The Sanhedrin wanted to judge Jesus. Actually, they had already judged Jesus all they lacked was the opportunity to carry out their judgment in His presence. They had one goal in mind and that was to take Him down. They didn’t want to do it during the Passover because of the people (Mark 14:2).
The Sanhedrin was made up of the judging rulers of the nation of Israel. They were responsible for teaching the people what God wanted from them and for enforcing the law of God among the people who called Him Lord. Where did things get so out of hand that they were now determined to Judge God Himself? Do you ever get out of hand in judging God, rather than following Him?
The Sanhedrin’s hearts had strayed from seeing God because they were stuck in their religious boxes. No one noticed how far away from God’s Words and God’s laws they had strayed. Only Jesus exposed that the things they taught were nothing but impossible burdens that would make absolutely no spiritual impact in their lives (Matthew 23). Have you ever been stuck in a religious box?
Another reason they judged God was the fact that they did not want to admit that there was anything lacking in them. I’ve got news for them and us. There is always a nugget of truth in any criticism we receive. We are not God. Therefore, we are not perfect. We will need to admit we are wrong at least once a day. How long has it been since we have seen something wrong in the way we conduct our life? If we can’t think of a time, then we need to sit down immediately and let the Holy Spirit show us something. I’m sure He will not need to look as hard as we do.
Another thought that gave them trouble was that they saw themselves as the defenders of God. God does not need us to defend Him. God can defend Himself. God can explain Himself. God doesn’t tell us to defend Him. He tells us to live like Him and that will draw others to conclude He is real (John 13:35, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another).
Judging God is serious business. It can be spiritually fatal; we must guard against it and learn to recognize it at all costs.
How does God put up with all the judgments He receives from us? I surprised myself when I faced a situation where my own son was asked to come before the judgment of people who didn’t see him, didn’t understand him, and were not interested in knowing his heart. I looked at my husband and said, I’m not God. I won’t send my son before the Sanhedien. I didn’t. But God did. He sent His Son to be judged, condemned, rejected and ultimately crucified. And why? All for the love He has for those doing the judging. Pretty amazing isn’t He?
People continue to judge Jesus, they still want to kill Him, mock Him and reject Him. You and I judge Jesus. We blame Him, hate Him and wonder where He is. God doesn’t protect Him from our judgment. God always hopes that while we are judging Him, we might come to see Him as He is and open our hearts to His love. When we come to Jesus, it’s a good idea to lay our gavel down and reach out our arms to Him. He will make sense of all our questions and help us lay aside all our questions when we stop judging Him and start looking at Him.
Bonus Tea Time for Your Soul Lenten Section:
The Beauty of the Cross
Tuesday, February 26
I don’t know of many people today who would not think that the cross is beautiful. Even those who do not believe in its spiritual significance decorate their homes with them or wear jewelry in the form of the cross.
I, like many others, have a wall where crosses of different sizes, shapes, colors and representing different countries form a focal point in my home. It is a beautiful wall that sort of evolved as crosses were given to me. I love to give crosses and I love to receive crosses.
Crosses are so beautiful that it is hard to imagine that they were once the structure utilized for the most humiliating and painful punishments inflicted for the most heinous crimes. It would be like wearing a diamond studded replica of an electric chair on my neck, or carving a noose from wood, covered with flowers to hang on my wall. Diamonds or flowers don’t seem to make the sight of something used to inflict capital punishment something beautiful.
The symbol of the cross itself was transformed after Jesus died on its hard wood. No one would like to go back to the days of crucifixions. That kind of extremely cruel punishment inflicted by crucifixion makes the punisher seem suspect. The cross’s transformation from an instrument of shame to a symbol of beauty began after the most important crucifixion of all. It was only after the full impact of Jesus’ death on the cross was felt that we humans discovered that a cross is a thing of beauty.
It appears that Jesus meant for the cross to bring deep meaning all along. He began speaking of our need to take up our cross before the disciples could grasp the full extent of His meaning. The disciples must have thought Jesus was preaching madness when He told them, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24). What could have been going through their minds? They had never seen a bedazzled cross decorating churches and Christian homes. All they knew of crosses was the horrid punishment inflicted by the Roman government whom they detested. Surely they thought that Jesus must have some other meaning. Perhaps they concluded what he meant was that they needed to be willing to die for their faith.
But that was not the case. Jesus meant it literally that we must take up our cross daily and follow Him. What is the cross we pick up? It was only Jesus who was sent to die on the cross itself. No one else could do that with the result of justification for all who believe that Jesus’ death paid for their sin. What does Jesus mean when He tells you to pick up your cross?
He means for you to fulfill your purpose here on earth. He wants you to do what you are called to do to build His Kingdom. He is inviting you to follow Him to places only crosses can take you. How do you take up your cross and follow Him?
Jesus is the Bread of Life
Wednesday, February 27
Hunger is a strong physical drive. Just before I sat down to write today's devotional, I stopped by my kitchen to get a snack to curb my hunger pains. It would have been more difficult for me to concentrate on the words God wants me to write if I were still hungry. Just now I feel satisfied in my stomach, and I can think of more important things.
God designed our bodies this way. We were created to need regular nutrition to fuel our bodies correctly. As we mature from infants, we don't require around-the-clock feedings; still, our need for food on a regular basis is important to our health. Regular nourishment is important to our spiritual health too.
Jesus is the bread of life, and He explains that if we eat of Him we will not die (John 6:51). It is easy to identify when our stomachs are hungry. We are well acquainted with the feeling. Our souls are hungry for the bread of life found in Jesus, who was sent down from heaven to us just like manna to the young nation of Israel. Yet, many times our spiritual hunger is numbed by the cares of this world.
Jesus told His followers that they must eat of Him to live forever. In John 6:51 Jesus was adamant when He said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. This teaching ignited the anger of the Jews who argued about how they could eat of His flesh. Their contentions did not dissuade Jesus from claiming that truth. You too need the bread of life, whether you understand it or not.
It was during the final Passover meal Jesus enjoyed with His disciples that He showed us anew how important it is to our souls that we partake of Jesus. Jesus gave new meaning to the bread and the wine that was served at the Passover when He took His cup and said it was His blood that was shed for us and dipped His bread into the wine stating that it represented His body that was sacrificed as payment for our souls. He asked us to do this regularly and do it always in memory of Him. He also told us that He would never again drink the cup or take the bread until we are united with Him in heaven.
Are you aware of your own soul's hunger for the bread of Life? Jesus has created a hunger for Himself inside of you. It starves to be satisfied by Jesus Who has become the bread of life, the nourishing sustaining power behind your very being.
Do you try to get satisfaction for your hunger by getting people to like you, making lots of money, or focusing on pleasure? It will never satisfy you. The only satisfaction for your spiritual hunger is in Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Ponder Jesus as the Bread of Life and consider how in touch you are to the hunger in your soul. I encourage you to take a couple of moments right now, close your eyes, and imagine what it means to be satisfied in Jesus the Bread of Life.
Jesus Called Himself the Son of Man
Thursday, February 28
Shakespeare asked, What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. When you stop to think about the names of Jesus, you receive a broader picture of Who He really is. During these days leading up to Easter, I hope that recalling the character of Jesus through recognizing His names will deepen your love and appreciation of Jesus and open your heart to a fuller understanding of Easter.
A good name to begin with is the name Jesus most often called himself, The Son of Man. Max Lucado says: Consider all the titles Jesus could have used to define himself on earth: Kings of kings, the great I AM, the Beginning and the End, the Lord of All, Jehovah, High and Holy. All of these and a dozen others would have been appropriate. But Jesus didn't use them. Instead, he called himself the Son of Man. This title appears eighty-two times in the New Testament. Eighty-one of which are in the Gospels. Eighty of which are directly from the lips of Jesus (Max Lucado, The Final Week of Jesus, Multnomah Books. pp. 20-21).
What do we learn about Jesus as we focus on this name? Choosing to call Himself the Son of Man was choosing to emphasize that He was one of us. The name The Son of Man reflects all that was painful and difficult about being God in human form. In Mark 8:31 He told us that the Son of Man must suffer many things. Matthew 8:20 reminds us that the Son of Man does not have a place to call home. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul reminds us that Jesus had to completely impoverish Himself to come to earth. The best description of what it means to be the Son of Man is found in Philippians 2:5-8. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!
When Jesus was calling Himself the Son of Man, what he was really saying was, I'm pleased to be accepted and associated among these lower-life forms. I came to be accepted as one of them. I, the Creator, have made myself one of them. Truly this is an awesome thought. The humbleness of Jesus to take on human flesh was prompted by His outrageous love for us. I've pondered Jesus' humility in becoming flesh before, but I never connected that thought with the truth that it was the substance of His favorite name, the name He used most often among us. Coming to earth was never some kind of vacation for Jesus. It was a mission trip. Jesus came to see His family and to bring us relief and aid from our sin. He came into our barren, impoverished condition to show us who we are and who we can be, if we embrace the Son of Man!
How do you respond to the Son of Man? Write a prayer to Jesus addressing Him as the Son of Man and pondering why God would become flesh!
The Twists of Easter
Friday, February 29
The Easter story is the greatest story ever told on earth. It is the most irrational story ever considered. The only sinless man willingly lays down His life and suffers for the sins of the billions of sinful humans. A holy God brings the essence of His being into the souls of humans who have rejected Him, and whose service and devotion to Him has been sketchy at best. The Easter story is the greatest paradox that has ever existed. It is a brilliant irony that settles the problem of sin.
The unexpected events of Easter don’t stop there. The Easter story reveals the illogicality of men who reject Jesus and the amazing love of God.
The religious leaders of Israel were caught in an ironic twist of Easter. They planned to kill Jesus so He would not change their system of worshipping God. They had worked their deals with Rome and did not want Jesus eliciting their followers to worship God the way He preached. John 11:49-53 tells about the statement that Caiaphas, the High Priest that year, made that it is better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish. Caiaphas didn’t say this on his own—this leader in the opposition to Jesus was a prophet of what he would lead the religious rulers to do to Jesus. Caiaphas and his friends determined not to kill Jesus at the Passover, but that was not for them to plan.
Another irrational reality of Easter was the trials of Jesus. Never was there such a breach of justice and mockery in a judicial system. The trials were doomed from the beginning. The people were asked to bring false accusations about Jesus (Matthew 26:59). There was no denying the purpose of these trials was to search for a rationale to kill Him. The truth was never a factor.
Judas rises as the most ironic of the characters of Easter. His loyalties easily swayed between the Sanhedrin and Jesus based on what he thought each could do for him. Jesus brought attention to Judas’ disturbing plan to betray Him to the Sanhedrin with a kiss (Luke 22:48). The greatest irony that Judas lived out was after he became aware of his grievous sin in betraying Jesus; he chose to go the priests to confess rather than God. Their response: What is that to us? they replied. That’s your responsibility. Their response to his sin left him without recourse. He threw down the silver coins and took his own life (Matthew 27:1-10).
The phrase that creates the greatest irony at Easter was made by the crowds in Mathew 27:25, The people answered, Let his blood be on us and on our children! They had no idea what they were asking. They were speaking truth because Jesus’ blood is on all of us. Every sinner takes personal responsibility for His death. At the same time, taking on the blood of Jesus is what cleanses us from sin. The people thought they were serving God by asking for the blood of Jesus and demanding His death. Did they ever understand what they said and receive His blood as a payment for their sin?
Easter is an invitation for us to examine our hearts and make our own commitments. The greatest paradox is that you, a sinner, are made righteous enough to meet with God because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. May your Holy Week observances lead you to deeper wonder about the Easter Message.
Didn't It Have to Be This Way?
Saturday, March 1
It was the first Easter Sunday. It was the first chance any religious person in Jerusalem had to make a trip after Sabbath. I'm sure that Cleopas and the other disciple had been yearning to get out of Jerusalem ever since the terrible events that started Thursday night. Their world was ripped apart as they heard about the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Their whole reason for being in Jerusalem faded away. All they could think of was going home. They wanted to get away, but they couldn't. They had to stay in Jerusalem, at least until the Sabbath was over. Maybe they woke up late, maybe they were waiting to see if anyone was going to schedule a proper funeral for Jesus, but they didn't set out for their journey until that afternoon. It gave them time to hear the crazy story the women were spreading—that Jesus wasn't in the tomb and that they had seen Him.
This story didn't make much sense to them, even after it was confirmed by Peter and John. They didn't know what to make of the whole ordeal, but one thing they knew for sure: it was getting late and Emmaus was a seven mile walk from Jerusalem. If they didn't leave immediately, they would need to wait until the next day. Off they went.
Their journey to Emmaus was approximately a three-to four-hour walk. Even though they were leaving town, they were not leaving the events that happened behind them. As they walked, they talked, trying to sort out how this horrible reality could have taken place when they had such hope. Suddenly they were joined by a stranger who appeared ignorant of the biggest news in Jerusalem. They shared their grief with this stranger and admitted their despair about the fact that they had hoped Jesus was the Messiah. They even told the women’s account, but confirmed that the men did not see Him.
That’s when Jesus, who was kept from being recognized by them, asked them, Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? (Luke 24:26) Jesus went on to give the greatest Old Testament lesson ever told. He explained the teaching of the prophets and the Psalms that this was the way God had planned it from the beginning.
We think of the cross as such a horrifying event in the life of Jesus, but in reality, it was the only way to save us. Christ had to suffer for us to be redeemed. There was no other way. Because God is holy, Jesus Christ’s death for sin (our sin) establishes the only way for us to be in right relationship with God. It was the only way. It had to happen this way, not only for Jesus to be glorified, but also for you to be saved.
The two disciples arrived at Emmaus just as Jesus was finished with His Old Testament Survey and they urged Jesus to come in and eat with them because it was too late to travel further. Jesus agreed and as He broke bread they suddenly recognized Him and He disappeared. These two disciples who started their journey downcast, got up right then and ran back to Jerusalem that very night. They were no longer worried about robbers on the way, they had just seen Jesus! It all made sense to them then, even the way their hearts burned inside of them when He spoke to them on their journey. They met up with their friends and told them how they had seen Jesus and how they knew it was He when He broke bread at the table. Suddenly they understood that it had to be this way. You too must understand this. You must come to the place where you see no other way to reconcile yourself with a Holy God. When you accept Jesus as your Savior you are agreeing—it had to be this way.
Jesus is the King of Kings
Sunday, March 2
If you've never been to a Passion Play (reenactment of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, usually performed with special music and narration), I encourage you to attend sometime. My favorite part of the Passion Play is the Triumphant Entry scene. The way Easter week began, all was as it should be. Jesus the King of Kings rode into town on the back of a donkey, and everyone laid down their coats or palm branches and shouted, Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. This is the way Jesus our King of Kings should be greeted by the world.
But, in all their excitement and in Jesus’ humility, the crowds forgot the feeling they had that day when they first saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem. They didn't protest when Jesus was wrongly accused and sentenced to death on a cross. Perhaps even some who had laid down a palm branch that Sunday were also shouting Crucify Him! that Friday.
We too, will sink into deepest despair if we forget that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings. Revelation 19:16 says; On his robe and on his thigh he has the name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The glory due His name is beyond my finite mind's ability to conceive. Jesus is a king whose reign will never end. Even now He sits on His throne, completely in charge though His kingdom may not be recognized by ruling authorities of earth. Satan seeks to overtake Jesus' kingdom. He believes it is possible to force Jesus off the throne. It is not.
You can rejoice in the truth that Jesus is reigning over His kingdom and that His rule will never end. There are many kingdoms in this world, but there is only one that matters. You pay taxes to the government in which you reside, but remember, as a citizen of heaven you belong to another kingdom. There may be times when you are not proud of your governmental leadership, but you can always be proud of your King of Kings. Do you live with an awareness of your heavenly kingdom? Do you believe in the wisdom of your King? The disciples were looking for Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom. Jesus' kingdom expands beyond the boundaries of this earth.
This week ponder the Kingdom of God and visualize Jesus seated at the right hand of God ruling in power and majesty. Think about the fact that He is poignantly aware of the troubles and despair the citizens and noncitizens alike are enduring. Recognize that in His divine wisdom Jesus is withholding the full force against those that are opposing His reign. Know that when the time is right, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will return to this earth in another Triumphant Entry to take home to heaven all the citizens of His kingdom. Will you be going with Him? Will you have lots of good news to report about your battle for the kingdom here on earth?
Yes, Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Gracious Father whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.