The Easter Stone

And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock;
and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.
Matthew 27:59-60
Suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord
descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat on it.. . .

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid,
for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
He is not here; He has risen, just as He said!
Come, see the place where He lay.
Matthew 28:2,5-6

A stone placed in front of the tomb’s entrance where Jesus was laid.

A stone removed from the tomb’s entrance where Jesus no longer laid.

The stone told two different stories. A story of death. A story of resurrection.

In a few days we will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. A powerful story. A story powerful enough to move stones.

When Jesus died on the cross, sin was conquered. However, His followers were still overcome with sadness and mourning. The stone in front of the tomb reminded them of death. On the third day, the removed stone shouted resurrection life. The displaced stone revealed an empty grave. Life had overcome death. Jesus was alive!

A stone could not keep Jesus in the grave. No stone could stand against God’s resurrection power. The resurrection of Christ was a glorious manifestation of Divine power.

In Six Hours One Friday, Max Lucado writes,Stones have never stood in God’s way.”

Lucado alludes to more than the stone at Jesus’ grave. His comment can also refer to stumbling stones in our lives. We may feel like a wrong choice we’ve made has become a stone blocking Jesus’ entering our lives. Let us remember that God is more powerful than any stumbling block we may create. God desires to use what we consider stumbling stones to be stepping stones to draw us closer to Him.

God removes our stumbling stones. Then we become living stones. I Peter 2:4-5 says, “As you come to Him (the Lord), the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him – you also, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

According to I Corinthians 6.14, God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.” Notice carefully, Jesus was raised from the dead AND this same power is available to us.

Let us personalize Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

May we also remember Romans 8.11, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

So, let us proclaim the words of I Corinthians 15:57 NLT, “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

No more stones! He has risen! He has risen, indeed!

Obedient Owners

As Christians, we will observe Palm Sunday this weekend. Luke 19:28-40 gives us an account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Jesus’ plan was to arrive in Jerusalem riding a colt. So, He gave His disciples instructions. They were doing what Jesus requested – untying a colt. The owners of the animal arrived upon the scene and asked in Luke 19:33, “Why are you untying the colt?” A legitimate question! The disciples responded as instructed by Jesus in verse 34. “The Lord needs it.Verse 35 continues, “Then they led the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks over it, and put Jesus on it.

End of this part of the story. However I have some questions.

What happened to the owners? They asked a question and received an answer. “The Lord needs it” seems like a strange statement. However, it appears they accepted the disciples’ response without any further questions. I don’t know if I would have released my colt (my possession) so readily. Did the owners realize their animal’s significant role in what was ahead for Jesus? What if the owners had not allowed the disciples to take their colt? How would Jesus have entered Jerusalem?

We know the rest of the story. Luke 19:36-38 says, “As He rode along, the people spread their cloaks on the road. And as He approached the descent from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully in a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” It would not have been such a dramatic parade if Jesus had been walking rather than riding a colt. If He had been riding a horse, the account would be entirely different with a different message.

We are thankful for obedient owners. They had a part in fulfilling God’s plan of redemption.

Now I have a few questions for you.

Jesus needed the colt. What does the Lord need from you? Is there something He is asking you to surrender or untie? Will you obey? Consider following the example of the colt’s owners and give Jesus what He needs to accomplish His purposes in the world today.

Even if you discern what the Lord wants you to release into His hands, you may not know how He is going to use it. You may be required to live in obedience without having all the answers. Jesus says in John 14:23 NLT,All who love Me will do what I say.

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby writes, “Choosing not to obey God’s way and on His timetable is rebellion and such disobedience brings serious consequences. Delayed obedience is still disobedience.” Blackaby adds that God doesn’t take disobedience lightly. If you do not obey, you may miss some of the most exciting experiences of your life.

I want to highlight two scriptures regarding obedience. Deuteronomy 5:33 says, “Walk in obedience to all that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” James 1:22 encourages, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Often you will not know the significance of what the Lord is asking. God does not have to tell you. He simply desires your obedience. The Lord says in Jeremiah 7:23, “Obey Me, and I will be your God and you will be My people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you.” You may not have any idea how God is going to use you. Meanwhile, you have the assurance of Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” You may never fully comprehend the outcome of your obedience this side of heaven.

Again I quote Henry Blackaby. “When you obey Him, you must allow Him to do what He has said. He is the one who accomplishes the assignment, but He will do it through you.”

In a few days, we will be observing Palm Sunday. We will remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt that was made available to Him by a couple of obedient men. Take time to seek the Lord regarding what He may be asking of you. Will you be obedient?

Fire! Fire! Fire!

Fire! (see Luke 23:54-62)
It was a dark, cold evening – physically and spiritually. Peter was chilled by the night air. Chills also ran trough his body because Jesus had been arrested. People were gathered around a fire. Peter joined them. He thought he would get warm. However, he did something worse. During the next couple of hours, three times he denied that he knew Jesus. Then Jesus looked him.

Jesus saw it. He did not need the light of fiery flames to know the darkness of Peter’s sin. Jesus looked directly at Peter. Eye to eye communication. Peter felt convicted. Jesus felt sorrow and love. Scripture says Peter wept. I wonder if Jesus wept. Exposed sin causes Jesus to weep.

Fire! (see John 21:1-19)
Although Peter had seen Jesus since His resurrection, one night he was disheartened. He decided to go fishing – to do something he knew how to do. Seven disciples joined him. None of them were able to catch any fish. By morning, they were tired – frustrated – discouraged. Then they heard a familiar voice extending fishing advice. Peter recognized Jesus’ voice. Peter forgot about fishing and ran through the water to Jesus. On shore, Peter discovered another fire. Jesus had started a fire and was preparing breakfast.

This fire may have reminded Peter of his previous encounter by a fire. If he questioned his current relationship with Jesus, he soon had an answer. After breakfast, Jesus and Peter had a conversation about love and feeding sheep. Peter could not respond with the kind of love (agape) that Jesus asked. However, he answered the best he could with brotherly love (philia). Peter may have previously denied Jesus around a fire, but around this fire he embraced Jesus’ new command. Jesus did not deny Peter. Jesus called Peter to become a fisher of men and to feed His sheep.

Fire! (see Acts 2:1-41)
Fire for warmth. Fire for cooking. Physical fires. Peter’s third encounter with fire was a spiritual fire. Peter was among those waiting in Jerusalem for the power promised through the gift of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, tongues of fire descended upon the disciples and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began speaking in tongues and people from all regions heard and understood what they shared. Peter was on fire for the Lord! He preached a powerful sermon and approximately 3000 people became believers. Peter did a lot of fishing for men that day and throughout the remainder of his life.

Fire! Fire! Fire!
As we continue through Lent, may we allow God’s holy fire to be ignited in our hearts.

Peter’s first encounter of fire reminds me of the purity available to us. Jesus sees our sins just like He saw Peter’s sins. Jesus convicts us of sin but He never condemns. Our weaknesses need to be exposed to the light. Then, God sends fire to burn up our sins. 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.Titus 2:4 says, “Jesus who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.”

Peter’s second experience with fire reveals Jesus’ passion for us. Jesus fed Peter physically and spiritually during their fireside breakfast. He loved Peter and wanted to give him assurance and guidance. Jesus also loved the sheep (people) of His pasture and wanted Peter’s help. Jesus loves us. The Lord says in Jeremiah 31:3, I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” He wants our hearts to burn for Him. He also has prepared us a meal. Psalm 34:8 encourages, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.”

Peter’s third encounter with fire reveals God’s presence with us. We all need the fire of the Holy Spirit. God sets our hearts on fire for Him so we can share the good news of the gospel with those around us. Jesus was speaking to us as well as Peter when He said in Matthew 28:19-20, ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Mary or Judas?

This week we are focusing upon two specific characters as we continue our Lenten series. Both individuals spent time with Jesus.  However, their experiences were very different.

Matthew 26:6-16 highlights our two characters interacting with Jesus. The first is a woman who is not given a name in Matthew. However, in John 12:3, the woman is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha. We will refer to her as Mary. The second person is Judas Iscariot.

Mary prepared Jesus’ body for burial.
Judas paved the way for Jesus’ body to require burial.

Mary poured costly oil upon Jesus’s head. She poured out her life’s savings represented by the pure perfume of her alabaster jar. She poured out the love of her heart upon Jesus. Jesus was of more value than anything money could buy.
Judas received money for betraying Jesus. He highly valued money. Ultimately, money cost him his life.

For Mary, cost was not a consideration. She was performing an act of devotion for a loved one who was soon to die. She understood what was going to happen in the upcoming days.
Judas asks in John 12:5, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” He did not understand what was soon going to happen.

With her hands, Mary broke her alabaster jar of oil and anointed Jesus. A costly act.
Judas clutched the money bag in his hands and only opened his hands to receive more money. Thirty pieces of silver was the payment he received.

Mary’s actions emitted a pleasing aroma throughout the room.
Judas’ actions probably left a bitter taste in the mouths of Jesus’ followers.

In Matthew 26:10, Jesus says of Mary, “She has done a beautiful deed to Me.”
In John 13:21, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I tell you, one of you will betray Me.” He speaks directly to Judas in John 13:27, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”

In Mark 14:9, Jesus declares that what Mary did would be remembered wherever the gospel would be preached throughout the world. A positive association.
In Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, Judas is defined as the apostle who betrayed Jesus. A second definition for Judas is a traitor; one who betrays under the guise of friendship. A negative association.

We do not know what ultimately happened to Mary. Even though her alabaster jar was empty, I presume a holy joy was in her heart.
Judas took is own life. (Matthew 37:5) He was devastated. His life felt empty and he did not want to live.

Enough comparisons of Mary and Judas. Now let’s get more personal.

Which individual most represents you? Do you want to give what you can to Jesus? Or, do you want to get what you can from Jesus?

NEVERTHELESS

This is the third week of our Lenten focus. We continue looking at special events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection. Since entering Jerusalem, Jesus has been busy. First, we watched while He cleansed the temple. Next, we joined Him while He and the disciples shared the Passover meal. (Temple Cleansing Time | An Apple of Gold (wordpress.com)\; Suspicious Characters | An Apple of Gold (wordpress.com) This week, we join Him in a time of prayer.

Jesus took the disciples with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane. He would soon be betrayed by Judas and arrested. But first, Jesus prayed. This is recorded in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42 and Luke 22:39-46.

I highlight Matthew 26: 30 NKJV. He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” More specifically, I focus on one word Jesus spoke: NEVERTHELESS. Many translations use the phrase “if it be possible.”

Jesus prayed again in verse 42 saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” This time notice the word UNLESS.

In verse 44 it says, “So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.” We do not read, “nevertheless”, “if it be possible” or “unless”, but the idea is reiterated when Matthew writes “saying the same words.”

Three times in 14 verses Jesus stressed the message of NEVERTHELESS. The Spirit Filled Life Bible notes that Jesus was not so much concerned about the physical pain. His dreaded taking on the sins of the world. He was human but He was also holy. Although Jesus did not look forward to dying upon the cross, He surrendered to His Heavenly Father’s will.

In Matthew 6:5-14, Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Verse 10 says “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This sounds like a NEVERTHELESS phrase.

Listen to Jesus’ words in John 12:27-28 when He explained why He must die. “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name!” Jesus surrendered to the NEVERTHELESS.

Jesus wrestled with the NEVERTHELESS, but prayer sustained Him through the events leading up to and including His crucifixion. His Heavenly Father heard His prayers and strengthened Him. Jesus said in John 5:19, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

I am encouraged by Jesus’ prayer. I can identify with Jesus. Although I have never had to surrender my life, there are numerous times I have had to take a deep breath and change the words I was praying. Many times I find myself telling God what I want Him to do. This is not bad because He already knows my thoughts anyway. However, I must do more than vent my thoughts and feelings. I have to make some adjustments. It is best when I pray, “Nevertheless, God, Your will be done.” God knows the best solution to the things I bring to Him in prayer. God sees the big picture. He knows how to respond so that His greater eternal purposes can be achieved. I must relinquish my will to God’s will. NEVERTHELESS!

Let’s go back to the garden where Jesus was praying. Gethsemane means “oil press.” Jesus probably was surrounded by olive trees while He was praying. There may have been an oil press in the garden where the oil was squeezed out or pressed from olives. The life was about to be squeezed out of Jesus. But oil would be the result. Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit who would be given after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Only because Jesus said NEVERTHELESS to His own will and surrendered to the Father’s will are we able to have the Holy Spirit as our Helper today.

We can tell God how we feel and even what we desire. However, we must surrender – we must pray NEVERTHELESS. I encourage you to listen to the prayers you pray during the upcoming weeks of Lent. Let’s learn from Jesus how we should pray.