Encountering God in Anxious Times

The Emmaus Road Discourse Luke 24:13-36

I’m very aware that we live in anxious times—yet, as I begin, I’d like to raise your personal anxiety a few more notches…There is a phrase that deeply affects every person on the planet: When God is silent. We’ve all had seasons in our lives when we have longed for God to speak and found God to be silent. Even confirmed atheists would admit that if God clearly spoke, they would believe.

There was a German scholar/theologian named Helmut Thielicke who lived through the Nazi holocaust[1] and one of his books is titled, The Silence of God., [2] which was published in 1962 after a period of research and reflection. In a nutshell here’s what Thielicke found:

Anxiety is the “secret wound of modern man.”[3]

Initially, he thought our natural tendency was related to a fear of death. But, he said, World Wars I & II proved otherwise…an example is that Russian soldiers were more afraid of pain than death. Thielicke traces our anxiety to a “fear of emptiness” and that our anxiety can actually be traced to a longing to know where God is. Thielicke’s hypothesis for his research was:

“Where is God in the face of the mass slaughter of war, or the frightening development of [universal pandemics] which seems to press us inexorably towards destruction and final catastrophe?”

The 4th-century theologian and theologian and philosopher, Augustine came to the same conclusion as Thielicke when he prayed:

“God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”[4]

In this essay, I would like for us to consider how a personal encounter, with Jesus Christ, will push back the anxiety of our lives. We will consider what’s called the Emmaus Road narrative found in Luke 24:13-35.

What we have on the road this Easter morning are two downcast, dismayed, and devastated disciples, who couldn’t recognize Jesus. It seems they had become spiritually blind. (I think it’s important to notice that even committed disciples can suffer from spiritual blindness.)

Two important questions we can ask of the text are:

  1. What causes spiritual blindness?
  2. How can we have a personal encounter with Jesus?

We’ll consider them one at a time…

  1. What causes spiritual blindness?

We tend to think that our greatest need is a change of circumstances instead of a change of heart. We first notice that Cleopas is speaking in the past tense in verses 19b and 21a “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed…21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

The Jewish people were looking for a Geopolitical King to liberate them from Roman oppression; instead, they got a Servant King, intent on liberating the soul. While the disciples certainly had moments of profound insight and revelation as they interacted and learned from Jesus, yet in the end, they failed to understand the primary purpose of the coming Messiah. To find true heart liberation, we must come to the end of ourselves and see our need for a Savior. This is both an initial need in order for salvation to take root in our lives—and an ongoing need for those of us who are active, intentional followers of Jesus.

A second posture that can result in spiritual blindness is, we can fail to recognize Jesus in the ordinary. Like with these disciples on the road, Jesus is closer to us than we realize. Jesus became an ordinary person to show ordinary people like us God’s extraordinary love. Right now, today, God is active in your life and using people and these current circumstances, in an attempt to reveal Himself to you—and to draw you closer to Himself.

The arc of biblical teaching—from Genesis to Revelation is that God doesn’t take us AROUND trouble, He takes us THROUGH trouble. And here’s His offer: a) He’ll go with us, b) He’ll teach us along the way, and c) we can go in His strength and power.

Remember, even disciples of Jesus can suffer from spiritual blindness.

Question: Where are your current difficulties or (unrealistic) expectations preventing you from seeing the active presence of Jesus in your life?

Unless we are willing to see Him in the routine and ordinary, we may miss Him.

  1. This brings us to our second question: How can we have a personal encounter with Jesus?

We encounter Jesus when we are humble and see our need for His grace and empowering presence.

In v.26 we find Jesus giving a succinct summary of the gospel: “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

In terms of the gospel, Christianity is the only religion or philosophy of life that has an answer to this question, how can God be both infinitely just AND infinitely merciful? At first glance they seem to be at odds. Yet what we find is that infinite justice and infinite mercy intersect at the cross.

In v.26 Jesus is saying that He had to die to make full redemption available to humankind. Again, Cleopas thought they needed a General, he didn’t fully realize that he needed a Savior. What we see in this passage is that Jesus wants to go deeper than our circumstances and heal our ultimate anxiety, which is our separation from God.

With that in mind I have BAD NEWS and I have GOOD NEWS. Here’s the BAD NEWS: God demands perfect holiness to enter into His presence. The tiniest, most minuscule sin will separate you from God forever. To miss the mark by even a millimeter is still to have missed the mark. The GOOD NEWS—and it’s actually great news, is that Jesus the Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, was brutally murdered to take away our sins and then was resurrected on the third day. As our hearts are AWAKENED to this act of perfect love, perfect justice, and perfect mercy we receive the gift of Christ’s righteousness, which is un-earnable, based on what Christ has done—not what we must do.

We encounter Jesus in the Bible. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v. 27.) They were on a 7-mile journey, which takes about 2-3 hours depending on the terrain. What we have on this journey is probably THE most important Bible study of all time. What we learn from this verse is, the whole Old Testament is about Jesus. What Jesus is doing on the Emmaus Road is opening their minds to the meaning of the Bible. Jesus is saying, “The whole OT is actually about Me.” Once our hearts are awakened to that perspective, we begin to see how the whole Bible—both Old and New Testaments only tells one story. It’s the story of redemption and reconciliation through Jesus.

Have you seen the movie The Sixth Sense?[5] We can only really see it twice. The first time the ending is quite shocking. The second time we become very aware of all the indicators that point to the shocking ending. It’s the same with seeing how the whole Old Testament points to Jesus. The Apostle Paul articulates this thought essence well when he declares, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Jesus left the comfort and perfection of heaven to come into our brokenness and provide us with a righteousness, a peace, and a joy that we didn’t—and couldn’t—earn.

We encounter Jesus as we come together. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him.  Luke 24:30-31a Again, Jesus is closer than we think. He is already all over our lives. These disciples had been devastated and humbled—and in that condition—partaking of what we now know as the Lord’s Supper, which is an act of worship—they encounter the reality of the risen Christ. And notice too, how the disciples immediately take the good news to somebody else. Nobody can sit on this message when it truly comes alive in our hearts. “And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:33-34).

Returning to the German theologian’s conclusions regarding the root of human anxiety and our fear of emptiness, Thielicke writes that the “positive force, which defeats anxiety, is love.”[6] This parallels with what John says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Thielicke says our anxiety is the result of a broken bond—and that God’s sacrifice on the cross restores that bond. He says, “once we know that we are loved, we lose our anxiety” and he likens it to holding on tightly to a father’s hand in a very dark forest.

In both Matthew and Mark’s accounts of the crucifixion, they record the anxious final cry of Jesus exclaiming: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Yet a closer examination will reveal that even in excruciating death Jesus never let go of His Father’s hand. Notice Jesus cries out, My God, My God…”  Jesus is bringing His anxiety to His Father. And because He did, so can we.

[1] There was an underground evangelical church movement in Germany during WW2.

[2]  Eerdmans 1962.

[3] Pgs. 17–21.

[4] Confessions (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5).

[5] An 8-year-old boy is visited by ghosts and he is too afraid to tell anyone about his anguish, except for Willis who plays a child psychologist. (M. Night Shyamalan) Available on YouTube, Google Play, and iTunes for $2.99.

[6] Pgs. 23–24.

Holy Week Devo – 7

Saturday, April 11th

What was happening on Saturday?

The body of Jesus was entombed.

Jesus Is Buried Luke 23:50-56

And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment.

Three Thoughts…

Was it Really Three Days and Nights?

According to Christian tradition, Jesus died on Good Friday at 3pm (or, the ninth hour of the day according to Matthew 27:45-46; Mark 15:33-34; and Luke 23:44). By 6pm He was entombed and then on Sunday at dawn, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s approximately 36 hours. Yet, according to Matthew 12:40, Jesus said, “For, just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” So, what’s up with that?

First-century Palestine didn’t begin new days at midnight like we do in our 21st-century cultural context. For them, it was sundown, which the Jewish people still practice. In first-century Judaism, part of a day counted as a whole day. So, because Jesus was buried on Friday evening and rose on Sunday morning, He was in the tomb “three days and three nights.” The authors of the Gospels all point to the resurrection occurring at dawn on the first day of the week (for them it was Sunday). So, it was the beginning of a new day—both literally as well as symbolically!

What Was Happening Between the Cross and the Empty Tomb?

After Jesus’s human body died on the cross, Jesus descended into death. Death did indeed capture Jesus and He entered into it fully. We read in Luke 23:43 that Jesus told the humble criminal who was crucified next to Him that, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” We also read in the Apostles Creed that, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell.” So, what was happening on this Holy Saturday? There are no specific scriptural references, but many have attempted to answer the question by examining many of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament (mostly those contained in Psalms) and what the New Testament records. My own thoughts are probably too simplistic for well-studied theologians, yet my current thinking is that Jesus did descend into hell, but not to continue His suffering. John was there as Jesus died on the cross and he records Jesus saying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). My thoughtful speculation is that Jesus went into hell to seize the keys of death and hell from Satan. In Revelation 1:18, the risen Christ appears to John and declares, [I am] “the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” After seizing the keys of death and hell Jesus took them to His Father in Paradise—and returned to the tomb for resurrection.

Sabbath Rest

Luke 23:56b: And on the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment. On Holy Saturday we wait. It’s a Sabbath Day, and as such, a time of quiet and restful reflection. That first Holy Saturday was anything but restful for the disciples of Jesus. There was much anxiety, fear, and depression. These emotions are processed best in prayer and thoughtful reflection.

Author GK. Chesterton in “The Everlasting Man” writes that this Sabbath “was the last Sabbath of the old creation, which was marred by Adam’s sin…What [the disciples] were looking at on Sunday morning, was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.”[1]

Thoughtful and reflective: Andrew Peterson “Resurrection Letters: One Album, Ten Years” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx3vDBtf78E&list=PLSOArt-wtjbDxjvTK9gO62ok2EIdqZX2g

 

 

[1] G.K. Chesterton: The Everlasting Man, Part Two, Chap. III.

What Good Friday Accomplished

The gospels tell the what of the crucifixion while the epistles help us to understand the why. One of the most subtly graphic passages in the epistles is Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians (5:21),

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

This doesn’t mean that God made Jesus sinful, it means that on the cross the Father treated Jesus the way sinners deserve. Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane was a mere foretaste of the coming rejection. One commentator wrote, “Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before His betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before Him…”[1]

On the cross, Jesus endured the FULL WEIGHT of the sins of humanity. Think about it, every past, present, and future sin of every person who would ever live was beginning to smother the soul of Jesus. Someone has said that the physical suffering that Jesus endured was like a flea bite compared to the emotional and spiritual suffering of bearing our sin.

What we encounter in the gospels is that Jesus didn’t exude the peace of God on the cross. If we look closely, we see that he actually lost His peace while He was dying on the cross. He cried out in agony saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”  and then a few minutes later, in His final moment, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last” (Mark 15:34, 37).

To paraphrase what happened as He passed from life to death, we must acknowledge that Jesus died screaming. It was torturous, excruciating, and violent, fueled by unfathomable pain.

Here’s what may help us to better understand what happened on Good Friday, Jesus relinquished all of His peace so we could receive and enjoy eternal peace. The essence of the gospel is that God, out of unfathomable pain and immeasurable love became one of us and accomplished for us what we could not accomplish on our own. The Christian life is not about what we could do or should do to earn God’s favor and acceptance, it’s about what God accomplished for us. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

[1] Bill Lane. The Gospel According to Mark. Eerdmans, 1974: 573.

Holy Week Devo – Day 6

Good Friday, April 10th

What happened on Good Friday?

Several sorrowful events took place…Jesus praying in Gethsemane (either late Thursday night or early Friday morning), the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, His denial, His sham trial and flogging, and His crucifixion.

Why is this Friday Good? Certainly, as the day unfolded it didn’t look or feel good—His disciples were still expecting a geopolitical kingdom (like David’s) to be established, so this day was shocking and bewildering to them. It is in looking back that we see the resolute goodness of that fateful day. By His death, Jesus became the final and complete sacrifice for our sins. Jesus willingly accomplished what we could never do for ourselves by dying for us on that first Good Friday.

Gethsemane

Luke 22:44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

The key-word, of course, is anguish. One commentator wrote: “Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before His betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before Him…”[1]

Betrayal and Arrest

John 18:3-5a So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”

Our tendency is to place the blame on Judas as a bad seed. But what we see later in Peter’s sermon that launched the Church (Acts 2) is that “we” killed Christ.

  • Acts 2:23 This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
  • Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you

Denial

Luke 22:60-61 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”

Two things stand out here:

  • We’ve all heard the phrase, “If looks could kill I’d be dead.” So, when Jesus turned and looked at Peter after he denied Him three times, what did Peter see and experience? He did not see anger or pity, Peter encountered gracious love and complete acceptance in the eyes of Jesus, which caused a deep and life-changing repentance.
  • What’s the difference between Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial? Certainly, both were grievous sins. The difference appears to be that Judas did not repent, he relented while Peter truly repented. True repentance is a summons to a personal, absolute, ultimate, and unconditional surrender to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Though it includes relenting and regretting, it is so much more than that. The unresolved guilt and shame of Judas’ relentance culminated in taking his own life.

Sham Trial and Flogging

Mark 15:15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Seven hundred years before the crucifixion Isaiah prophesied about the death of the coming Messiah: But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man (Isaiah 32:14). Wow.

On the cross, Jesus endured the FULL WEIGHT of the all past, present, and future sins of humanity. Someone has suggested that the physical suffering that Jesus endured was like a flea bite compared to the emotional and spiritual suffering of bearing the sin of humanity.

Jesus didn’t exude the peace of God on the cross. If we look closely at what Jesus endured on the cross, we see that he actually lost His peace while He was dying. He cried out in agony and said,

  • Mark 15:34 “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
  • Mark 15:37 “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last.”

Paraphrase: Jesus died screaming.  It was an excruciating and violent death. Here’s what this means for you and me: Jesus let go of all of His peace so we could have eternal peace.

Application: Somehow, we must allow the events of this day to penetrate the lingering hardness and complacency of our hearts. I don’t know how to do that for you. Certainly, it will take some moments of quiet reflection. Will you get by yourself to reflect? Will you read these passages and pray with your spouse and family (or housemates)? We’ll also be reflecting on this in our Good Friday service later today…

[1] Bill Lane. The Gospel According to Mark. Eerdmans, 1974: 573.

Daily Devo – Day 5

Maundy Thursday, April 9th

What was Jesus doing on Thursday of Holy Week?

The big event of the day is the Last Supper and Jesus and the disciples making their way to Gethsemane.

Note: In liturgical churches this day is known as Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, which reflects Jesus’ words, in John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment.”

Jesus Washes The Feet Of His Friends, John 13:1-17; 34-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:31–17:26 is a unit known as The Farewell Discourse, which are the final words and instructions of Jesus before He was arrested. If we were to reduce these chapters to two words, they would be assurance and comfort. Jesus prepares the Disciples for His death and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He speaks of the opposition between the ways of this world and them as His disciples, preparing them for the hardships to come.[1] He does this by showing them that this opposition will come from their union with Himself (e.g., abiding in Him, see John 15:4).

One of my VitalChurch colleagues made the observation that the Last Supper, with Jesus stooping to wash the feet of the disciples, is the most pivotal moment in all of human history. What we witness is the culmination of the Old Covenant (or Testament) and the launch of the New Covenant (or Testament). At the official inauguration of this new age, Jesus is modeling for us a new ethic and practice—humbly serving others (see Philippians 2:2-7). Jesus didn’t want this object lesson moment to be missed, we are to find our comfort, joy, and delight in being found “in Him” and from that assurance we are to humbly love and serve one another—and “the other,” through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Application: Two thoughts…

  1. How is your assurance of salvation? Do you know that you know that you know that you are secure in God’s love and full acceptance? If not ask God to reveal to you what might be hindering that. Surrender afresh your whole life to Him and ask for that assurance to warm your heart.
  2. How is your servant’s heart? If you do not live alone during this shelter-in-place moment, you are experiencing, CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS in a whole new way, where we’re in each other’s space more than usual. How’s it going? (I’ll leave it at that.)

Deeper Dive: Jesus and the Disciples Making Their Way to Gethsemane

After the Last Supper Jesus and the Disciples began to make their way through the streets of Jerusalem to Gethsemane. Along the way, in the moonlight, they would have seen small fires burning in the vineyards that shared the Mount of Olives with the olive groves. And keep in mind that the national emblem of Israel was a golden vine.

It is possible that Jesus spoke His John 15 words with a view of the vineyard fires in the background. What were the fires about? At the end of each day the vinedressers would stack the dead and fruitless branches into a pile every few rows and then burn them at dusk. Perhaps as Jesus spoke His words, the Disciples could see the fires burning from where they were standing (or walking)??

And then Jesus and the Disciples would need to cross the Kidron Valley on their way to Gethsemane. On the afternoon before the Passover Celebration in Jerusalem, which would have begun on Wednesday, the Temple Priests would have been sacrificing of the lambs on the altar of the temple. Theologians speculate that as many as a quarter-million lambs were slain in a typical Passover season, requiring hundreds of priests to carry out the task. There would be a tremendous amount of blood drained from 250,000 lambs along with the water used in the ritual cleansings. The water and blood would have been flowing down the Kidron Valley which separated Jerusalem from Gethsemane. The word, Kidron means “black brook” or “gloomy brook,” perhaps the name was in response to the continuous flood of blood and water from the Temple.

When Jesus and the Disciples walked through the Kidron Valley, it’s likely that Jesus couldn’t help but be moved by the biblical symbolism that the valley held in terms of sacrifices made “for sins,” the river of blood from those sacrificial lambs. Jesus knew that as “The Lamb of God” His blood would soon flow for the sins of the whole world—past, present, and future. His crossing the Kidron was a confirmation concerning “the cup” of the sins of the world that He was about to drink and die for. He came to die as God’s perfect Sacrificial Lamb for our sins that we might be restored to direct access to an intimate life-giving relationship with our Father God. He is, indeed, a good, good Father.

Application: The best, maybe the only legit, application is to worship. When you have a few minutes maybe slip out of the house and take a short walk. Reflect on the suffering that Jesus was about to endure. Thank Him and worship Him.

You can also gather your household and tell them the story I just told you. And here’s a link to a video from the Bible Project about sacrifice and atonement that you can share with your household…

https://bibleproject.com/explore/sacrifice-atonement/

[1] cf. Tolmie 1995:228-29.

Holy Week Devo – Day 4

Wednesday, April 8th

What was happening on Wednesday of Holy Week?

The major event was Judas’ decision to betray Jesus.

One Of You Will Betray Me, Matthew 26:14-16

Then one of the twelve disciples—the one named Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?” They counted out thirty silver coins and gave them to him. From then on Judas was looking for a good chance to hand Jesus over to them.

Based on the median income for a full-time wage or salary worker in 2019, the equivalent amount would be approximately $5,460—not nearly as much as we might have thought!

Someone once said, “Knowing what NOT to do is just as good as knowing what TO do.” So, what can we learn from Judas? At least two things…

1 For three-and-a-half years Jesus, the only perfect person who ever lived, provided the ultimate environment for incubating a dynamic faith, yet Judas still went sideways. Parents of prodigals, or pastors, or employers who have experienced loved ones making poor choices, walking away from the faith they were raised in, or employees not living up to their potential and needing to be let go can be overwhelmed with a strong sense of shame and guilt.

(It should be noted that there is legitimate shame and guilt that humbly acknowledges our failures and points us to the cross of Christ. Legitimate shame exposes our depravity. We should feel shame when we hurt someone because we violate our relationship with them and the Lord. Take care not to justify or deny your wrongdoing. Let legitimate shame do its work. If the Spirit of God lives in you, you will be nudged into the light of His presence and seared by His penetrating eyes. It is God’s kindness to orchestrate the events of our life so that our heart will be tested and then humbled.[1])

Certainly, we must acknowledge and own what we could have done differently—and apologize where necessary, yet in the end we cannot control the decisions of others.

Application: Own what you can own. Repent. Apologize wherever it is appropriate. Ask for the Holy Spirit to be released afresh on the person/people because God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

2 Seemingly “insignificant” and unconfessed sin can snowball into addictive, destructive, and lethal behaviors if not acknowledged and confessed. There are many kinds of addictions. There are ingestive addictions—like alcohol, drugs, nicotine, sugar, caffeine, and/or food. And there are also process addictions—things like illegitimate shame and guilt, a poor understanding of who we are in Christ, and other processes like pornography and masturbation, shopping, social media, binge watching digital content, religion, making money, and working out can even become an addiction—although most of us could use a little more time at the gym 🙂

Judas had been stealing from the collective money bag, and when he kept this sin secret, Satan gained more and more ground in his life. Judas made a deal with the chief priests and then sat down at our Lord’s table with known sins that he was unwilling to own and confess, and Satan entered even further into his life. Unconfessed sin always opens the door to Satan’s power in our lives.

John 13:27a: When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him…

Matthew 27:3-5: Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” 5 And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

Application: Confess all know sin. Join a Community Group and seek out safe, challenging, and accountable relationships.

[1] Dan Allender. The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse, NavPress 1990: 63-66.

Holy Week Devo – Day 3

Tuesday, April 7th

What was Jesus doing on Tuesday of Holy Week?

It’s important that, as we move through Holy Week, we begin to see and understand the resolute focus and intentionality of Jesus that is reflected back to us by the Gospel writers…

He, with the Disciples, Passed by The Barren Fig Tree: Matthew 21:19-22

This object lesson teaching of Jesus on faith and prayer emphasizes that the power of prayer lies not in the power of the person praying but, in the power and promises of God. Our freedom from doubt begins to arise from a growing awareness that something is truly God’s will. True faith receives what it asks for. True trust is not presumptive arrogance but submission to God’s will.

The Authority of Jesus is Challenged in the Temple: Matthew 21:23-27.

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus was no stranger to controversy and conflict with the religious establishment. Most Jewish people (including the disciples of Jesus) held a fixed (but wrong) view of how the Messiah should come and what He would do. The demands of the chief priests and the elders emanated from a stubborn place and a desire for personal power and comfort rather than a heart that desired to know and do the will of God.

The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24-25. Excerpt from 25:1-13

Leaving the Temple, Jesus and the Disciples walked up the Mount of Olives, probably to a place that overlooked the city. Matthew 24-25 are the last of Jesus’ five teaching discourses that make up the bulk of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to His disciples, giving them a prophetic overview of events to come in the near and distant future. Here’s how to outline the chapters…

  • Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple (which happened in 70 A.D.). (24:1-3)
  • The troubles before the destruction of Jerusalem. (24:4-28)
  • Jesus foretells other signs and miseries. (24:29-41)
  • Exhortations to watchfulness. (24:42-51)
  • The parable of the ten virgins. (25:1-13)
  • The parable of the talents. (25:14-30)
  • The Second Coming and Judgement. (25:31-46)

 As we can see, Tuesday was a packed day of exhortation and instruction! A concise overview of the day’s focus would be:

  • A pattern for personal prayer that it is not petitioning God to do our will, but a humble inquiring of God to share His will for us.
  • The natural drift of the human heart is toward selfishness, personal comfort, and control. It is essential that we engage the Christian life as humble learners.
  • Jesus will not take His followers around suffering, but through suffering—and we are to be watchful, prepared, and productive along the way—because judgement is coming.

Application:

  • Consider your prayer life. Ask God to draw you after Him in a new and powerful way. “Draw me after you and let us run together!” –Song of Solomon 1:4a
  • Where is personal preference, stubbornness, and control hindering your relationship with God and others? Get real.
  • Where are you stuck in your longing for comfort in the midst of our call to stand firm for Jesus even when it means suffering?

Tim Keller and George Hebert on Prayer

The Christian’s Call to Suffer

Holy Week Devo – Day 2

Monday, April 6th

Mary Pours Out Her Costly Perfume, Matthew 26:6-13

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

A Note of Context: The anointing of Jesus recounted in Luke 7:36-50 is a different incident from this anointing. This anointing is also related in John 12:1-11 and Mark 14:3-9 (although John 12 states that Mary anointed His feet and wiped them with her hair). Mary is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It is Monday evening, two days after Lazarus was raised from the dead and the day after Palm Sunday. Jesus enjoyed a very special friendship with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They offered Jesus warm friendship and their home provided a respite in a world of conflict and escalating hostility (cf. Luke 10:38–42). It is also worth noting that the resurrection of Lazarus was likely one of the main reasons the crowds in Jerusalem were so large and boisterous on Palm Sunday. The word had spread and there was a holy hope and expectation that swept through the city including those who made the trek to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.

Big Idea: The main emphasis seems to be, don’t waste your life on anything but Jesus.

Dig In: Chinese Pastor and Theologian, Watchman Nee wrote a book in the 1930s entitled The Normal Christian Life. The last chapter of the book is titled, “The Goal of the Gospel” and it addresses this idea of waste from Matthew 26. Nee points out that in the parallel accounts of John (12:1-11) and Mark (14:3-9), all the disciples joined Judas in scolding Mary for wasting this expensive perfume on Jesus when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Yet we find Jesus defending Mary by replying, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her” (Matt. 26:13). What does Jesus mean? Nee contends that Jesus is saying, “people should come to Him and waste themselves on Him.”[1] If Jesus is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field[2] (see Matthew 13:45-46), then it’s not a waste to sell everything we have to buy the field that contains the pearl. To have Jesus is worth “wasting” all that we are and all that we have on Him.

Application: This might seem like kind of an in-your-face question, but I’ll ask it nevertheless—In your mind, what is the difference between a wasted life and an “un-wasted” life? How will you discern whether or not you are wasting your life (or even portions of your life)? I have been wrestling with this question for the last few weeks. Spend some time in this shelter-at-home season and prayerfully reflect on and evaluate your life. How did you get to where you are today? What is God placing on your heart for this next season of life?

Deeper Dive: In Paul’s letter to young Timothy he provides some sage advice…

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. –1 Timothy 4:15-6 (emphasis added)

The two verses above offer a context for regular moments of reflection and evaluation. First of all, the goal is not perfection, but progress (v.15), and secondly, a consistent and thorough evaluation of ourselves and our message will lead to the furtherance of the gospel (v.16). This requires courage because we must be willing to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be.

And returning to the idea of waste, on May 20, 2000, in Memphis TN John Piper delivered a message to thousands of college students at a one-day Passion Conference. The message was titled Boasting Only in the Cross. Piper made a passionate plea to that generation to avoid the dangers of a wasted life, calling on them to take risks and make sacrifices that will matter for eternity. Piper called for a single-minded, soul-satisfying passion for the glory of God that seeks to make much of Him in every sphere of our lives. Subsequently, that sermon has been called, a “message that moved a generation” and had a ripple effect through that generation (see below for a 7-minute clip—or the link above for the full message). As Nee wrote in The Normal Christian Life, “A life spent in selfless devotion to Jesus is not wasted, but a life spent on self is totally wasted.”

 

[1] Pgs 186.

[2] By-the-way, this “pearl” passage goes both ways. You are also the pearl of great price that Jesus purchased for Himself.

Holy Week Devotional – Day 1

Palm Sunday, April 5th — Jesus’ Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem, Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [see Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9]

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” [See Psalm 118:26]

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Thinking it through: The big question seems to be, would you have recognized Jesus?

Someone has said, “Expectation is the root of all hurt.” Think about it. If you were to go back and consider the times in your life where deep relational woundedness occurred, it most likely includes someone disappointing or hurting you in a way that was completely unexpected. Expectation is a programmed assumption. Sometimes our expectations are legitimate, and the wound is raw and real. Sometimes our expectations are illegitimate and the wound, while it may still be piercing, has been self-inflicted. The Jewish people were looking for a Geopolitical King to liberate them from Roman oppression; instead, they got a Servant King, intent on liberating the soul.

Here are three questions for you to consider…

Are there areas in your life where you have placed unrealistic or unbiblical expectations on God?

In a blog post Christian author Randy Alcorn identifies six false expectations that diminish true happiness…

  1. God’s Love for Us Should Look Just Like What We Want
  2. We Won’t Be Persecuted for Our Faith
  3. Jesus Must Return in Our Lifetime
  4. Life Will Go Smoothly and We’ll Always Have Health and Wealth
  5. Life Will Be Fair and People Will Treat Us Kindly and Thoughtfully
  6. Churches Owe Us Better Treatment than We’ve Received

Do you still carry woundedness or bitterness from your past as a result of unmet expectations?

All of our pain resolved or otherwise, is important to our heavenly Father. Your feelings, right or wrong, are valid. Nevertheless, consider real hurt vs. perceived hurt. Read Psalm 22; a psalm of David. He’s confused and in deep anguish—and yet he turns to God in his anguish. David is famous for being a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22), yet we sometimes fail to recognize how he repeatedly paid attention to loss, grief, and disappointment. As King, David led Israel to God through his own experiences of grief and loss.[1]

Are your aspirations, hopes, dreams, and expectations rooted in a developing biblical theology?

As Matthew notes, the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was foretold in the Old Testament. Those who were deeply familiar with the Scriptures would have recognized what was happening.

So, what is biblical theology? Biblical theology can be contrasted with experiential theology, which defines God through personal experience, emotion, and the subjective discernment of reality. Simply stated, biblical theology is seeing the whole Bible (both Old and New Testaments) as a single narrative. A more robust definition is the lifelong endeavor of tracking the whole story of the whole Bible as Christian Scripture in its proper context. It is one story that moves from creation to sin, to judgment, to reconciliation, and finally, to the restoration of all things.

Many Christians have never seen or understood the difference between experiential theology and biblical theology. Experiential theology will keep us trapped in immaturity and set us up for repeated disappointments. This could be a main reason for people exiting the Church—they’ve never been taught how to study and embrace the full single story of the Bible. And consequently, they didn’t recognize Jesus when He showed up in their lives. Unrealistic expectations and the resulting disappointments have hijacked their lives.

Is this happening to you? Do you know someone who is on the fringe or who has exited the Church because of poor instruction? If this describes you, go back to the Beatitudes: acknowledge your spiritual poverty, mourn over your sinful condition (along with the condition of the world around us), become a humble learner once again, and you will begin to experience a hunger and thirst for God. If you know someone who is deeply disappointed with God and/or the Church, invite them to meet and ask to hear their story. Don’t try and fix them, listen to them, affirm their feelings, and continue to love them. When the time is right, offer to read a book with them. One of the best books to help someone get back on the right track is Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller. It’s a retelling of a biblical narrative from Luke 15 that we often get wrong. Both brothers were prodigals and the main character is not the younger prodigal but the older one. Keller tells us there are two ways to miss God, 1) rebellion (younger prodigal) and 2) religion (older prodigal). The gospel is the third way. Read this book with your friend (Spouse? Child? Co-Worker?), walk together and let God do the rest.

Here are some additional resources to further consider biblical theology:

[1] Adapted from Enlarging Your Soul and Church Through Grief and Loss by Peter Scazzero.

Preparing for the Next Great Awakening

Here’s a quote I came across a few days ago…

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” —John Piper

Have you thought much about what God is wanting to say to you in this shelter in place moment? I keep thinking this disruption is a major opportunity. It’s a time to get real with God and it’s a time to get right with God. Getting real, or owning our own stuff, is the best (and fastest?) way to get right with God. We all accumulate idols.

Idols are those activities that we engage in when we’re stressed out and looking to medicate. In this 21st century culture, idols are everywhere. We have music idols, sports idols, Instagram idols—and we even have a long-running television show to make our own “American Idol” (which I have generally enjoyed by-the-way).

Within the sinful nature of our human hearts, there is a need, a hunger to idolize. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, explains that Scripture teaches the human heart is an “idol factory.”[1] Idolatry quietly and subtly slips into our lives when we allow good things to become ultimate things.[2] Another way to understand this is to think of idols as functional saviors. Jerry Bridges defines functional saviors in the following way: Sometimes we look to other things to satisfy and fulfill us—to ‘save’ us. These ‘functional saviors’ can be any object of dependence we embrace that isn’t God. They can become the source of our identity, security, and significance because we hold an idolatrous affection for them in our hearts—which often begins as a dalliance. Idols can begin to preoccupy our minds and consume our time and resources. They make us feel good and sometimes, they can even make us feel righteous (religion can become an idol). Whether we realize it or not, they begin to control us, and we worship them.[3] It’s been said that all sin is idolatry because in that moment we are worshiping something or someone other than God.

Still another way to understand the contemporary form of idolatry is to think of it in terms of defining where we obtain our hope. At the heart of every culture lays its main “hope.” Any dominant cultural “hope” that is not God Himself is an idol.[4] We tend to think of idols as bad or evil things, yet they almost never are. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect the idol to satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything or anyone can become an idol, especially the very best things in life.[5]

So, in this anxiety-filled downtime let’s identify the primary idols that hold a prominent place in our hearts? Here are ten common idols: self, security (or control), approval, relationships, success, wealth, health, food, sex, and comfort. All legit things, right? Perhaps a good conversation with your spouse or close friend might be to identify and confess those idols that are attempting to become a primary hope in our lives? (One of mine is comfort.)

I believe that God is up to something big in this moment of history. We must make the decision to no longer tolerate our idols and our low levels of faith, our personal dysfunctions, and give ourselves over to God’s longing to remake us in Christlikeness. Only God can do the changing, but we can choose to surrender afresh.

The next great awakening in the Church and in our country must be centered on our hearts being changed by God. It will begin by replacing the pseudo-Christianity of the consumer-driven lifestyle enhancement model of church (i.e., what can I get from God and church?) with the Spirit-filled faith of biblical Christianity model (i.e., we surrender to Him our whole heart, soul, and mind). Then we, as the church, will offer the renewal of authentic godliness to those who are being malformed by the plethora of cultural idols in the deepest parts of their hearts.

[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods: xiv (quoting John Calvin).
[2] Ibid. Adapted from Keller.
[3] Jerry Bridges & Bevington, The Bookends of the Christian Life: 72.
[4] Andrew Delbanco. The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. Quoted in Counterfeit Gods: 129-130.
[5] Keller: xvii.