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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why aren't all our Prayers answered the way we want?

Why aren’t all our Prayers Answered the Way we Want?



Scripture tells us to pray to God because He wants to have a personal relationship with us.  As our heavenly Father He loves us and wants our love in return.  In short, through prayer God ushers us into His world and we invite Him into ours. 


Through prayer God wants to guide our lives, give away His power, partner with us in His work in the world, and comfort us in our sorrows: but He never insists on doing these things if we refuse His advances.  God is a reluctant intervener and He woos us and then waits.  Waits for our response.  And then waits some more.  He won’t barge in without our acceptance of Him.  The kingdom advances through grace and freedom.  And we have been given the freedom to do whatever we want.


As our Father, God creates us in His image!  Because God has free will He creates us to have free will also.  We are not robots but are free to open our lives to God and allow Him to lead us and we are also free to keep our lives to ourselves and shut God out.  By opening a door to the Lord’s call we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives.  One of the names of the Holy Spirit is “Counselor” and when He comes into our lives, among other things He acts as our counselor.


 We know that a counselor communicates subtly, and that is what our Holy Spirit does.  Scripture says that He goes about feeding ideas into our minds, inspiring us to choose better, sensitizing us to another’s need, leading us gently into the truth.  Our free will is always left in tact.  Although this partnership with God may not appear to be dramatic from the outside looking in, having the Holy Spirit in our life makes it possible for believers in Jesus to become close to Him.


Here are a few things that the apostle Paul said about how it is when we open up to God and submit to His Spirit coming into our lives.  “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) This partnership between God and his followers binds so tightly that it becomes difficult to distinguish who is doing what, God or the human partner.  God has come that close!!


If this sounds a bit mysterious that is because it is.  Prayer and our relationship with God is a mystery.  According to Scripture it seems that God wants to do much of his work in the world through us humans.  God could have set up creation with very different rules.  He could have decided to override our errors and intervene spectacularly.  To do everything Himself and leave us on the sidelines.  Or God might have, as the deists believe, set the world in motion and then gone away leaving us to take care of everything by ourselves.  If God did everything leaving us out or if we did everything leaving God out then prayer would become irrelevant. 


But instead God has relied on human partners to do His work and to advance His kingdom and that is wonderful and exciting but it can get messy sometimes!  God does little on earth without the likes of you and me.  Scripture says that we are Christ’s body on earth – His hands and feet!  And that is one of the reasons we have this marvelous mysterious gift of prayer. 


Prayer is not just placing orders for goods and expecting God to be the big bell boy in the sky who delivers what we asked for!  Yes, Scripture tells us to “Ask and it will be given, “Seek and you shall find, Knock and it will be opened to you,”  (Matthew 7:7) We are to ask in “Christ’s Name” and we are to know that our timeless God who sees the bigger picture may answer our prayers in ways that we can’t imagine.  We can stomp our feet and get discouraged with prayer and with God because He doesn’t answer the way we think He should or as soon as we want.  Or we can trust God no matter what and keep believing that He is answering even though His ways are a mystery to us.  .


Yes, how God answers prayer is a mystery and we don’t know how to unravel the mystery!  We read a story in Scripture that hints at this mystery - these built-in limitations in prayer!  In Luke 22:31 we read that Jesus informs Peter that Satan has asked to sift him as wheat, - in other words Satan wants to try to undermine Simon Peter’s faith.  (Peter’s name was Simon until Jesus gave him “Peter” as his new name.)  But Jesus tells Peter that He will pray for him that his faith will stay strong through Satan’s testing.   


We wonder why Jesus didn’t put his foot down and just say “No” to Satan.  Why didn’t Jesus just deny Satan’s request to test Peter!  Or why didn’t Jesus miraculously give Peter the strength so that he could withstand the sifting?  Instead Jesus prays that Peter’s faith will not fail.  And even after Jesus prays for Peter’s faith not to fail, it fails three times when Peter denied Jesus three times after He was arrested! 


Satan’s asking Jesus for permission to test Peter is very similar to Satan asking God for permission to mess up Job!  Satan tells God that Job only worships God because God has given Job so many blessings.  If those blessings are taken away from Job, Satan tells God that Job will curse God to his face! (Job 1:9-11)  God allows Satan to work some mischief with Job but forbids him to take Job’s life.  And then God waits to see how Job responds.  Will he fail or pass the test? 


Peter and Job both get caught up in a drama of spiritual warfare so outside their realm that neither I am sure could fathom it!  And we cannot fathom these things either!  Because we read that Satan asked to mess with Peter and Job, could he ask to mess with other believers too?  You and me?  It’s a great puzzle that we cannot even begin to understand!  Our place is to trust God to answer our prayers anyway He sees fit and know that He can work things together for good, even though it may not seem good to us for the time being.


Philip Yancey writes: “Why does God “sit on his hands” while Satan works mischief, while evil tyrants oppress good people, while a traitor delivers God’s own Son to the enemy?  The Bible draws a strong contrast between the freedom-crushing style of evil and the freedom respecting style of good.”  Philip Yancey, Prayer, Does It Make Any difference?  P. 84-85.


Yancey writes: “”Why does God so rarely step in and bring miraculous intervention to our prayer requests?  Why is suffering distributed so randomly and unfairly?  No one knows the complete answer to these questions.  For a time, God has chosen to operate on this broken planet mostly from the bottom up rather than from the top down – a pattern God’s own Son subjected himself to while on earth.  Partly out of respect for human freedom, God often allows things to play out “naturally.”  Pp. 87


Jesus’ prayer for Peter shows this same pattern.  Satan gets his way with Peter and sifts him like wheat.  Peter had been pushy, enjoyed picking fights and he denied Jesus three times.  Did some of Peter’s negative behaviors get sifted away when Satan tried to shake him up?  Did he learn lessons during times of trouble that he never learned when things were going good?  And were Jesus’ prayers for Peter effective after all?  It looks like they were!  We read of Peter’s life after Pentecost and Peter was a changed man!  He was one of the humble leaders of the new Christian church and he no longer ran away from suffering for the cause of Christ.


Scripture says that Jesus is in heaven praying for us, his followers.  As Jesus once prayed for Peter, He is now praying for us.  Scripture says that He is “at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us”. (Romans 8:24)  That should be a great comfort for us. 


Scripture promises that this pattern of God working in the background and not always stepping in and answering our prayers with power and miracles – this pattern is only temporary!  When Jesus comes again things will be different.  With His overwhelming power our victorious Jesus will overthrow evil and Satan and there will be no more sin or sickness or sorrow or death and all of our prayers will be answered!  I can hardly wait! 


Some of the ideas in this blog are taken from Philip Yancy’s book, Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference?  




















Saturday, August 23, 2014

Does Prayer Make Any Difference?

Does Prayer Make Any Difference?



In his book, Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference? Phillip Yancey writes: “Everywhere, I encounter the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice.  In theory prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe.  In practice prayer is often confusing and fraught with frustration.”  (pp. 15)  Phillip Yancey goes on to say that his publisher conducted a website poll and that out of 678 persons questioned, only 23 felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer.  Let’s try to find reasons why this is true and see what we can do about it.


Some people see prayer as a duty and feel guilty because they don’t spend enough time in prayer.  And other people wonder if prayer works because when they ask God for things, He doesn’t always give them what they want.  We try to fit God into our little box – into our limited worldview – And when He doesn’t fit we sometimes forget our smallness and God’s vastness.  And through it all God keeps asking us to keep praying and trusting Him even when we don’t understand how He is answering our prayers.  But how are we to pray? 


God tells us in Scripture that when we pray we can: “Be still and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10)  God calls us to this habit of attention - this “being still” in our spirit. He calls us to stop worrying about all of our problems.  To take a vacation from trying to control those uncontrollable things in our lives.  And to give our problems and our lives to Him.  Be still, Let go. Let God.


 Being still prepares us for the second part of what God is calling us to do.  “Know that I am God.”  Know that God is just and merciful and holy and good.  Know that God loves you and desires that you love Him back.  Know that God takes care of the universe and that He can take care of you.  He’s asking us to come to Him and : “Be still and know that I am God.” 


 We settle into prayer and lower our defenses and ask forgiveness for our sins.  Stop trying to be the god of our lives and let God be God of our lives..  Let God wash us and make us whiter than snow.  Let God help us trust Him more.  Let God love others through us and bless others through our lives.  Be still and know that He is our heavenly Father and enjoy His love.  Prayer is a wonderful gift.


We are taught in Scriptures to come to God in prayer with a humble spirit.  Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:5-7)  We have to buck our culture which teaches us to “win” to be “first” and to be proud and competitive.  We don’t always fit into our culture because the Holy Spirit will lead us to be humble and serving and we must follow. 


Jesus teaches the importance of his followers learning to be humble.  He tells a story of two men praying –first the Pharisee standing tall and proudly thanking God that he is better than other people and then the tax collector bowing down and crying out to God to be merciful to him since he is a sinner.  (Luke 18:10)  Jesus quickly tells us that God rejects the Pharisee’s prayer but He accepts the tax collector’s prayer.  And then Jesus ends his story with these words: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 


Along with learning how to pray we may be plagued with the question of why.  Why pray?  Does it make any difference?  Jesus teaches his disciples that “Whatever you ask in My name that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”  (John 14:13-14)


 And many other passages in the Bible promise the believer that his or her prayers will be answered if they believe.  1 John 5:14 says: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”


Because of these and other wonderful prayer promises in Scripture there are Christians who are sure that they will receive whatever they ask in prayer quickly.  Their very sick child will get well and they will get the job they want!  Their aunt who is blind will see and they will have enough money to buy that expensive sports car.  They have prayed in faith and now they wait for these things to happen.  And many times they do. 


 But sometimes they don’t!  Sometimes what they prayed for isn’t happening - they can’t see it happening. Sometimes their prayers aren’t answered in the way they had pictured or in the time frame they had wanted.  It isn’t happening the way they believe the Bible says it should!  Maybe they aren’t praying hard enough?  Perhaps they don’t have enough faith?  They pray harder and even fast and try to have more faith.  But they still can’t see their prayers being answered! 


Doesn’t God want these good things for them?  Did they read those scriptures about prayer – about asking and receiving correctly?  Now they are getting discouraged!  Maybe God isn’t listening to them.  And eventually these people who have prayed start asking the question of why.  Why pray?  Does it even make any difference?


Does prayer make a difference?  When we read the Bible we find that Jesus constantly prayed while He was on earth and His example does answer that question.  Prayer did make a difference for Jesus.  He prayed constantly and the time He devoted to prayer was the most important thing He did.  Surely we should follow His example.  Jesus clung to prayer as to a lifeline.  But Jesus also had what we might call “unanswered prayers!”


One of Jesus’ longest prayers is prayed for us –you and me -  those who would believe – those who would be His followers in the future.  Jesus begs God for unity for his followers in the future.  Let’s listen: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.”  (John 17:21)  Unfortunately when we read church history we can clearly see how far that prayer remains from being answered! 


Another prayer of Jesus’ that doesn’t seem answered to our way of thinking is when Jesus spent all night praying for God to guide Him in choosing the twelve disciples whom He would entrust with his mission.  And the next morning Jesus goes out and calls his disciples and they all come to Him.  These men were the answer to his prayer.


But then, one of the disciples was Judas Iscariot who became a traitor!  When Jesus prays all night for guidance in selecting his disciples, does God answer His prayer by guiding Him to select Judas – the traitor?  But then Judas’ act of betraying Jesus led to the cross and the salvation of the world.  In strange and mysterious ways, God can even use the bad and work it together for good for His purposes. 


Phillip Yancey quotes Ray Anderson in his book, “The Gospel According to Judas. ” Ray Anderson got an idea about prayer while he was questioning how Jesus could have chosen Judas after praying for God’s guidance. This is his idea about prayer: “Prayer is not a means of removing the unknown and unpredictable elements in life, but rather a way of including the unknown and unpredictable in the outworking of the grace of God in our lives.”  (Phillip Yancey,  Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference? Page 82)


Many times our prayers are answered quickly and miraculously.  But then at other times they are not.  When we read in Hebrews 11 about some of the great men and women of faith we find that God did mighty things and performed wonderful miracles through many of these faithful saints.  But then we read that there were other saints – just as faithful - who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seem them afar off and were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  (Hebrews 11:13) 


It seems that God always answers all of the prayers of the faithful!  But some prayers are answered right away in our time frame the way we like it and others are answered on the other side and possibly in another and better way!  Scripture does promise us that in heaven we will all be victorious with Jesus Christ over everything! (1 John 5:4, Rom.8:37,1 Cor.15:57)


 Surely prayer is a deep mystery and there is more to prayer than we can ever understand. Our timeless God who sees the bigger picture knows what is best.  And we are called to believe His promises even when we haven’t seen and touched and tasted.  To trust Him even though we may not understand what He is doing.  And to have faith in Him until the day that our faith turns into sight!    


Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference?






Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jesus Conquers Death

Jesus Conquers Death

Matthew 27:57-28:20



Jesus was dead and his lifeless body was still hanging on the cross.  At the moment Jesus died, a violent earthquake had shaken the whole area and the soldiers guarding Jesus’ body were terrified as rocks split in half and tumbled down around them.  “Surely, this was the Son of God,” one of the Roman soldiers cried.  (Matt.27:54b)  The crowds who had been around the cross all day yelling insults at the dying Jesus were leaving now that He was dead.  Only a few women stayed near the body crying.  


As the soldiers were taking Jesus’ body down from the cross a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea showed up and gave the soldiers a letter from Pilate stating that he could have Jesus’ body.  Joseph was a religious leader and a secret follower of Jesus and he wanted to give Jesus a proper burial.  He had cut a tomb out of the rock near Golgotha and he wanted to bury Jesus in his new tomb.


 Nicodemus was also a religious leader and a secret follower of Jesus and he wanted to help too.  He came along and helped Joseph wrap Jesus’ body in clean linen cloths and carry it to the tomb.  It was common in those days to bury the dead in caves or to dig small spaces in the side of a hill or rock and use these carved out spaces as tombs.  A large heavy stone was then rolled into the mouth of the tomb to close it up.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary walked over to the tomb and watched and cried as Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus.


The next day the religious leaders met with Pilate again.  They remembered that Jesus had said that He would rise again after being in the grave for three days and this worried them.  They asked Pilate for soldiers to guard the tomb to make sure that Jesus didn’t rise! Or that his disciples didn’t steal the body. Pilate agreed and told them to make the tomb as secure as possible.


 So the priests and elders sealed the big stone in front of the tomb (like locking the door) so that the seal would have to be broken before the heavy stone could be moved.  And the religious leaders put soldiers with spears and swords all around the tomb to guard it night and day. They weren’t taking any chances! (Matthew 27:62-66)


While Jesus’ enemies remembered that He said He would rise from death, His own disciples forgot.  Jesus had told his disciples several times that He would meet them in Galilee after He rose from death in three days but they must not have listened!  

Very early in the morning, three days later Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came back to Jesus’ tomb.  And just as they arrived there was a violent earthquake and an angel of the Lord appeared and rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb.  Scripture describes the angel this way:  “His face was like lightning, and his clothing was white as snow.”  (Matthew 28:3)  The guards around the tomb shook in fear and “became like dead men.”  (Matthew 28:4) 

The angel sat on the stone and spoke to the women and said: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here: for He has risen as He said He would.  Come; see the place where the Lord lay.”  (Matthew 28:5-6) 

 The women walked into the empty tomb and saw that Jesus’ grave clothes were folded there but He was gone.  Scripture does not say that Jesus left the tomb when the angel rolled the stone away from the door.  A large stone covering the doorway would not keep the Son of God from getting out!  It was rolled away so that Jesus’ followers might see the evidence of an empty tomb.

The angel continued: “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and that he is going before you to Galilee.  You will see Him there.  Behold, I have told you.”  (Matthew 28:7)  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary ran out of the empty tomb with fear and great joy.  And as they were running to tell the disciples, Jesus met them.  The women fell down and worshipped Him and held Him by his feet and Jesus said: “Rejoice!  Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and I will be there to meet them.”  (Matthew 28:9-10)  Then the women ran on to tell the disciples.

When the guards recovered from the shock of the angel’s appearance at the tomb and of Jesus not being there, they ran to the religious leaders and told them all that had happened.  A guard could lose his life for allowing the person he was guarding to get away, so these guards were worried that they would be killed because they did not stop Jesus from rising and leaving the tomb.  They nervously told the religious leaders about the angel and the earthquake and how Jesus was no longer in the tomb!

Scripture says that the religious leaders paid the guards a large sum of money to keep quiet and not tell anyone that Jesus had risen but to tell people that Jesus’ disciples had come and stolen the body even though the tomb had been heavily guarded.  The soldiers agreed to keep quiet about Jesus’ resurrection and they took the money.

When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary told the disciples that they had seen Jesus the disciples were overjoyed and they traveled to Galilee to meet Jesus there.  And when they finally met up with Jesus they fell down and worshipped Him.

Before Jesus went back to heaven forty days later He appeared not only to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and the disciples but He appeared to several other women (Matt. 28:8-10) and to  his followers on the Emmaus road (Mark 16:19,20, Luke 24:13-15)  And He appeared to many in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20, John 21:1-24)  He met with James and the apostles, (1 Cor. 15:7)  and to five hundred people.  (1 Cor. 16:6)  And after He went back to heaven He appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-6)  He spent many days with his disciples, including Thomas (Mark 16:14) and He was with them just before He went back to heaven.  (Mark 16:19,20. 

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven he gave the disciples the Great Commission.  This is what He said: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.  And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-29)  After He gave these marching orders to his disciples – to all of his disciples in every age - Jesus went back to heaven.   

The crucified Servant is now the exalted Lord and has received all authority.  While his ministry had been to Israel during his lifetime, now his ministry has a global perspective.  He now calls his disciples to world evangelism - to make disciples of all nations.  We have a big job to do, but He promises to be with us every step of the way.  We serve a risen Savior!     











Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion
as recorded in Matthew 27:27-55
Pilate believed that Jesus was a good man and he didn’t want to be responsible for his death.  As the Roman governor in Jerusalem, Pilate had the power to stop Jesus from being put to death and to do the right thing.  But if Pilate used his power to rule against the wishes of the angry mob it might have caused unrest among the people and that in turn might have caused Pilate to lose his position as governor.
Would Pilate use his position to do what he knew was right or would he do what he thought  might work to his advantage?  Scripture tells us that Pilate didn’t want to pay the price for doing the right thing!  So he walked away from his responsibility to uphold justice and told the crowd that they would be responsible for Jesus’ death!  And then he ordered his soldiers to whip Jesus and crucify Him.
The Roman soldiers obeyed Pilate and whipped Jesus and then Scripture says the whole garrison gathered around to humiliate Him. (Matthew 27:27)  Were these soldiers or brute beasts?  Jesus’ flesh was torn and bleeding from the beating and He stood there with his head down while the soldiers enjoyed shoving Him around and taunting Him.  The soldiers stripped his clothes off and put a purple robe on Him.  And then, making fun of Him, they twisted a crown of thorns and pushed it down on His head and shoved a reed in His hand and bowed before Him in fake reverence saying: “Hail, King of the Jews!”  (Matthew 27:28-29)  Then still jeering they spit on Him and beat him over the head.
Finally the soldiers pushed Jesus out onto the road and lay the heavy cross on His torn and bleeding back.  They ordered Him to carry the cross down the long road and outside the city gates.  Angry crowds lined the road yelling obscenities and waving their fists at Jesus as He struggled along carrying the heavy cross.  Hatred hung heavy in the air.  At one point Jesus stumbled and fell and the soldiers grabbed a man named Simon the Cyrene out of the crowd and ordered him to carry the cross for Jesus.  We don’t know much about Simon other than he was a black man from northwestern Africa.   But Simon the Cyrene was given the honor of helping Jesus bear the cross.
When the soldiers brought Jesus to a place outside the city walls called Golgotha they stopped and prepared to crucify Him.  The blood thirsty crowds were following along looking forward to spending the day watching Jesus suffer.  .“Golgotha” is an Aramaic word which means “skull”.  No one knows why they called this place the place of the “skull”.  People have guessed as to where the exact location of “Golgotha” is, but no one knows for sure... 
The Catholic church considers “The Church of the Holy Sepulcher” in Jerusalem is to be the exact location of Jesus’ death.  Another place has been considered as the possible location by some British Protestants and other Christians because the place is outside the city and next to a hill with a rock that looks somewhat like a “skull”. But we don’t know for sure where “Golgotha” is. 
Scripture says that when the soldiers got to Golgotha they offered Jesus sour wine with gall to drink, but Jesus refused it.  Then the soldiers held Jesus down on the ground and drove large nails through His hands and His feet, nailing his body to the cross while the cruel mob stood around watching and cheering and eating and drinking their booze and partying.  Several women were in the background crying.  This terrible scene had been prophesied one thousand years earlier in Scripture: “For dogs have surrounded Me.  The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.  They pierced My hands and My feet:  I can count all My bones.  They look and stare at Me.  (Psalms 22:16-17) 
Then they hammered his cross into the ground between the crosses of two robbers laughing and joking as they did their work.  And then the soldiers cast lots for his robe and divided up his other clothing.  (Matthew 17:35) This was also prophesied a thousand years earlier: “They divided My garments among them.  And for My clothing they cast lots.”  (Psalms 22:18)
Then the soldiers hung a sign over His head.  It was the custom to write out the accusations made against the prisoner being put to death on a sign for everyone to see. So the sign that hung over Jesus’ head read: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” And the soldiers ran around the dying Jesus waving their hands and joking about Him being a king.     
As Jesus was hanging there on the cross the mob crowded around swearing and shaking their fists and yelling more insults at Him.  “You who destroy the temple and build it back in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” they jeered..  (Matthew 27:40)  Even one of the robbers who were hanging on a cross next to Jesus joined in to make fun of Him.
Again these scenes of cruelty and rejection had been prophesied so very long ago.  The ancient prophet had foretold his death long ago: “But I am a worm, and a no man.  A reproach of men, and despised by the people.  All those who see Me ridicule Me.  They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him.  Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”  Psalm 22:6-8) 
The chief priests and the scribes and elders in their long black robes proudly strutted by Jesus as he hung on the cross.  This was the day they had been waiting for! They were so glad to finally be getting rid of Him! They had worked so hard to have Jesus put to death and now it was happening! “He saved others: but He can’t seem to save Himself.” they gloated, shaking their heads.  “If He is the King of Israel, Let Him come down from the cross now and we will believe Him.” they sneered, wagging their fingers at Him.   (Matthew 27:39-42) 
These religious leaders believed that they were doing God’s will by having Jesus put to death.  They felt righteous and holy as they stood there mocking the Savior and watching Him die. They were standing tall proudly wearing their phylacteries (leather pouches with Scripture inside) and praying loud prayers.  After all they represented God didn’t they?  It had been a difficult job to persuade the people that Jesus should die.  But the so called men of God had finally won the people over to hating Him and they were jubilant.  This was their day!  
The mob stood around the cross having fun - screaming insults at Jesus while He was gasping for breath and yelling crude jokes at Him while He was writhing in pain.  These mean folks enjoyed seeing the blood pour down from His wounds and they took pleasure in watching Him die.  “He trusted in God: let God deliver Him now if He will have Him.  Didn’t He say, ‘I am the Son of God’?”  they asked laughing.  (Matthew 27:43)
Scripture says:  “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.”  (Matthew 27:45)  A supernatural darkness enveloped the whole land.  You would think that some of the people in the crowd might question why this was happening!  Why wouldn’t the sun shine while the Savior was dying? 
 “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  (Matthew 27:46)  Jesus was made sin for us (2 Cor.5:21) and in paying the penalty as the sinner’s substitute, He was accursed of God (Gal.3:13)  God the Father did not forsake Him (Luke 23:46) but God as Judge had to be separated from Jesus if He was to experience spiritual death in the place of sinful men.
 Jesus’ cries from the cross had also been prophesied long before:  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?  Why are You so far from helping Me.  And from the words of My groaning?”  (Psalm 22:1) 
About this time one of the soldiers ran and took a sponge filled with sour wine and put it on a reed and offered it to Jesus to drink as He hung on the cross dying.  And soon after that Scripture records Jesus’ death:  “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.  And the graves were opened: and many saints who had died were raised: and coming out of their graves after His resurrection they went into Jerusalem and appeared to many.”  (Matthew 27:50-53)  When Jesus died the earth shifted and something changed!
The creation - God’s world - was moved and effected by Jesus’ death.  It is not surprising since Scripture says that through Jesus everything was made or created.  (John 1:3)  Nothing came into existence without Jesus.  Along with the darkness covering the earth while Jesus hung on the cross, at the moment of His death there was a violent earthquake. And Scripture records: “The centurion and his men who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and the things that were happening and they were terrified.  And they said: “Truly this was the Son of God.’”  (Matthew 27:54)
Scripture also says that when Jesus died “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”  This veil or curtain divided the Holy of Holies (where God’s presence was) from the sinful people outside the veil.  People were kept on the other side of the veil because they would die if they approached a holy God in their sin.(Exodus 26:31)  The veil kept a sinful people away from a holy God.  But now the barrier was torn down.
Scripture says: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22) But the blood of the perfect lamb (Jesus) had been shed and the price for sin was paid when Jesus died on the cross.  Jesus death has torn down the barrier between a sinful people and their God.  The veil in the temple was split by God, not by man.  It points to the fact that Jesus’ death opens the way for us to enter into the presence of God!        
The mention of the dead saints being raised when Jesus died has raised many questions.  These people were not raised to life on earth again but to life eternal.  This opening of the graves of the saints may illustrate that Jesus’ death and resurrection affected those dead saints and also affects all believers and what happens to us after death! If we are in Christ the grave can never hold us! “Oh death where is your sting?  Oh grave, where is your victory!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Jesus Faces Pontius Pilate



Jesus Faces Pontius Pilate

Matthew 27:1-31



Jesus’ hands were tied behind his back as He stood in front of the clamoring group of religious leaders.  They waved their fists at him and shouted insults and accusations.  Jesus had just been arrested and this trial was set up quickly in the middle of the night.  The priests and elders were anxious to kill Jesus and indeed before morning they pronounced Him guilty of death because He had admitted that He is the Son of God.  (Matthew 26:64)


When Judas saw that the religious leaders had condemned Jesus, he began to worry that perhaps he had done wrong by charging money for helping Jesus’ enemies arrest Him.  Judas knew the religious leaders were plotting to kill Jesus when he joined forces with them.  But now he could have been worrying that God might hold him accountable for scheming as to how to arrest Jesus while pretending to be His devoted disciple!


 Judas ran back to the chief priests and elders and told them that he didn’t want the thirty pieces of silver after all and that he had betrayed “innocent blood”.  The religious leaders laughed at him and said: “What is that to us?” (Matthew 27:4) Judas in desperation threw the pieces of silver down on the temple floor and ran away and hanged himself.  The chief priests took the silver pieces and later bought a plot of land to bury strangers in and named the field the “Field of Blood,” since it was paid for with blood money!   


When morning came the religious leaders bound Jesus and dragged him out to be judged by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.  The nation of Israel was under Roman rule back then, and it was unlawful for the Jewish people to condemn a person to die unless the death sentence was approved in a Roman court.


When Jesus arrived in Pilate’s court, all hell broke loose and vile hatred spilled over in the courtroom!  Hate in the name of God??  The mob of religious leaders began waving their fists and angrily accusing Jesus of one crime after another.  Pilate needed to know how bad He was.  Since Jesus claimed to be a king He might pose a danger to Rome.  One priest after another took the stand criticizing Jesus for blasphemy and lying about what an evil man He was.  And all the time Jesus stood there looking down at the floor and not saying a word.


“Don’t you hear all of the terrible things they are saying about you?” Pilate asks Jesus.  “Aren’t you going to stand up for yourself?”  But Jesus just stood there!   He just stood there and never said a word!  He never defended Himself!  Never countered any of the lies told about Him!  Never tried to protect His reputation!  Scripture says that Pilate was very impressed with Jesus.


 About this time Pilate’s wife interrupts the session and she runs over to her husband crying and whispers something in his ear.  She has just wakened from a dream about Jesus.  She tells her husband that Jesus is a just man and she warns and begs Pilate not to be a part of sentencing Jesus to death.  Dreams were believed to be messages of divine revelation and indeed this one was I believe.   


Pilate dismisses his wife and her dream and turns to Jesus and asks Him: “Tell me, are you the King of the Jews?”  And Jesus answers: “It is as you say.”  (Matthew 27:11)  Pilate asks Jesus: “You are a King then?”  And Jesus answers: “You are right I am a king.  For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world.  That I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  (John 18:37)  And then Pilate looks at Jesus and asks the question: “What is the truth?”  (John 18:38a) 


What is the truth?  Pilate’s question regarding truth rings down through the millennia.  The answer is that Truth is not a principle.  Truth is a Person.  Truth is Jesus Christ.  One of the clearest and best-known statements of Jesus is: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  (John 14:6 

Notice that Jesus says, “I am the truth…”  He does not say that truth is a religion or a ritual or a set of rules and regulations.  He says “I am the Truth.”  Truth is Jesus Christ.  This is what separates Jesus Christ from every other leader of every other faith.  Other leaders have said, “I am looking for the truth,” or “I am teaching the truth,” or “I point to the truth,” or “I am a prophet of the truth.”  But Jesus comes out and says, “I am the Truth.”

A lot of people say, “I think Jesus was just a great teacher.”  But He could not be just that.  No great teacher would claim to be God if he wasn’t.  Either Jesus is fooling 2.3 billion people who call themselves Christians and believe a lie, or Jesus was insane when He said He was the Truth – or Jesus is who He said He was.  We Christians dare to believe that Jesus is the Truth.  that He is our Savior – the Way and the Life.  We step out and believe and then it happens!  We are never the same again.  We are born again – changed.  He didn’t just go about Israel two thousand years ago healing and changing people and performing miracles.  He is doing it still in us today in our hearts!

Pilate likes Jesus and believes that He is innocent.  He wants to save Him and believes that the religious leaders are just trying to have Jesus put to death because they are envious of Him.  (Matthew 27:18)  But Pilate may disregard his conscience to please the religious leaders.  He has to work with them and he doesn’t want more political uprisings.  That wouldn’t look good on his record.  So what is he to do?  Will Pilate do what he believes is right and use his power to stop this injustice – this murder - or will he take the easy way out and please the crowd?  What do we do in these kinds of situations? 

Each year the Romans practiced the custom of releasing one prisoner back to the Jewish people.  At these times the Jewish people could choose which prisoner they wanted to have freed from prison.  A crowd had gathered as Pilate announced that he found no fault in Jesus.  And hearing this the crowd went wild and yelled back angry insults. 


One of the prisoners named Barabbas was a notorious murderer and Pilate thought that the crowd would never think of releasing him.  So Pilate had the guards drag Barabbas out in chains so that both Jesus and Barabbas were standing together in front of the crowd.  Jesus stood there silently in chains with his head hanging down while Barabbas swore and spit and tried to kick a guard.  Then Pilate called to the crowd: “Which prisoner do you want me to release to you?  Barabbas the murderer or Jesus who is called Christ?”  (Matthew 27:17)   .     

Pilate was sure the Jewish people would choose Jesus over Barabbas.  Hadn’t Jesus gone about healing so many of these same people?  Why would they want to kill Him?  And then surely the Jewish people would not want a hardened criminal and murderer like Barabbas living in their midst!  But to Pilate’s surprise the crowd shouted back “Barabbas”  “Barabbas”  “Release Barabbas to us!” Scripture says “the chief priests and elders had persuaded the crowds that they should ask for Barabbas to be released and to crucify Jesus.”  (Matthew 27:20)  And the people were too lazy to think for themselves but they just did what their leaders told them to do!  Do we ever do that today?

Pilate was amazed and disappointed.   “Then what do you want me to do with Jesus?”  he yelled back at the enraged mob.  “Crucify him, crucify him!”  They all shrieked back at Pilate shaking their fists and jumping up and down!  And Jesus stood there silently before them with his head hanging down.  “What evil has he done?” Pilate screamed back.  But the crazed mob had gone into a frenzy of hate!  Hate and more hate spilled out everywhere.  “Crucify him, crucify him!” was their answer.    And they shrieked it out again.  .”CRUCIFY HIM, CRUCIFY HIM.”  The mob was stirred up now and running around yelling and grabbing their clubs and waving their swords and Pilate feared they could start an uprising!         

So Pilate gave in to the angry mob and told them that they could have their own way.  He asked for a bowl of water and he sat down and washed his hands in front of the crowd and announced to them all: “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it.”  (Matthew 27:24b)  And the pumped up crowd agreed that this death was on them.  Then Pilate released Barabbas to the crowd and he ordered the sorrowful Jesus to be whipped and sent Him away to be crucified.

God foretold these terrible events seven hundred years before they happened through the prophet Isaiah.  Let’s listen:  “He is despised and rejected by men.  A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him.  He was despised and we did not esteem Him.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. .  He was wounded for our sins and bruised for our iniquities.  The chastisement for our peace is upon Him.  And by His stripes we are healed. “(Isaiah 53:3-5,)

And then we can almost see Jesus standing there silently with his head down when we read more of Isaiah’s prophecy of old.  “He was oppressed and afflicted yet He opened not His mouth.  He was led away as a lamb to the slaughter.  And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.  He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation?  For He was cut off from the land of the living.  And for the sins of the people He was striken.  (Isaiah 52:7-8) 

   Parts of this blog concerning Jesus being the Truth were taken from a blog from Rick Warren 1/4/12