Suspicious Characters

Numerous events are recorded in scripture that took place leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. Today we will concentrate upon when Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples. While seated around the table, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. Then He made a startling comment. The disciples responded with some disconcerting words. Let’s listen to the conversation.

Jesus informed His disciples in Luke 22:21-22, “But the hand of him who is going to betray Me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays Him!” Probably not a statement they expected from Jesus.

They did not respond very kindly. Verse 23 says, “The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.” Instead of “ask”, other translations use such words as debate, discuss, question, argue and inquire. I like the Message translation. They became suspicious of each other and began quizzing one another, wondering who was about to do this.

They became skeptical. They no longer trusted each other. Each disciple probably took his turn pointing a finger at who he thought would be the villain. Deep down, I think the disciples realized any one of them was capable of betraying Jesus. However, no one wanted to admit it. They were suspicious because they knew they were capable of this sin.

The accusations escalated. Ugh!

Their suspicions led to another argument recorded in verse 24. The Message says, “Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up being the greatest.” Their bickering led to bragging. Each man was now pointing a finger at himself bragging that he was the greatest. Other translations use various phrases for “bickering”: a dispute arose among them – argue among themselves – strife among them – contention among them. However it is stated, the disciples became egotistical.

First cynicism. Then pride.

Jesus intervened by proclaiming in verse 26, “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” Jesus had the last and best word.

If we had been seated around the table with Jesus, I wonder what each of us would have said.

We most likely would have breathed a sigh of relief that we were not Judas who betrayed Jesus. However, let’s take a closer look at our attitudes and actions. Do you ever betray Jesus by what you say or do? Maybe it is by what you avoid saying or neglect doing. Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.”

It gets more personal when we think about the disciples pointing accusing fingers. Are you ever suspicious? It is easier to perceive the faults and sins of others than to acknowledge our own shortcomings. I think about the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:3-5. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Do you ever find yourself bragging? It happens to all of us. Here are a few verses to remember. I Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Philippians 2:3 reminds us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Finally, Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.”

According to Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Are you ever suspicious of others? Do you occasionally think more highly of yourself than you should? Maybe we should not be too hard upon the disciples. As we continue through the Lenten season, let’s remember the words of Galatians 6:5 NLT, “We are each responsible for our own conduct.” Strive to fulfill Psalm 19:14. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Temple Cleansing Time

Today is Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. The next forty days, not counting Sundays, is often marked by a time of repentance, fasting and reflection prior to Christians celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.

Some choose to honor this season by “giving up something for Lent.” I often choose to “add something for Lent.” Maybe a specific Bible study or more devoted time to prayer. Something to draw me grow closer to the Lord.

I invite you to join me in feeding our souls during Lent 2021. We will reflect upon six events that took place shortly before Jesus was crucified. May we prepare our hearts to more fully comprehend and appreciate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We will begin by looking at the account of Jesus cleansing the temple.

When they arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts
and began to drive out those who were buying and selling there.
He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves.
And He would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
Then Jesus began to teach them, and He declared,
“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Mark 11:15-17

Jesus rode into Jerusalem upon a colt. This was the introduction to a week of significant events for Jesus and those around Him. Upon arriving in the city, Jesus went to the temple. He did not like what was happening. The temple was more a place of business than a place of worship. Doves were being sold. He caused quite a commotion when He upset the money changers’ tables as well as their plans!

Leviticus 1-7 gives the Hebrews instructions for sacrifices. Leviticus 1:14 says, “If the offering to the LORD is a burnt offering of birds, you are to offer a dove or a young pigeon.” Dove sacrifices were acceptable. However, making a profit on doves sold for sacrifices was not. Doves were precious to Jesus.

The dove was evident in several events of Jesus’ life.

* After Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph offered a sacrifice of doves. Luke 2:22-24 says, “And when the time of purification according to the Law of Moses was complete, His parents brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord: “Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer the sacrifice specified in the Law of the Lord: “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

* When Jesus was water baptized by John, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove that descended upon Him. Luke 3:22 says, “the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”

* Jesus did not allow the sacrificial doves to be bought and sold with money. Doves and lambs were the required sacrificial animals of the Old Testament. By releasing the doves in the temple, Jesus foretold the end of this sacrificial system. A few days later, He became the sacrifice that ended all sacrifices. In John 1:20, Jesus is described as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” I Peter 1:181-9 says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot.” The money changers Jesus upset were collecting silver and gold for the purchase of doves. (see Mark 11:15-17 above)

* In John 14:16 Jesus told the disciples, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” His promise was fulfilled at Pentecost. Acts 2:1-4 reveals, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Although the Holy Spirit is described as tongues of fire in this account, the dove is a common symbol of the Holy Spirit. Forty days after His ascension, Jesus sent a dove to those waiting in Jerusalem.

Now let’s focus our attention upon Jesus cleansing the temple.

Matthew 21:12 says, “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves.” Jesus did not want business transacted in the house of worship. A relationship with God cannot be bought. We are told in Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Salvation is not something we can buy for ourselves or sell to others. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

John 2:15 says, “So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts.” Jesus let the doves fly and booted out the money changers. Just as Jesus cleansed the temple, He cleanses us. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” No more sin.

We cannot buy or sell salvation. Neither can we buy or sell the Holy Spirit. No more doves in the temple building. However, the dove of the Holy Spirit desires to live within us. Paul asks in I Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.”

Jesus did not stop with just cleansing the temple. Mark 11:17 says, “Then Jesus began to teach them, and He declared, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Jesus did more than get rid of money changers. He revealed the temple’s true purpose – worship and prayer. We must also remember this. While we are temples of the Holy Spirit, we are also to be houses of prayer. Prayer must be a priority. We are told in Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” This is a good reminder for us as we begin Lent.

A Valentine for You

May you be rooted and grounded in love,
and have power, together with all the saints,
to comprehend the length and width and height and depth
of the love of Christ,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge
, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19

Our calendars tell us Valentine’s Day is coming soon. This day primarily celebrates eros love that is sensual or romantic. Eros is the Greek god of love. In contrast, I want to share agape love with you. It is God’s selfless, sacrificial love.

I am sending you a spiritual valentine expressing God’s unconditional perfect love. You see it at the top of this page. Ephesians 3:17-19 is a wonderful verse for Valentine’s Day. It defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love.

I chose the image of a heart (love) bearing tree because this special tree reveals in picture what Ephesians 3:17-19 says in words. The scripture begins with reference to being rooted and grounded in love. A tree’s roots deeply penetrate the ground. My prayer is that you may be rooted and grounded in Christ’s love. May His love reside more deeply in your heart than romantic love. The more you ponder His love, the deeper your understanding of His self-sacrificing love.

Let’s focus upon the dimensions of God’s love: length, width, height and depth.

The length of God’s love is expressed in Psalm 103:17 ESV. “The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting.” In verse 12 of this Psalm, David says God has removed our transgressions from as far as the east is from the west. This dimension describes an infinite space. East is always one direction and west is the other direction. They never meet. This phrase can also describe God’s love in verse 17. In reality, there is no end (or length) to God’s love. The Lord says in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.

The width of God’s love refers to how wide an area is covered or how many people are included in His love. John 3:16 describes the width. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. There is no limit to His love – you only need to believe. You will notice that I have highlighted specific letters so you can find VALENTINE spelled out in this verse.

Next is the height of God’s love. Isiah 57:15 NKJV declares, “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place.’” The high and lofty One inhabits eternity! Isaiah says in Isaiah 6:1, “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple.” For me, the height of God’s love also reveals the perfect character of perfect love. Jesus says in John 15:12-14, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus revealed the height of His love when He gave His life for you.

I also like Psalm 36:5. “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” God’s love is incomprehensible – so far above us, so different from what we humanly know and express as love.

The last dimension is the depth of God’s love. I think this reveals the intensity of His love. Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” 1 John 3:1 reminds us, See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” May the understanding of God’s love be deeply embedded within you this Valentine’s Day.

Because of the love God has been lavished upon me, I extend His love to you. May His love grow within you. May you be filled with the fullness of God’s love. Knowing the length, width, height and depth of His love, may you share His love with others this coming Valentine’s Day and throughout the coming year. Let us remember Psalm 136:26, “Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.”

Going Deeper

I discovered something about Jesus that I never thought about previously. Jesus knew what it was to be deeply troubled! Mark 14:33 tells us that He became deeply troubled and distressed while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. This took place shortly before He was arrested.

At some point during this past year, most of us have been deeply troubled. It is not something we need to be ashamed of. Instead, we should accept it as a challenge. Being deeply troubled gives us the opportunity to go deeper in our faith.

In Mark 9:25-39, we find the account of Jesus healing a boy with an evil spirit. In verse 22,the father cried out to Jesus saying, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. Verse 23 states, “‘If You can?’ echoed Jesus. ‘All things are possible to him who believes!’” Verse 24 follows, “Immediately the boy’s father cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!’”

Dad believed. However, he asked Jesus to help him with his unbelief. He was crying out for a deeper faith. This space between belief and unbelief may also be found between two statements: “I believe in God” and “I believe God.” Deeper digging is required for deeper faith.

The majority of people believe in Jesus. They believe that He was a man who lived on the earth. But, not everyone believes Jesus when He reveals His true identity. John 1:10 says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.

Personally, I believe in Jesus and I believe Jesus because He is the Truth. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Let’s look at a conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter in Matthew 16:15-17. “But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven.” Simon Peter knew Jesus in a deeper way than many people. He did not just believe in Jesus. He believed Jesus.

Let’s listen to another conversation in scripture. Martha and Jesus chatted after Lazarus died. John 11:25-27 records, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.’” Martha did more than believe in Jesus – she believed Him. She knew Him well. He often stayed in their home and shared meals with her and her sister and brother. However, she still had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus was through her experience when He raised Lazarus from the grave.  In verse 40, Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were religious sects in Judaism during the time of Jesus. The Pharisees just followed the rules. They missed the mark because they only knew about God. The did not recognize that the Son of God was in their midst. They did not understand John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They did not believe Jesus when He declared who He was in John 14:16.I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In Matthew 22:29 NLT, Jesus told these sects, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” They had heard about Jesus. They had been with Him. However, they did not fully believe Him.

Jesus was not content for people to just believe in Him. While praying in Gethsemane, He may have been deeply troubled not only about His pending death, but also about the inability of people to believe Him. Many did not believe He was God’s Son. His desire was for all to be born again and develop a personal relationship with Him. He wanted them to go deeper in their faith. (see John 17:20-26)

Let’s take time to think about “believing in” and “believing” from another perspective. We know about (believe in) a famous athlete we have watched participate in a sport. And, we know about (believe in) an historical figure we have studied. However, on a deeper level, we know (believe) a friend with whom we spend time and trust.

We may ask a young child, “Do you believe in Santa?” Usually, the child is not asked, “Do you believe Santa?” A child may believe there is a Santa Clause, but he/she may not necessarily believe Santa will bring everything he/she requests.

In contrast, think about a dad in a swimming pool with his young child. Dad says, “Jump in and I will catch you.” The child jumps because he/she trusts Dad to do what he has said. He/she does more than believe in Dad – he/she believes Dad. There is confidence that Dad will do what he has said.

I cannot conclude without thinking about Abraham as an example of a person who believes. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” In Romans 4;18-22, Paul expounds on this statement. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him. Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.

Lysa Terkeurst has said, “Lord, give me relief from my unbelief.” All of us may encounter times when we want to echo her words. My Reader, do not be alarmed if you experience times of doubt and discouragement. Cry out to God, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” He will answer your prayer. He will lead you into a deeper walk of faith.