157. The sound of the trumpet

This time span before the Passion (traditionally called Easter, which we will refer to as The Passion) is important to find depth of meaning in a tradition spanning thousands of years.  A tradition of this kind runs the risk of becoming stale and clichéd, even if the significance of the event it commemorates reverberates over many centuries.  It is our own passion to seek renewal in the old, to learn more in the known and to experience the power in the familiar.

It is easy to fall into complacency while upholding tradition.  Our goal is to know God more in every feast when we rejoice in the goodness and grace of our Father.

The nation of Israel heard the sound of the trumpet when they gathered around the mountain where God manifested his presence.

Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.  (Exodus 19:16)

This is the goal.  We are praying to hear the trumpet and tremble at the sound.  This is the time of year to fall down on your knees in awe and reverence for the great work Christ has done on the cross.

Let us time travel – back to an evening meal and a dark night that followed…

THE MEAL

Jesus and his disciples sat down for the Passover meal, according to the tradition of many centuries.  It felt ordinary, but it was uniquely special and never to be repeated.

Look out for the extraordinary in every feast.

This meal began in an unexpected way. It was not customary for the host to wash the feet of the guests. It was done by either the guest himself or a slave. Jesus is comfortable in ‘breaking the laws’.

Peter’s pride excluded him.  He wanted to dictate and control.  He felt uncomfortable with the change.  Jesus insists on doing it his way.  Baptism is arrival in the Kingdom.   Thereafter only a washing is necessary to get rid of the grime of the world in which we have to travel.

that He might sanctify and cleanse her [the church] with the washing of water by the word.(Ephesians 5:26)

To receive Jesus, is to submit to his way of doing.  Obedience is our worship, even if it feels awkward in the context.

Judas’s betrayal was foremost in Jesus’ mind. Judas acts normal. If the other disciples might have grasped the full implication of the situation, they would have prevented him to go ahead.

On the host’s left was the place for the guest of honour.  That place was reserved for Judas. It was yet another appeal from Jesus to Judas to reconsider his actions.

To offer the guest something from the meal was a special invitation to conversation.  The host was saying, this is especially for you  – let’s talk. Jesus offered it to Judas.  When your own devices and plans separate you from God, look out for the invitation to conversation.  God speaks no blame, no reproach – just an invitation. (Isaiah 1:18)

Again and again the appeal came. The darkness and own agenda in Judas’ heart won him over. When Judas received the morsel from Jesus (an invitation to communicate) the devil entered him.  He was so set on his own plan that he could not respond to Jesus’ many appeals.

John mentions that when Judas went out, it was night.  This is very significant. Deeds of darkness take place in the dark.  Leaving the presence of Jesus is darkness. Leaving Christ to follow your own plans is your soul’s night.

THE GARDEN

Some wealthy friend of Jesus probably gave Him the key to this walled garden outside the city gates to use whenever He needed peace and quiet.  Jerusalem was too crowded for gardens and ceremonial rules forbade soil or manure in the sacred city.  The garden that is shown to tourists comprises of about eight olive trees, so old they look like rocks.

Judas knew that Jesus planned to go there and that is where he planned the arrest to take place.

John states there was a company of soldiers plus the officers from the chief priests and Pharisees.  The officers were the Temple police.  The Temple had police to keep order and the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council of 70) had police to carry out their decrees.  There was also a band of Roman soldiers.  The Greek word used is speira.  It had three meanings: a Roman cohort, which means 600 men or auxiliary soldiers of 1000 men (240 cavalry and 760 infantry).  It is sometimes used for a detachment of 200 men.

Even the word in the last meaning indicated an overwhelming force to arrest a simple Galilean carpenter.  The authorities were clearly very scared of Jesus and His influence and expected a small war.  They sent an army to grab Him!!  Just think how surprisingly simple the arrest took place – in surrender and peace – fully under the control of Jesus himself.

Peter was willing to fight, even against an overwhelming armed force.

He cut the soldier’s ear off.

When the church draws the sword, it cuts the people’s ears off.  Their ability to hear the Gospel is taken away.  Only a touch of Jesus can heal their ears.  The Gospel only penetrates with a touch of Jesus himself.

THE TRIAL

Jesus is before Annas.  Only John mentions this.  Annas was the power behind the throne of the high priest. The high priest was a collaborator with the Romans and lived in ease, comfort, prestige and power.  The family of Annas was very rich and he was the power behind it all – knowing how to play the game.  The shops inside the Temple were called the Bazaars of Annas.  He was notorious and of course very angry that Jesus had upset his comfortable flow of money at the cleansing of the Temple court.

The questioning before Annas was a mockery of justice, done in secret and haste under the cover of night.  Jesus had no hope of a fair trial.  He knew how things would go.  He went through the motions.  In a reading of all four accounts of the trial, found in the four Gospels, it is obvious that Jesus was in control and conducted his own trial.

THE LOOK

Peter’s denial has been the subject of many sermons and comments over the years. Peter’s desire to support Jesus is undeniable. He drew his sword in the garden and he was present in a situation where he could have been dragged off and imprisoned just for being where he was. Yes, he failed in courage, but only because he was in a situation which the others did not even face.

Peter loved Jesus – that is a fact. He was in that courtyard because of love and loyalty.

Peter was redeemed. One must realize that the story of his denial would get around and he would suffer great humiliation with a sense of profound failure. But Peter did not flee from his family in Jesus, the other disciples. He found refuge in their company and somehow found his way back behind the closed doors where the disciples waited in fear after the crucifixion.

Jesus saw his courage, his loyalty, and his love. Jesus looked at him, not in reproach, but in love.The eyes of Jesus that night preserved Peter’s soul. Jesus saw his dear friend buckle under the pressure of vicious judgment and overwhelming odds of heartless and brutal authority. He communicated His love and redemption to Peter and that preserved Peter in a night of bitter regret and breakdown. It was notthe look of “I told you so”.

Keep in mind that Peter had the revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16: 13-20).

Judas went back to the leaders, threw the money down and said: I have betrayed innocent blood.  He died by his own hand, full of guilt, lonely and broken without ever realizing with Whom he had to do.

Revelation knowledge made Peter brave. His courage is amazing; his defeat diminishes in the light of his leadership in the church later on.

CONDEMNATION

The Jewish leaders twisted their charge against Jesus. To them He was blasphemous (Matthew 26:65). Pilate would not act on a charge like that and would dismiss it as a religious quarrel. They made it political with the hint of rebellion in. They accused Jesus of claiming to be a king.

They denied every principle they had in order to get the death penalty. They suddenly confessed they have no king but the Caesar.

Samuel said to the people God is their king (Samuel 12:12). When the Romans first instituted taxes, there was almost a bloody revolt. The declared God to be their king and only to Him they wanted to pay tribute. Now they claimed Caesar as king – a shameful about-face. Pilate must have gasped in astonishment.

PILATE, on the other hand, behaves very strangely. He most certainly realized that the trump up charges of the Jews were a series of lies.  He was deeply impressed with Jesus.  He did not want to condemn Him to death – yet he did.

Jesus is the majestic conductor of His own trial. Pilate recognized that Jesus is actually in control. He is not a pathetic victim of cruelty. Pilate treated Him with respect. He knew Jesus was different and special.

Jesus speaks directly about His kingdom. He does not try to explain. He states the truth. He knows He is about to die and gets the message out straight and undiluted.

He makes it clear that His kingdom is in the hearts of men, not of this earth and that the conquest would be love.

Pilate says: See the man. The word Pilate uses is ho, the normal Greek word for human being, but the Greek thinkers often used it for the ideal man, the heavenly man. Pilate is surprised that the torture has not finished Jesus off.

Pilate says he has the power to release Him or execute Him. Jesus is clear that Pilate has no power at all except what is given to execute God’s plan. Jesus is in a triumphant procession on His way to the cross.

BARRABAS:  The choice of the people stayed with them forever. They chose the man of bloody force and violence and rejected the man of love and gentleness. Throughout the centuries this choice was made again and again.

THE CROSS

It was the death most dreaded in the ancient world.

When a verdict was pronounced the execution took place immediately after. The convicted had to carry his own cross and after scourging it was a bloody procession of lashing and mocking to get the staggering prisoner to the place of execution. In front of him was a soldier with a placard stating his crime and he was led through as many streets as possible to serve as a warning to all watching. There was another reason for the long detour to the cross. If any person could bear witness in his favour, he might come forward to do so. In this case the procession stopped and the trial repeated.

The placard for the Cross was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. It was three of the great nations of the ancient world. The culmination of their talents could have been great. The Romans taught law and good government, the Greeks taught philosophy and art and the Hebrews had access to the one true God.

Jesus was the supreme beauty and the highest thought of God. In him was the law of God and the kingdom of God. In him was the very image of God. All the world’s seekings and strivings found their consummation in him. It was symbolic that the three great languages of the world should call him king. [William Barclay]

THE ROBE

The tunic woven in one piece was described exactly as the one the High Priest wore. The function of the High Priest was to be the connection of the people to God. The Latin for priest is Pontifex, which means bridge-builder. This is exactly what the cross did. Jesus was the perfect High Priest, the bridge-builder to the presence of God.

The other Gospel tells of Jesus dying with a great shout on His lips. They do not say the words (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46). John tells us what He said. He said these words not in weary defeat, but in a voice that one does not expect from a dying man.

The words: it is finished is one word in Greek = tetelestai. It also means great shout.He died when the price was paid and God said enough. He leaned back His head and gave up His spirit as if He rested after the work is done.

THE GRAVE

To make sure that Jesus was dead, a soldier thrusted a spear into His side and out flowed water and blood. It was a sure sign of death, but also the sign of a very sick man.He literally took our sickness on Him on the cross. Another prophecy was fulfilled: They look on him whom they have pierced – Zechariah 12:10.

Joseph and Nicodemus stepped out boldly after the death of Jesus. Joseph fearlessly approached the Romans for the body of Jesus. In His death he drew men unto Him just as He prophesied (John 12:32).

Death has meaning.  It is never wasted.  Through Jesus God showed his presence in death.  After he died secret disciples stepped forward – the worst has happened. Now the tables are turned.

THE RESURRECTION

It was customary to visit the tomb for three days after the burial. They also believed that the spirit of the person hovered for three days but then departed. The body would then become unrecognizable through decay.

Jesus’ friends were not allowed to make the journey on the Sabbath – they would break the law.  Sunday morning Mary came early. Greek= proi, which means the last of the four watches between 3-6am. Still dark grey – she couldn’t wait any longer.

Mary might have thought the Jewish leader took the body, but it is unlikely that they would touch a dead body or have anything to do with the dead over the Sabbath.

Peter was still acknowledged as the leader – it was to him that Mary went. Peter was amongst his brothers in his failure, defeat and heartbroken state of bewilderment.

John ran faster, he was younger. John looked in but Peter ran right on and in – typical of his nature. Peter was amazed and still, but John’s mind started working. If somebody stole the body why did they leave the grave clothes?

The clothes were not disarranged. The clothes were where the body had been and exactly in the shape of the body – in their folds. The grave clothes told a whole story of their own. They looked as of the body has just evaporated from them.  The napkin for the head was folded neatly. The sight spoke to John and he believed. He saw with his own eyes and believed.

Love was the foundation of faith. Love brought Mary to the tomb, love made John believe. Love opened his eyes and mind.

 Love is the interpreter of life. Love knows truth when the mind is still struggling and uncertain.

MARY in the garden

The scene in the garden where Mary recognizes Jesus is probably one of the most dramatic moments in literature. Mary was the first to see the risen Christ. Her love is the driving force of all her actions. She brought the news to the disciples, was probably left behind in the race, but comes back to the garden. They have already left again, running to the others with the news. Mary stood weeping. She didn’t know where to now, what to make of things. She was confused and bewildered. She could not recognize this man talking to her through her tears. Her sorrow blinded her. In loss we weep for ourselves. The loved one is with God, no need for tears there. But we feel the sharp pain of loss. As long as our tears are lifted up to God so that we do not miss the glory.

Mary’s eyes were on the tomb.It is looking in the wrong direction. Our eye must be on heaven and God with us where we will know that our loved one is in His presence. Tears are good, cry, grieve – but do not despair and keep your eyes on the tomb.

DO NOT TOUCH

Greatness of this event – truly the greatest in history– transcends time.

Jesus was on His way to enter heaven triumphantly as described in Revelation 5. He was the first fruit of the church(sheaf of wheat) to wave before the Father, just like at the Feast of the Firstfruits.

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when you come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest.

And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morning after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11)

The Feast of the Firstfruits is celebrated after the Sabbath in the week of the Passover and the first sheaf of wheat is waved before the priest. Jesus was the first fruit of the harvest of the church and was glorified before the Father.

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:20)

(Easter is associated with the Babylonian feast of first fruits, a spring festival when the pagans asked their fertility god (Ishtar – where the name Easter comes from) for new babies. The egg hunt is to celebrate the attempts to conceive new life.  Fertile things in nature are worshipped like rabbits. The people wore new clothes to celebrate the buds on the trees.)

Our Easter is all about the resurrection– the first fruit of the church.

AFTERMATH

We have to explain things in calculated time. In a glorified state Jesus could enter time and leave it again as He wanted to. He had full control over His glorification. He was back in His heavenly realm and showed Himself on earth to whom He willed and when He wanted. He entered the seen from the unseen as He conducted His appearances until the Ascension.

THOMAS – briefly

Thomas refused to be dragged into something he did not understand. He was strong and wanted to come to his own conclusion. Jesus respected this and invited him to  investigate. Thomas is honest to the bone. He had to be sure. His faith was established on truth, not on stories of others and things that didn’t make sense.

When he received his confirmation, he surrendered in victorious worship.His faith was based on full revelation and worship flows spontaneously.

END

The Gospels were not meant as biographies. The aim of the words is not to give information, but to communicate life.

It is to give life to the image of Jesus so that the reader can meet Him personally to learn from Him directly and experience true life through Him.

We read to know God, not history.

 

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139. Go ahead…doubt and ask.

[John 20]

The disciples were together in fear (20:19-23).

They listened to the sounds of the street, also at night. When would the soldiers come?

It was in this state of fearful waiting that they heard Mary knock.  Her familiar female voice prompted them to open for her, hear her incredible news and race to the tomb to confirm what she said.  They went back to the house where they stayed behind locked doors to hang around for events to unfold.  What else could they do?

Suddenly Jesus in their midst without knocking with a normal greeting: Peace be with you. (Hebrew: Shalom).  This greeting meant so much more than the absence of trouble.  It meant that God would give you every good thing. It is the pronouncement of a blessing in every greeting.  As casual as if He said: Hi guys!

John tells of their joy to see Him and then on to serious future planning.  I can easily imagine that the moments of wonder and awe lasted a while. Every one of His disciples most probably looked Him in the eye with an uncontrolled mix of emotions experiencing heaven and earth in the same moment. In am convinced that all fear and uncertainty evaporated in the powerful presence of Jesus.

The sending forth meant that the church is the body of Christ.  Jesus showed us the Father, now He was going back and the body must do His work. (Ephesians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 12:12).  The church is sent with the message, the mouth of God, the foot soldier and His hands. Jesus works in and through His church.

The church needs Jesus. It is where we live in the power, authority and miraculous outcome of God himself.  As Jesus came from God, so the church comes from Jesus.  The church can only exist in perfect love and obedience.  It is the message of Jesus, nothing else. Nothing man-made is sustainable. It must be God-ordained to be eternal and powerful.

He breathed on them.  The Holy Spirit is the breath of God for life. God breathed into Adam (Genesis 2:7).  He breathed on the dead bones by the wind (Ezekiel 37:9).  In John 3 Jesus compared the work of the Holy Spirit with the wind – mostly unexplainable and invisible.  The Holy Spirit is His breath – Hebrew = ruach.  The Holy Spirit is the very life of God in us to fully equip the church for the task.  Jesus himself said we shall receive power (Acts 1:8).  Our testimony is worthless without the breath of God.

The Church must convey the message of forgiveness.  We interpret the message of God.  It will be true and powerful only in as much as we dwell in the presence of God.  When the church proclaims forgiveness when a person is penitent, it is the message of forgiveness, not the act of forgiving. Preaching is grace and mercy, but also warning and exhortation.

THOMAS

Thomas knew death was coming.  He said so in Bethany (John 11:16).  He has been labeled the doubting Thomasby men, NOT Jesus.  Thomas loved Jesus.  There is no doubt about that.  He knew what was coming in Jerusalem and when it played out, he was devastated like the others.  He might have wanted some time alone, and therefore withdrew from fellowship. He missed the first appearance.  We need to be in fellowship with our sorrow and disappointment.  There they will carry us to the face of God Himself.

He hears the news from the others.  It sounded too good to be true.  He speaks his doubt: he will believe when he sees.  He wants to touch the wounds and make sure it is not an impostor.  (There is no mention of nails in Jesus’ feet.  The feet were usually not nailed, only bound.)

Thomas is very anxious to establish the truth. He cannot base his whole life and the profound impact of Jesus on his life on a lie.  He has to make a hundred percent sure that the resurrection is the truth.  He is not different from all the millions that came after him in the history of Christianity.

Another week passes and this time Thomas is present.  There in community with his brothers, he experiences his deepest desire.  Jesus knows his heart and treats him special.  He appears exactly as previously.

Jesus invites him to investigate.  He will always invite to investigate. He is the answer to every possible question and He is not stingy with answers.  Don’t be afraid.

Think and imagine the detail of this meeting.  Thomas falls down and says:  My Lord and my God. Do you think he touched the wounds?  I think the answer was in Jesus’ voice and face.

It is the same today.  All our answers are in His presence, His voice and His eye on us. (Psalms 32:8)

Thomas refuses to be dragged into something he does not understand.  He is strong and wants to come to his own conclusion.  Jesus respects this and invites him to investigate.  Thomas is honest to the bone.  He had to be sure.  His faith is based on truth, not on stories of others and things that doesn’t make sense.

When he received his confirmation, he surrendered in victorious worship.  His faith is based on full revelation and worship flows spontaneously.

The words of Jesus to Thomas have inspired generations of believerswho could not see Him in the flesh.

 Jesus said to him,  “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(John 20:29)

We don’t know what happened to Thomas.  There are stories that the disciples divided to world to preach to all and India fell to Thomas.  There is a church in the south of India whose history traces back to him.

Faith came to him in a powerful and personal way.  Jesus revealed himself to him.  This is still true for today.  We can go to the ends of the earth in our spiritual journey when we have encountered Jesus face to face.

LAST WORDS (20:30-31)

It is clear that the Gospel concludes here.  John 21 was written as an appendix.

These words set out the aim of the Gospels as a whole.

It was never intended to be a full account of the life of Jesus.  It is not a day-by-day but a selective history to show what He was like and what He did.

The Gospels were not meant as biographies.  The aim of the words is not to give information, but to communicate life.  It is to give life to the image of Jesus so that the reader can meet Him personally to learn from Him directly and experience true life through Him.

We read to know God, not to learn history.

 

 

138. He does what He said He would do.

[John 20]

THE RESURRECTION

Christianity as a whole is based on the Resurrection.

It was customary to visit the tomb for three days after the burial.  They also believed that the spirit of the person hovered for three days and only then departed.  Thereafter the body would become unrecognizable through decay.

For Jesus they could not make the journey on the second day, the Sabbath.  It would mean they would break the law. On Sunday morning Mary came early. The Greek is proi, which means the last of the four watches between three and six am.  The sky was still dark grey but she couldn’t wait any longer.

Mary Magdalene loved Jesus.  She was liberated, healed, redeemed and whole and she will never forget the Man who made it all possible.

She was amazed and shocked.  Tombs in ancient times were hewn out of rock and closed by a huge circular rock running in a groove in the ground to close the opening.  The authorities sealed and guarded the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27:66).

Mary might have thought the Jewish leaders took the body, but it is unlikely that they would touch a dead body or have anything to do with the dead over the Sabbath.

She had to share the fact that He is not there, so she ran to get Peter and the others.  In the other Gospels it tells of the man or men guarding the tomb who told the women (it was not only Mary) that Jesus is risen (Matthew 28, Mark 16 and Luke 24).  Mark tells of the young man by the grave specifically mentioning Peter’s name.

What follows is the description of a race – by John himself with, most probably, himself in the race.  It reads almost comical.  (John 20:3-8)

Peter was still acknowledged as the leader.   It was to him that Mary went.  Jesus mentioned Peter by name.  He was amongst his brothers.  Even in his failure, defeat and heartbroken state of bewilderment, he found his way back to them. Judas was alone in his suicide. Peter’s denial of Jesus probably spread like wildfire, but he could still, in his deepest brokenness, face his brothers and found solace in their company.  Even in his defeat he was still the leader.

John ran faster; he was younger.  John looked in but Peter ran right on and in, so typical of his nature.  Peter was amazed and still, but John’s mind started working.  If somebody stole the body why did they leave the grave clothes?

The clothes were not disarranged.  The clothes were where the body had been and exactly in the shape of the body – in their folds.  The grave clothes told a whole story of their own.  They looked as if the body has just evaporated from them.   The napkin for the head was folded neatly.  It was folded like the napkin of somebody with the intention to come back to the meal at the table.  The sight spoke to John and he believed.  He saw with his own eyes and believed.

Love is the foundation of faith.  Love brought Mary to the tomb, love made John believe.  Love opened his eyes and mind.

Love is the interpreter of life.  Love knows truth when the mind is still struggling and uncertain.

The scene in the garden where Mary recognizes Jesus is probably one of the most dramatic moments in literature.  Mary was the first to see the risen Christ.  Her love is the driving force of all her actions.

Mary brought the news to the disciples and was probably left behind in the race, but comes back to the garden.  They have already left again, running to the others with the news.  Mary stood weeping.  She didn’t know where to now or what to make of things.  She was confused and bewildered.  She could not recognize this man talking to her through her tears.  Her sorrow blinded her.

In loss we weep for ourselves.  The loved one is with God, no need for tears there.  But we feel the sharp pain of loss.  As long as our tears are lifted up to God so that we do not miss the glory.

Mary’s eyes were on the tomb.  She was looking in the wrong direction.  Our eye must be on heaven and God with us where we will know that our loved one is in His presence.  Tears are good, cry, grieve – but do not despair and keep your eyes on the tomb.

Her conversation reflects her love.  She asks to know where Jesus is.  She asks humbly and respectfully.  She does not mention His name.

She assumes that everyone will know of whom she is talking.  Her whole world begins and ends with the man she loves.

He calls her name.  She knew immediately.  The way He spoke her name was instant recognition.  Her answer was Rabboni (Aramaic for Rabbi or Master).

Jesus instructs Mary not to touch Him (20:11-18).  Just later on in the chapter he invites Thomas to touch Him (20:27).  He says He is flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).  Normally one would say: flesh and blood, but His blood was shed and He never took it back.

In Matthew (28:9) the disciples held His feet and worshipped Him.

The commentators give various reasons for this.  They suggest it might be a mistranslation and might have been intended to be: Do not fear, instead of do not touch.  They also think it might have been Jesus’ instruction to Mary not to hold on to Him too much, since He was on His way to heaven and will not be with her always.  She had to learn to communicate with Him without physical touch.

My own inclination is to accept the explanation that Jesus was on His way to enter heaven triumphantly as described in Revelation 5. He was the first fruit of the church (sheaf of wheat) to wave before the Father, just like at the Feast of the Firstfruits:

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when you come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest.

And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morning after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11)

The Feast of the Firstfruits is celebrated after the Sabbath in the week of the Passover and the first sheaf of wheat is waved before the priest. Jesus was the first fruit of the harvest of the church and was glorified before the Father.

 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:20)

We have to explain things in calculated time.  In a glorified state Jesus could enter time and leave it again as He wanted to.  He had full control over His glorification.  He was back in His heavenly realm and showed Himself on earth to whom He willed and when He wanted.  He entered the seen from the unseen as He conducted His appearances until the Ascension.

It could be that His words not to touch Him, reflects the heavenly Feast of the Firstfruits.   He entered heaven without human touch to be glorified before the Father in triumphant celebration of His victory.

 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain,having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (Revelation 5:6,7)

Our earthly spiritual rituals as explained in the Word of God have heavenly counterparts.  The New Jerusalem is the perfect cube just like the Ark of the Covenenant, signifying the presence of God.

It is what the church should be – the place where the world enters into the presence of the Most High.

Jesus’ resurrection had actually occurred near or at sunset the previous day as the weekly Sabbath day was ending.  The Sunday is actually not the day of the resurrection, but the celebration of the first fruits.

Jesus ascended to the Father to be accepted formally as the first to be raised from the dead in God’s spiritual harvest of humanity.

 

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[A short explanation of Easter and the origins of eggs and bunnies:

Easter is associated with the Babylonian feast of first fruits, a spring festival when the pagans asked their fertility god Ishtar, where the name Easter comes from for new babies.  The egg hunt is to celebrate the attempts to conceive new life.  Fertile things in nature are worshipped like rabbits.  The people wore new clothes to celebrate the buds on the trees.]

 

 

120. God in action!

[John 11]

What is a miracle? It is an event in the lives of men that can only be explained in supernatural terms. The official definition underlines the mystery aspect of a highly improbable or extraordinary event.

As the dictionary puts it: It is a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

 A miracle is described as surprising and welcome, a positive outcome. It is the opposite of the crisis or circumstances that gave rise to the need for divine intervention. In other words, it is the inexplicable rectification of a catastrophic or heartbreaking situation.

A miracle is God in action. It is our loving Father, almighty creator-God, who intervenes and does the impossible for our benefit. A miracle is welcomed as a relief where relief was not humanly possible.

Miracles are answered prayers.

God is a mystery, operating in the unseen. Where shall we find Him and how will we “see” His action. God is the God of His people. We “see” Him active His community.

William Barclay explained how a certain Rabbi expounded the text in Deuteronomy 13:4:”You shall walk after the Lord your God.” He said that text commands us to imitate the things, which God is depicted as doing in scripture. God clothed the naked (Genesis 3:21); God visited the sick (Genesis 18:1). God comforted the mourners (Genesis 25:11); God buried the dead (Deuteronomy 34:6). In all these things we must imitate the actions of God.

In this section of John 11:17-27 we meet the household of Jesus’ friends in Bethany. Martha is true to character (Luke 10:38-42).  Martha loved action, and Mary sat still. Martha was up to meet Jesus.

When Martha met Jesus her heart spoke through her lips. Martha’s words were half reproach that came out in desperation and half with faith that is now so disappointed:

If you had been here,”she said, “my brother would not have died.”

Through her words she is asking: “Jesus, why are you late. If you had come when we sent the message, Lazarus would live.” Still there is faith in her words: I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha mentioned the general resurrection on the last day. It is very important words from Martha:

One of the strangest things in scripture is the fact that the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days, the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good and bad alike, went to Sheol or Hades. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of the shades. All alike went there and they lived a vague, shadowy, strengthless, joyless ghostly kind of life. (Psalms 6:5;30:9and many others). It is Hezekiah’s pessimistic belief that:

“For Sheol cannot thank You,

Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.(Isaiah 38:18).

In Psalms 16:9-11and 73:23-24 the Psalmist wants to believe that not even death can separate him from God. This immortal hope we find in Job. While facing all his disasters, Job cried out:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,   (Job 19:25-26)

In the time of Jesus the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, but the Pharisees and the great majority of the Jews did. Those who died saw God, and they refused to call them the dead but called them the living. Martha reached out in faith to this belief.

Jesus answered:

I am the Resurrection and the Life,” We have faith in Him for life. His life in us makes NO provision for death of any kind.

Not even a lifetime’s thinking will reveal the full meaning of this; but we must try to grasp as much of it as we can.[William Barclay]

Life is so much more than physical. Even if life is so hard, it makes it almost not worth living, Jesus can make him alive again.”

There is life to come. Death is not the end. Death is just a door into the invisible.

Physical death is the sunrise, the dawn of eternity.

It was the custom, especially for the women, to go to the tomb to weep on every possible occasion, for a week after the burial. Mary’s greeting was exactly the same as that of Martha.

We must remember that this would be no gentle shedding of tears. It would be almost hysterical wailing and shrieking, for it was the Jewish point of view that the more unrestrained the weeping, the more honour it paid to the dead.

Jesus was deeply moved in spirit. The word comes from the verbembrimasthai. It is used three other times in the New Testament. It means rather to rebuke, to give a stern order to.

Why the anger? It is suggested that the display of tears by the Jewish visitors to Bethany was sheer hypocrisy – artificial grief raised Jesus’ wrath. In ordinary classical Greek the usual usage of embrimasthaiis a horse snorting. Such deep emotion seized Jesus that an involuntary groan was wrung from his heart.

Here is one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into men’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.

John had written his whole gospel on the theme that in Jesus we see the mind of God. To the Greek the primary characteristic of God was what he called which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever. 

If we can feel sorrow or joy, gladness or grief, it means that someone can have an effect upon us. Now, if a person has an effect upon us, it means that for the moment that person has power over us. No one can have any power over God; and this must mean that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.

The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless and compassionless God. 

What a different picture Jesus gave! God’s heart is wrung with compassion for the anguish of his people. God cares.

The usual Palestinian tomb was a natural cave or a space hewn out of the rock. The bodies were wrapped in linen but the hands and feet were enfolded in bandage-like wrappings and the head was wrapped separately. In front of the opening ran a groove in which a great stone like a cartwheel was rolled across the entrance to seal the grave.

Jesus asked the stone to be moved. Martha thought that Jesus wished to look on the face of his dead friend for the last time. She did not think this a good idea and pointed out that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. It was Jewish belief that the spirit of the departed hovered around his tomb for three days, seeking re-entrance. But after three days the spirit finally left. A decayed face was not easily recognizable.

Then Jesus spoke his word of command which even death was powerless to oppose. 

Lazarus came forth.It is weird to think of the bandaged figure staggering out from the tomb. Jesus told them to loosen the grave-clothes and wrappings and let him go. Most probably everybody around the grave stood stunned and just stared, not believing their eyes and not moving.

When Jesus spoke the power of God flowed through him.

Jesus spoke this miracle into being to honour God, just like Elijah when he prayed: “Answer me, O Lord, that this people may know that you are God”(1 Kings 18:37).

In the other three gospels there are accounts of people being raised from the dead: Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56) and the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-16). In both cases the raising followed immediately after death. It might be possible to believe that in both these miracles the person raised was in a coma.

Burial had to take place quickly in the hot climate of Palestine. Evidence in graves pointed to the fact that people were sometimes buried alive. It could well be that these were miracles of diagnosis in which Jesus saved two young people from a dreadful death.

But there is no parallel for the raising of a man who had been dead for four days and whose body had begun to putrefy.

The Sanhedrin was called to deal with the situation. The miracle of Lazarus forced their hand.

In the Sanhedrin there were bothPharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were not a political party. They lived the law. The Sadducees were political. They were wealthy and aristocratic. To retain their wealth, comfort and position of authority, they collaborated with Rome. All the priests were Sadducees. They did all the talking.

They were notoriously discourteous. Their contemptuous arrogance is a stark contrast to the accents of love of Jesus. 

They were set on the retention of their political and social power and prestige. Jesus might gain a following and raise a rebellion against the government. Rome could never afford civil disorder and always quelled it with a firm and merciless hand. The Sadducees would be dismissed. It never even occurred to them to ask whether Jesus was right or wrong.

A man can set his own career before the will of God. 

History shows an example of dramatic irony. The Sadducees insisted that Jesus must be eliminated to prevent the Romans to take their authority away. In 70AD that is exactly what happened. The Romans besieged Jerusalem and left it a heap of ruins. How different things might have been if the Jews had accepted Jesus!

Caiaphas, the High Priest, made his very ironic, very true statement: Better that one man should perish than that the whole nation should perish.

The High Priest’s role was to ask God’s counsel for the nation. Moses told Joshua when he wished for God’s counsel he was to go to Eleazar the High Priest. (Numbers 27:18-21)

God can speak through the most unlikely people.Sometimes He sends his message through a man without the man being aware. He can use even the words of bad men.

Jesus was to die for the Jewish nation and the world.

By this time Jerusalem was beginning to fill up with people for the Passover. The Jews had to be ceremonially clean for the Feast. Any person would become unclean by touching a corpse. Purifications were carried out in the Temple.

One can just imagine the talk. The people knew what was going on. People are always interested in the man who bravely and stubbornly faces fearful odds. This was Jesus against the authorities.

The conclusion of the gossip was that Jesus could not possibly come to Jerusalem. He could not take on the whole might of Jewish leaders and political authorities.

But they had underrated Jesus. Nothing on earth would stop Him coming. Jesus came to Jerusalem openly. He drew attention upon himself with death-defying courage.

 

73. One day to another – no greater contrast ever.

I grew up with Good Friday. I cannot remember all of them well, but I know they were there. For a period of at least twenty five years, Easter weekend was engulfed in a church tradition called camp meeting time – a period of ten days every year when going to church and socializing with people from church were the main activities. We drove a few kilometers outside Johannesburg, South Africa to a huge piece of land where people from all over the country came to pitch a tent or park a caravan. There were also huts and wooden structures erected specially for this time of year.

Later during high school years and university, I studied through many Easter weekends, but even then I would not miss the “big” services – Good Friday morning and the celebration of the resurrection on the Sunday after. Camp meeting services were conducted in a rough and cold brick building with a corrugated iron roof. This structure could seat quite a few thousand people with a platform for an extensive band and the church leadership. The singing was heavenly and after camp meeting time, everybody went home with new songs on their lips, but more important, in their hearts.

Many testimonies of miracles were associated with this building. For most of the services the people were invited to write their prayer requests on pieces of paper. These little papers were then assembled in front and prayed over with the church leaders stretching out their hands over them. My mother once “saw” in the Spirit how one of the corrugated iron sections of the roof “opened” and the prayer requests were “flying” out as if a gushing wind were gathering them up to heaven. She knew they were all safely in the Hands of our loving heavenly Father.

My two elder boys still experienced camp meeting time. No one ever missed the last Sunday night “goodbye” service. April was usually rainy and cooler. We carried two heavy quilts into the service for them to sleep if the three hours got a bit long for them. Yes… three hours! We would sing for at least an hour, worshipping until the heavens opened in every heart and the intercessory prayer could start for a long line of needs.

My brother had a wooden structure put up, where we could meet after services and on camping chairs and picnic tables eat the most wonderful moveable feasts, carried in baskets and cooler bags from home kitchens. My boys called it: the Ark. On the last Sunday evening, we would choose one of the many church stalls baking “crepes”, which we called pancakes, but were more like the French crepes; the size of a dinner plate and wafer thin with cinnamon sugar and rolled. That would be the farewell-food, enjoyed while people came to say goodbye and sit a while for a testimony or two.

I will never forget the talk. People talked about God, all the time – freely, passionately and wholeheartedly. All ages, especially the veterans were walking worshipping testimonials to the goodness and provision of God.

Then there were the kids, joyfully bundled together in their own hall; the radiant Corner of Sunshine as it was called. A cousin of my dad was the leader and preacher and between him and his family they did the singing and the teaching. His messages were illustrated and fun; always making sure the children under 12 were learning about their good heavenly Dad, looking out for them faithfully. The farewell song of the Sunshine kids on the last Sunday night of the camp meeting, I sing to this day – the last verse of Psalm 23:

Surely goodness and mercy

Shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life

And I shall dwell in the house of my Lord forever

And I shall sit at the table prepared for me

Surely goodness and mercy…

This past weekend was Easter and I am a million miles away in time and space from those years. Why do I remember?

I know why.

Many years later in adult life, I once attended a United Church Easter service in a town on the south coast of South Africa, called Hermanus. The reverent there was a well-known radio preacher, Martin Holt. I have always had a deep appreciation for Latin, which I learnt at school as well as university, partly since studying Law required knowledge of Latin. His sermon’s title was Vivit – the Latin for He Lives! He was so thrilled to bring this news to his congregation that his anointing rubbed off in this word that burnt itself into my mind.

I know why I remember that Easters of my past. No Easter, no church, no testimony, no prayer would be possible without the shout of the women that first Easter morning: Vivit – He lives!

This one fact changes everything. It is the contrast from a Saturday of darkness in death to the Sunday of light in life.

This week, is the week after the celebration of that day when Jesus said to Mary in the garden:

But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7)

Where are you these days after Easter? Are you caught in death and the darkness of the Saturday, just like Peter, feeling the failure of personal defeat and crushed dreams?

Jesus says to you, just as specially as he mentioned Peter, to go to the meeting place where you met Him the first time – your Galilee. He knew how utterly broken Peter was, after his betrayal and after the cruel crucifixion killing. He knew what effect His appearance will have on Peter.

He knows what you need, right now. He is waiting for you… He knows that your life will be changed when you see Him.

Go and shout it out – Vivit! – He lives … because He has risen from the dead.

19. Resurrection light on your path.

What you decide on will be done,

    and light will shine on your ways. [Job 22:28]

Easter is over. In North America, April is busy. It is the end of the academic year; exams and summer plans are priority. It was, after all, just the usual, annual celebration of the crucifixion.

Imagine for a moment how tense and excited the days after the resurrection have been to the followers of Jesus. Since that Sunday that Mary came running with the news, the story spread. The grave was investigated and found empty, the tongues were busy: analyzing, doubting, hoping, believing, remembering. Please read all 50 verses of the victorious Luke 24. In the 40 days before the ascension, Jesus appeared to His disciples three times. [John 21:14]

Mary stayed behind in the garden when the other disciples returned to the bolts and locks to keep them safe from suspected Roman retaliation. Her lingering there brings her in direct contact with the risen Christ and becomes her ultimate comfort. She will never doubt, she saw Him and spoke to Him. This is still today the core experience in our walk with Christ. No theology, no church, no argument will ever replace the personal and powerful encounter with the risen Jesus. Grief is relieved and fear flees in the Presence. Restoration is guaranteed.

John 20:19:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

He will find you, even behind your locked doors and bolted windows. You are His special possession. Isaiah 43:4:

Since you were precious in My sight, You have been honored, and I have loved you.

He did it for Thomas again, 8 days later, to give him the very same experience that the other disciples had, so that he will have peace in his heart. The darkest day on earth, marked in heaven, that created chaos in the hearts of Jesus’ followers, are lightened and enlightened by the presence of the risen Christ. Exactly in the same way, Jesus will appear within the walls of your doubt and fear and give you peace in your darkest days. The victory of the resurrection is yours. Jesus did not blame Thomas for his desire to make sure and to investigate. He invited him to touch His hands. The Bible does not say if Thomas actually did, but I think the presence of Jesus was so overwhelming and comforting, no further investigation was necessary.

The notes on the appearances of Jesus read like a suspense story. He appears and disappears. He walks with the two persons [Luke 24:13] to Emmaus and listens to their confusion and uncertainty. They were privileged to hear the utmost in theology ever, when Jesus explained Himself to them in the Scriptures. Even after this superior teaching, they did not know Him. Only when he was invited in and broke the bread in their midst, they recognized Him. Teaching and theology, church and worship will only bring you so far. It is only when you invite Him into your heart and sit down at the table to take the Bread (the Word) from His own hand, that you will recognize Him. Only after this encounter with the living Christ, theology makes sense.

Some time after the resurrection, the disciples made their way back to Galilee and went back to their old trade. They were busy with the nets and boats, fishing for a whole night and returning with empty nets. Jesus is on the beach with them, just like the days of their calling to follow Him, but they do not recognize Him. He asks if they have something to eat and they say they have nothing. He tells them to throw out the nets to the right of the boat. On His command they do it and haul out a huge catch, without tearing the nets. Something stirs in John and he recognizes the miracle and declares: It is the Lord. Peter jumps out of the boat and run through the shallow water to get to the beach quicker. Can you imagine that encounter?

After a lovely breakfast – oh, fresh fish on a fire on the beach – in conversation with their beloved friend in awe of His presence after His death and released of fear and doubt, Peter is forgiven and restored and receives His godly mission, to propel him into what he has never thought possible.

Acts the first chapter states the reality of the resurrection:

Acts1:3:

 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

This is the truth – grab hold of the truth so that it lives in your heart. These are the days before the ascension. The days of expectation are coming – the 10 days in the upper room waiting on the Holy Spirit. These are the days to lift up your eyes and bump up your expectation of what God can do in your life. It is time to prepare for the celebration of the first fruits.

It is the time for confusion and fear to make way for victory and faith. It is the time for new insight into your circumstances when the risen Christ will cause you to bring in the miracle catch with nets that do not tear.

On what is your eye fixed? On the current situation that drags along and negative talk to darken your vision.

It is time to submit to God’s miracle-working plan.

2 Corinthians 10: 4,5:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…

Pray with me Psalm 121:1:

I lift up my eyes…

And how will we see? With the prayer of the blind man: Mark 10:51:

Rabbi, I want to see.”

In essence – open the eyes of my heart, Teacher. From Whom do we learn – from the words of the Son of the Living God. His words are Spirit and Life. [John 6:63]

Do you see the risen Christ? Do you experience the breakfast on the beach? Raise your expectation. This is not the time for doubt and fear.

Exodus 14:13:

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.

Deuteronomy 1:21:

Look, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged.’

The ability of man to be blind for the truth is mind-blowing and outright scary. The way you direct your sight is life giving or destructive. It is always your choice, even within the Kingdom. This is life’s challenge – do I react with the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit exalting God as my loving Father or do I react as my own god like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, relying on my own mind and reason to interpret my life?

Beloved of the Father, let the Holy Spirit dwell in you to convict your inner being of the truth, the life and the way to God. Let Him reveal your sin, let His blood cleanse you and buy the eye salve according to the counsel of Revelation 3:18:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

What is your alternative? To be found: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. [Revelation 3:17]

Jesus talks about our eyesight in the strongest terms: Matthew 6:22,23:

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Let us lift up our eye and make sure to see the risen Christ.

How wonderful to realize where God’s eye is:

Psalm 32:8:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

2 Chronicles 16:9:

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts are blameless toward Him.

Praise God – His eye is on us.

Psalm 139:16:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days of my life were written before ever they took shape…

 

Be greatly blessed with anointed eyes and clear insight