we are. He could be amazed and disappointed at people’s unbelief (Mark 6:6), tempted to sin (Luke 4:1-12), grow weary (John 4:6), get stressed out (Luke 12:50), be offended (Matt 11:20-24), become angry (Mark 3:5) and express his anger physically (John 2:13-16).

We tend to think that Jesus was successful in dealing with life’s challenges because he was God as well as man. However, this is not the case. He had given up his ‘divine privileges’ to live fully as a man, dependent on the Father and the Spirit for guidance and strength. As the Living Word version explains, “Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality. Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant... by becoming like other humans... he humbled himself (Phil 2: 6-8).” That is why his life stands as such a powerful example of how we should live. It is also why he understands our humanity, and why he is present to help us up when we fall. And because he overcame, he has promised to be with us every step of the way to bring us into the completeness of our salvation: “I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age (Matt 28:20).”

We can sometimes fall into the trap of viewing our human nature as a bad thing, a hindrance on the way to becoming more spiritual, more like Jesus. This view is based on the erroneous assumption that our humanity is what causes us to sin. However, we do not sin because we are human, but because we have inherited the sin nature (also referred to as ‘the flesh’) as a result of the fall. But if we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did, he enables us to overcome the downward pull of the sin nature and walk in obedience, one act, one day at a time. It is only by this spiritual infusion of our human nature with the divine Presence that we can become the people we were created to be. This does not mean that we become divine, but rather fully human: subject to weakness yet bearing the divine image of God made visible in our words and actions.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control... Since we live by the Spirit, let us [also walk by] the Spirit. – Gal 5:16-17, 22, 25)

Post-Resurrection Miracles – Part 1                               08/19/13

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he had said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20:17-23

He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:1-5, 8

If anybody ever needed encouragement, it was the sorry band of men gathered together on the evening of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter and John had told them that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb, and it was widely rumored that his disciples had stolen it. Though it was not yet dark, they had bolted the doors, afraid of being arrested. They probably spoke in hushed tones and planned to remain silent when the knock finally came. If the authorities were powerful enough to get away with crucifying Jesus, what hope was there for them? Yet hope appeared in the form of their Lord, who suddenly materialized in the room.

Jesus’ miraculous appearance in a locked room was more than startling, it was fearful. The disciples had the same initial reaction they did when they saw Jesus walking toward them one stormy night on the Sea of Galilee; they thought he was a ghost (Luke 24:37). Seeing their fear, he reassured them that he was not, and asked for something to eat to prove it. He breathed on each one, giving them the Holy Spirit and telling them of the task he had set for them—that they would continue his ministry of spreading the good news of the kingdom of God, with one notable difference. People would no longer just hear about the kingdom; now they would be forgiven of their sins through faith in Jesus’ name, being spiritually reborn as children of God.

During the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, he appeared to his disciples to teach, encourage and strengthen them for the task that lay ahead. After they had returned to Galilee, he confirmed his Easter evening commission to spread the good news of the kingdom of God. And just before he ascended into heaven, he told them to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Spirit by which they would receive the power to accomplish this great work. On Pentecost morning, this band of frightened, quiet men in hiding from the authorities would become a courageous group of disciples shouting the Good News from the rooftop. Instead of the bread and fish they had previously fed crowds with, they would be serving up soul food, the living bread of the Word of God that saves us and sustains the spirit. Eating this food leads to eternal life and a spiritual inheritance in Christ, the hope of every Christian believer. 

It is this hope that motivates us to persevere in our walk of discipleship. Having been born of the Spirit, we have been called to walk by the same Spirit, living according to the teachings of Christ. We have not however entered a religion of do’s and don’ts, but into a living relationship. We are called to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and walk together in community with other believers... “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13).” Our Christian walk therefore is not centered so much on doing as it is on being, because what we do inevitably flows from who we are: children of God, walking by the power of his Spirit—the power that transforms us over time and enables us to do the works of God that testify to his great love. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).”

It is a spiritual truth that we take on the character traits of our friends, for better or worse. By studying the parables, miracles, and teachings of Jesus, we can learn from him, in the same way we emulate godly qualities in other believers. “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. (Matt 11:29).” The more we ‘hang out with Jesus’ through prayer and the study of his life and teachings, the more we become like him, reflecting his outlook on life as one of humility in service to others. “Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus: Who... made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant... he humbled himself and became obedient... (Phil 2:5-8).” The Holy Spirit is continually working in us to develop this attitude so we might walk as Jesus did—in grace and truth, pleasing God and serving the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of others.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. – Col 1:9-14

Q. what are similarities between this appearance and the advent of the HS on Pentecost

The Resurrection                                                     8/12/13        

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men...

While the women were on their way, the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. – Matt 28:1-4, 11-15

On Easter morning, the guards posted in front of Jesus’ tomb watched in astonishment and fear as an angel single-handedly rolled back the huge stone slab and calmly sat down on top of it. He did not open the tomb to let Jesus out, since he had already risen. He had received his new resurrection body, so he had the ability to pass though solid objects, including his linen grave clothes and the cave in which he was entombed. The angel’s purpose was to enable the disciples as well as the authorities to confirm the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead. After the soldiers regained consciousness, at least one of them must have worked up the courage to look inside the tomb, because they returned to the temple and told the priests that Jesus’ body was no longer there.

Conferring among themselves, the chief priests concocted a cover story for the soldiers to tell: that they had fallen asleep while on guard duty, and Jesus’ disciples had come and stolen his body. The irony, of course, is that if they truly had been asleep, they would not have known who took the body. On the other hand, if they had been awake to know that Jesus’ disciples had in fact taken it, why didn’t they stop them? And how did they manage to remain asleep through the earthquake and the noise of the huge stone grating in its channel against the entrance to the cave? The most telling feature of this conspiracy is that rather than reporting the soldiers for failing to keep the tomb secure, the priests paid them off handsomely in exchange for not revealing the truth. Instead of repenting of their attitude and actions, the ruling Jews continued in their hard-hearted rejection of Jesus, despite the continuing miraculous evidence that he was the Messiah.

It was these same unrepentant men who would initiate the persecution of the nascent church. They strove to keep Judaism pure from the influence of this new sect, which became known as The Way. According to this new faith, Jesus was the only way to approach Almighty God, the Creator and Father of all mankind. It was the way of obtaining forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ, without the necessity of animal sacrifice. It was the way of peace, yet it was also the way of the cross. Having been born again into the kingdom of God by the Holy Spirit, its followers walked by the same Spirit, living radically changed lives and sharing a deep bond of love. Later, persecution came from secular authority, and the way of the cross would become more than a symbol of self-denial to live for God. When Roman rulers concluded that this new religion posed a threat to the emperor’s rule, crucifixion became a life-threatening reality for Christians throughout the empire. Every believer had to face the question: “Is following Jesus really worth the cost?”

The apostles Peter and Paul addressed this issue, assuring the elect that yes, being faithful to Christ in the face of every trial and persecution was in fact worth the cost. Peter wrote, “For a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials... so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1Pet 1:6-7).”  Paul encouraged the church in Corinth that it is not “only for this life we have hope in Christ (1Cor 15: 19).” Our hope is also found in sharing Christ’s resurrection glory: “The body... is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (v 42-44). He concludes this chapter on the resurrection with the admonition, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1Cor 15:58).”

This final verse is not limited to serving others. It also involves giving ourselves wholly to God’s work of bringing us into maturity. Our labor of love includes submitting to the Holy Spirit’s transforming work through the trial of our faith, and this requires that we do our part. We are therefore urged to: Draw near and submit to God and purify our hearts (James 3:7-8); put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature... and put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its Creator (Col 3:5,10); clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col 3:12); and share in Christ’s sufferings in this life so we might share his glory in the next (Rom 8:17).

As disciples of Jesus, we will undergo trials—and sometimes, even persecution—for the perfection of our faith, because faithfulness is only proven in times of testing. “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1cor 4:2).” We are therefore called to persevere through temptation and hardship in order that we might be purified from our tendency to sin and selfishness, as gold is refined and purified by repeated heating in fire. This refining process is a shared Christian experience, for “everyone will be salted with fire (Mark 9:49).” On the Day Jesus returns, what we did with this great gift of salvation will be revealed, and “fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward (1Cor 3:13-14).”

“Dear fiends, now we are children of God, an what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure. – 1John 3:2-3 

Jesus’ Crucifixion                                               8/05/13

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over 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?”

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately, one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. But the rest said, “Leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” – Matt 27:45-54

Several miraculous events accompanied Jesus’ crucifixion. The three hours of darkness, the earthquake, the tearing of the temple curtain, and the resurrection of many who had recently died were signs that confirmed Jesus was the Messiah, foreshadowing events to come with his return at the end of the age. Several Old Testament prophets describe a great earthquake and darkening of the sun at that time, and Scripture is clear that the Resurrection will occur at Jesus’ return. Although these miraculous events must have been awesome to behold, the crucifixion of Jesus was more than just a harbinger of things to come.

In the most powerful act of love imaginable, Jesus chose to suffer and die in our place in order to redeem mankind from the power of sin and death. In one sense, the miracle was Jesus himself, suffering in agony in our place instead of using his miraculous power to alleviate or escape his torment. All he had to do was ask the Father and more than 12 legions of angels would have arrived to protect him (Matt 26:53). Instead, he willingly endured the physical torment of the cross and the emotional agony of being separated from his Father’s love.

The greatest miracle that day was not a visible one, but the work that took place in the spiritual realm because of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. With his blood he purchased (redeemed) us from the power of darkness that rules the world, bringing us into the kingdom of light. And because he shed his blood to die in our place, he took all our sins and guilt on himself, ending our separation from God. Through faith in Jesus, we are forgiven and justified with the righteousness of Christ so we might be reconciled to the Father. Because Jesus has redeemed us, God Almighty is now approachable as our loving Father through a living relationship with his Son; the curtain of sin that separated us has been torn in two.

The miracle of the cross was not confined to a moment in time that ended with Jesus’ death. On entering Hades, Jesus approached Satan and took from him the keys to sin and death and Hades itself. He then entered heaven and opened the gates to the spiritual kingdom of God for all who would enter by faith. Though we tend to think that this completed the miracle of the crucifixion, this is not really the case. The redemption of the cross is repeated every time someone believes in Jesus and receives his forgiveness and righteousness. Even then, the work of redemption is not finished, because after we become children of the Father, we are still subject to the weakness of our sin nature. Each time we ask, we are forgiven and cleansed with the righteousness of Christ and once again reconciled to God, because Jesus’ sacrifice and commitment to love us is eternal.

It is this great ongoing miracle of forgiveness and justification that makes it possible for us to know and follow God’s will. Every day of learning to walk in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit is another small miracle, a testament to the world of God’s power of salvation and our appreciation of Jesus’ sacrificial love.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Col 1:9-14

Restoring Malchus’ Severed Ear                          7/29/13

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

While he was still speaking, a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords? And one of them [Peter] struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” – Luke 22:45-53

All four gospels contain an account of the high priest’s servant losing his ear and Jesus restoring it. However, only Luke describes the healing, and John is the only one to identify the servant as Malchus, and Peter as the one who cut off his ear. According to Matthew and Mark, only three of the disciples—Peter, James, and John, the same three present when Jesus was transfigured—were near Jesus as he prayed in the Garden that night. They also add the detail that Jesus’ instruction to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Matt 26:41)” was addressed specifically to Peter. It is, in fact, is Jesus’ interaction with Peter that night that offers insight into dealing with our emotions.

During the Passover dinner that preceded their walk to Mount Olivet, the disciples had finally grasped the truth that Jesus would be tried by the Sanhedrin and put to death. Taking his three closest friends, he went off a little ways by himself to pray. In the midst of his spiritual, emotional, and physical trials, he put aside his own tribulation and returned to check on them. He found them asleep, not because it was late (It was only a couple hours past sunset), but because they were “exhausted from sorrow.” The thought of losing Jesus had drained them both emotionally and physically. Waking them, he explained to Peter why it was necessary for him to pray: because even when we are submitted to God’s will, the weakness that results from being emotionally traumatized can lead us into sin.

Peter’s responses that night are revealing. They ranged from an initial submission to the Father’s will that Jesus suffer and die to save mankind (“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death”), to a stubborn refusal to accept God’s will when confronted with the crowd the High Priest had sent to arrest Jesus. He transitioned from trusting in God to trusting his own strength and abilities. In other words, he responded in the flesh rather than the spirit, striking a nearly fatal blow in anger. Barely an hour later, Peter would undergo another transition, this time into fear, denying three times that he even knew Jesus. Because we are so strongly influenced by our emotions, some more so than others, they can lead us into sin. Because of this, we can turn away from trusting in God’s love and provision for us and rely on ourselves instead of the wisdom and strength the Holy Spirit provides.

Just before the Transfiguration, Peter had told Jesus that he would never allow him to come to harm, and Jesus responded by teaching his disciples the doctrine of the cross. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matt 16:24-25).” Jesus used the symbolism of Roman crucifixion to describe the death of self that is necessary live a life of submission to God’s will. He fully understood the costs involved and the battles this would require. On the night he was arrested, ‘when his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ his anguish became so great that blood oozed from his pores as he prayed. His will would be tested by his desire to lessen the agony of death by crucifixion, and the greater agony of separation from the Father as the sins of mankind were heaped on him. Yet with God’s help he turned away from his own desire, praying: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will (Matt 26:39).”

As we submit to the Father’s will in our own spiritual battles, the Holy Spirit transforms our inner nature over time. We cannot be victorious in our own strength, because our will is basically self-serving. The only way to overcome our propensity to sin is by humbly embracing those things that contradict our self-interest. When we find ourselves under spiritual attack, especially when our emotions are involved, we need to “Get up and pray, so [we] do not enter into temptation.” The Lord will grant our sincere prayers to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. – 1Pet 5:6-10

Cursing the Fig Tree                                          7/22/13                    

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city he was hungry. 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.

When the disciples saw this they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, 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. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” – Matt 21:18-22

The nature of this miracle appears at first blush to be inconsistent with Jesus’ other works of power, which were either devoted to helping others in need or signs that proved he was the Messiah. Yet here, in what some scholars call a ‘miracle of judgment,’ Jesus used his power to curse a fig tree, an act highly inconsistent with his previous works. The question therefore is, was such a harsh response the result of Jesus’ hunger and disappointment? If not, what really caused Jesus to use his power to curse rather than to bless?

Discovering the answer to these questions starts with an examination of the circumstances Jesus was facing at the time. First, he was under increasing emotional stress due to his upcoming arrest and execution later that week: “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until is completed!” (Luke 12:50) He was also under increasing spiritual attack by his old Adversary. As a man, Jesus was subject not only to the same physical and emotional weaknesses we are, he was subject to temptation as well. Luke records that after Jesus’ baptism and his temptations in the desert, “The devil... left him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).” Paul states that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).” Understanding this aspect of Jesus’ humanity is the key to recognizing that Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree was not done in a fit of exasperation, but as a necessary response to temptation. This was not the first time Jesus had reacted harshly to Satan’s voice.

As he and his disciples had traveled north from Galilee to Caesarea Philippi toward the end of his final year of ministry, he tried to prepare them for his death, explaining that he must suffer many things and be killed in Jerusalem. Peter unwittingly became the instrument of temptation, vowing that this would never happen. Jesus recognized the devil’s voice in Peter’s statement, because it appealed to the human part of him that shrank away from his upcoming ordeal. He therefore harshly rebuked Peter: “Out of my sight Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men (Matt 16:23).” Jesus dealt quickly and forcefully with the voice of temptation, cutting off further conversation in order to prevent it from taking root in his mind.

This morning Jesus was on his way back to Jerusalem during Passover Preparation week, the four-day period when the Passover lamb was set aside and examined to ensure it was without fault or blemish. Passing this examination signified that it was without sin, a perfect sacrifice offered for the redemption of others. It was therefore also a time of testing and examination of Jesus, the Passover Lamb offered for us (1Cor 5:7). Jesus was hungry and under stress, just as he had been after his forty-day fast in the desert—when the devil had tempted him to turn stones into bread (Matt 4:3). Frustrated and disappointed at discovering the tree was barren, Jesus must have been presented once again with the same whispered temptation: Use your divine power to meet your own needs, just this once. No one would have known if he had caused a few figs to appear beneath the covering canopy of the leaves. Yet Jesus recognized the devil’s voice urging him once again to satisfy his hunger, and verbally rebuked the tree—the instrument of his temptation.

Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree therefore was not an expression of frustration or anger, but a justified and ethical use of his power to avoid sin. He responded just as forcefully to this temptation as he had to Peter a few months before, leaving us examples of how to deal with the voice of temptation. His rebuke was meant to put a stop not only to the immediate temptation itself, but also to the possibility of changing his mind on the matter—by ensuring that the tree would never again bear fruit. He responded with a finality of purpose that would strengthen him to face and overcome the greater temptations and trials awaiting him that week.

Jesus’ immediate and vigorous response to this temptation was motivated by his understanding of the subtleness by which sin works. Because sin often starts with small compromises, it can be compared to an Arab proverb that warns against allowing a camel to put its nose in one’s tent, for the nose is sure to be followed by the head and finally the whole camel. What starts out as a whispered thought turns into desire, which at some point entices us into a regrettable action. “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin (Jas 1:14-15 NKJV).” However, if we immediately and forcefully refuse to entertain temptation when it first presents itself as a passing thought, we can prevent the planting of the seed that grows into desire. Jesus understood this dynamic and warned his followers to be on guard against any compromise with those things that lead to sin. This may involve rebuking a friend, as Jesus did with Peter, or removing the instrument of sin, as he did with the fig tree. To make his point of how important it is to deal forcefully with the causes of sin, he offered the extreme examples of cutting off a hand or a foot and gouging out an eye.

Because the devil is aware of our physical and emotional flaws, he seldom needs to vary his temptations much. He knows our weakness, and he returns again and again to tempt us in the same areas, infiltrating our thoughts to prey on our fears and desires. Yet because Jesus overcame every temptation of the devil, he has made it possible for us to resist and overcome our own temptations, through faith in his ever-present grace and help in times of trouble.

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it. – 1Cor 10:13

Restoring Blind Bartimaeus’ Sight                      7/15/13  

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “Your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. – Mark 10:46-52

Of the three synoptic Gospels, only Mark identifies this man as ‘blind bar-Timaeus.’ Because he was blind, he didn’t have the status of being known by his own name. He didn’t have an occupation like Joseph the carpenter or a national reputation like Jesus of Nazareth; he was just a blind beggar sitting at the city gate, the unfortunate son (bar) of Timaeus. On the social ladder, he was barely one step above a leper—often ignored, sometimes pitied. So when this ‘nobody’ kept calling out to Jesus, the Son of David, several people tried to silence him. What right could he possibly have to disturb the Messiah on his way to Jerusalem to take his rightful place as king of Israel! Yet Bartimaeus persisted in crying out to Jesus.

Those who tried to discourage Bartimaeus did so because they didn’t grasp that Jesus had been “anointed... to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed... (Luke 4:18)” That’s why he hung out with and ministered to those at the lower levels of society instead of seeking a place of power and position for himself at the top. Most of the time, people of faith are still to be found in the former category. Those with wealth, position, and power are more invested in the world system than the kingdom of God, relying on their own abilities and expecting others to do the same.

Bartimaeus on the other hand had little interest in what the world had to offer, and few if any accomplishments in which he could take pride. His love for God therefore, and thus his faith in God’s love for him, was undiluted by love for the things of this world. He unashamedly acknowledged his need for God’s mercy and was persistent in seeking it, continuing to cry out to Jesus despite strong opposition from those around him. When he was finally told he could come to Jesus, he was so excited that he threw off his robe so it wouldn’t hinder his approach, basically coming to Christ in his underwear, not caring about the opinion of others.

The healing of Bartimaeus provides three important facts about faith.

The first requirement to receiving anything from God is to acknowledge our need for his continual saving grace and mercy. As believers, we have a pretty good understanding of just how far we fall short of God’s holiness and even of our goal of becoming more like Jesus. We continue to struggle with wanting the things we see instead of the virtue God has for us, with desiring recognition from the world instead of the fruit of the Spirit.

The second requirement to receiving the blessings of God is to want them wholeheartedly—more than we want the temporary satisfaction and rewards the world offers us.

The third requirement is to seek the Lord with the perseverance born of faith that overcomes all opposition. This includes guilt for our past failures, the disapproval of others, and our own pride in wanting to make it without asking for help. This perseverance only comes about if we truly believe that God personally loves us and has a plan for our life, and that he “will meet all [our] needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19).”

The basic obstacle to receiving the blessings of God then is the wavering of our faith—which occurs because our love is divided between the things of this world and the kingdom of God. This is why the Lord allows suffering in our life, so we might gain an eternal perspective and reach the place of wanting his blessings more than we want the things this world has to offer. As we gain this perspective, we become more willing to wholeheartedly pursue the kingdom of God, with a persistence born of faith in the Father’s love for us and the great reward that awaits those who follow his Son. 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ... I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. – Eph 1:3-4, 17-19

The Ten Lepers                                                       7/08/13            

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17: 11-19

This was Jesus’ final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, enroute to keep the spring Passover feast and meet his own destiny on the cross. Since the beginning of the New Year six months earlier, much of Jesus’ teaching had focused on service, judgment, and reward in the coming kingdom of God. His mood was a somber one; on the way, he would discuss his imminent death with his disciples. At one point, a group of lepers called out to him. They could not come near, since the Law required them to stay at least 100 paces away from people in order to prevent passing on the disease. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus had walked up to a leper and actually touched him, healing him in an act of courage and mercy previously unheard of in Israel. However, these men he did not approach; he did not even heal them! Instead he told them to go and show themselves to the priests, something one did only after being healed.

To better understand what happened, one can liken this encounter to a group of paraplegics attending a service at which a famous healer is preaching. Due to the overflow crowd, their wheelchairs make it impossible for them to reach the stage, so they loudly cry out to him from the back of the auditorium. Hearing their pleas, the minister calls back to them, telling them to go see a doctor to confirm they have been healed. There is no going forward, no prayer, no healing touch, no praising the Lord. He doesn’t even tell them they are healed—in fact, none of them actually is healed! One can only imagine the crowd’s response: some head shaking and raised eyebrows, perhaps a few snorts of disbelief and wry smiles. Even more interesting would be the emotional response of the paraplegics at the back of the room. If you and I were in that group, still paralyzed, would we immediately leave and wheel our way over to the hospital to show the on-call doctor we had been healed?

However, everyone in Israel knew that Jesus was more than just a preacher or even a miracle worker. He was at the very least a prophet sent by God, perhaps even the long-awaited Messiah. He had healed thousands of people over the course of three years. If he told you to go see a priest to prove you had been healed of leprosy, it didn’t matter that your skin was still white as salt and you stank of rotting flesh—you could expect to be healed on the way. So the ten set off to do as Jesus directed. As they traveled, full of faith and hope, they were in fact miraculously healed of their leprosy.

Yet the story does not end there. Full of inexpressible joy, nine continued on their way to show themselves to a priest and celebrate the Passover feast in Jerusalem. As soon as the tenth leper discovered he had been healed, he alone returned to thank Jesus before continuing on to Jerusalem. While Jesus appreciated his gratitude, he was also somewhat disappointed in the other nine. In the same way, the Father is pleased when we praise him for the blessings he has given us. All too often we tend to focus on the hole in the center of the donut instead of the donut itself, on what is missing from our lives instead of being grateful for everything we have been given. Praising the Lord every day for our blessings both large and small not only pleases God, it increases our faith and improves our overall health and attitude toward life.

Yet there is a lesson to be found here in the actions of the other nine as well. They obeyed Jesus on the basis of an implied promise: Go and show yourselves to the priests as the Law required, and you will be healed. Perhaps we might be asking ourselves if we are more like the leper who returned to show his gratitude or the nine who continued on their way, more mindful of their healing than their Healer. There is, however, a more basic question that needs to be asked: Are we more like the ten lepers who hurried off to Jerusalem full of faith, or the confused paraplegics at the back of the auditorium? Do we really believe the promises of God enough to act on them in faith before we see any results? Ten of Jesus’ conditional promises are listed below. The condition is underlined, the promised reward for our obedience is in bold.

[If you] Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38

“Blessed are the [if you are] merciful, for they [you] will be shown mercy.” Matt 5:7

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matt 6:14-15

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life [he] will lose it, but [and] loses his life for me [he] will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” John 14:21

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I [will remain] in him, [and] he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matt 7:21

[If you] Ask and it will be given to you; [If you] seek and you will find; [If you] knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10

If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Raising Lazarus– Part 2                                            7/01/13

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been (dead) four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he said this, Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”  – John 11:38-44

It is difficult, even for theologians, to explain the co-existing divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. Though he performed great and numerous miracles, he did so through faith and the power of the Spirit. His divine miracle-working power could be limited by others’ lack of faith, as it was during his visit to his hometown of Nazareth. Although as the Son of God he had the full measure of the Spirit within himself, as the Son of Man he endured hunger and thirst, temptation and suffering. Even though he was divine, he did not as a man possess all knowledge. Like us, he was dependent on his relationship with the Father and the revelation of the Holy Spirit to perceive beyond his five senses. Despite the revelation of the Spirit that caused him to wait two additional days in the Perean wilderness after hearing that his friend was near death, on his arrival outside Bethany he had to be shown the way to Lazarus’ tomb (v 34): “Where have you laid him?”

Arriving outside the cave, Jesus was “once more deeply moved.” Having created all things (John 1:3), he had made man to be pure and immortal. As God, he was therefore saddened by sin and grieved by death. However, when confronted with Lazarus’ grieving family and friends, Jesus experienced death on a personal, human level. This event confirmed the need for the voluntary sacrifice of his own life—so that all who believed in him would be freed from the power of sin and death.

Before resurrecting his friend, Jesus did something he had not done as part of any other miracle; he spoke aloud to God, calling him Father and thanking him for hearing his prayer. When Jesus had raised the son of the widow of Nain and the daughter of Jairus, he did so as quietly as possible because he was not ready to publicly announce that he was the Son of God. However, the time for his revelation and ultimate sacrifice had come. By praying aloud to the Father outside Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus openly proclaimed himself to be the Messiah, and then proved it by bringing Lazarus back to life long after his soul had left its body. This revelation of his divinity set into motion the Passover plot to execute him, enabling him to fulfill his mission to redeem mankind. (John 11:45-53)

Jesus’ short prayer did more than assert his divinity. It revealed his humanity as well. If Jesus possessed only a divine nature, there would have been no reason for him to thank the Father for hearing him, or to pray at all for that matter, yet he often did so. Perhaps because we are so aware of our failings, we tend to suspect that even though Jesus was fully human, somehow his divine nature gave him the “inside track” to having his prayers reach the throne of God. Yet according to Scripture, this is not the case. Jesus’ prayers were heard not because he was without sin, but because of his faith: he trusted the Father implicitly and always sought to please him. “I do nothing on my own, but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, because I always do what pleases him (John 8:28-29).”

In other words, Jesus loved pleasing the Father more than satisfying himself. We are called to learn from his example. Because we have been born of the Holy Spirit, like Jesus we have both a human and divine nature. Unlike him, our human nature is corrupted by sin, yet we are given the grace to walk in faith that leads to obedience. Having been created anew and adopted as sons of God, we learn day by day to walk by the Spirit, overcoming our fallen nature and the draw of this world.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. – 2Pet 1:3-4

Raising Lazarus – Part 1                                       6/24/13 

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes Lord,” she told him. “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world. After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?”  – John 11:17-37

The statement that ‘if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died’ was made three times in John’s account of this event, expressing three very different perspectives. The Jews who opposed Jesus (v 37) meant it as a critical rebuke in response to those who commented on the depth of Jesus’ love for his friend. Jesus could have explained to them that he had been far away in the desert of Perea, a two-day’s journey from Bethany. However, he held his tongue rather than respond to their accusation. There was no point in attempting to justify himself; no matter what he said or did, there would always be those who would find fault with him. As believers, we should expect no less from the world, and like Jesus, it is often best to hold our tongue when we are maligned by our adversaries.

Martha (v 21) made the statement more as a practical declaration of fact than a rebuke: had he been there, Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death. This was coupled however with a statement of faith, perhaps based on the stories of Jesus’ raising Jairus’ daughter and the son of the widow in Nain: “But I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask.” The underlying implication was that it would have been better for him to have prevented Lazarus’ death than to remedy it. Again, Jesus chose not to justify himself. Instead he responded to Martha’s faith with the promise of Lazarus’ resurrection, which Martha understood as the hope of all believers. However, because he is both Resurrection and Life itself, Jesus’ would raise Lazarus that very hour. 

Mary made the same statement to Jesus (v 32), but it was an expression of grief rather than the practical, intellectual statement of Martha. Due to the depth of her love for Lazarus, she was overcome by her emotions. In Mary, Jesus was confronted neither with the rebuke of the Jews nor Martha’s simple faith, but with a friend adrift in a sea of suffering. Again, he did not provide a justification for his actions, or even the hope he offered to Martha. Instead, he shared in Mary’s suffering as a friend, walking with her across the wide chasm of human grief. Although as the Son of God Jesus would shortly bring Lazarus back from death, as the Son of Man he was still subject to the deep human emotions that accompany personal separation and loss. Because of this, he is able to sympathize with our loneliness and our sorrows, and his Holy Spirit is present with us to comfort and strengthen us in our time of need.

“Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2Cor 1:3-4).”

Jesus’ Miracles

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