If You Are

Did you ever realize that when the devil tempted Jesus with the question, “If you are?” – Jesus already was? Everything the devil tempted Jesus with in the wilderness, Jesus already was, already had been from the beginning before time and would be forever.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Luke 4:3 

For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ Acts 4:11 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John 6:35 

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world … “if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Luke 4:5-6  

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Revelation 11:15 

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Revelation 19:16 

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” Luke 4:9 

Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John 2:18-19 

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He has been raised from the dead, just as he said would happen. Matthew 28:5-6 

Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” John 8:58

Image, free photo from pixy.org

The Smell

In the interval between the obedience and the seeing

“Take away the stone,” [Jesus] said. “But, LORD,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:39-40

Every time I read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead I think about the same thing. The smell. Martha warns Jesus that there will be a bad odor of death if they take away the stone. But, Jesus commands them to remove the stone anyway – I always imagine them moving the stone and backing quickly away, covering their faces. And then, as they are standing there trying not to breathe too much — Jesus prays for a while.

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

So, there was this interval between their obedience in taking away the stone and actually seeing Lazarus walk out. They must have stood there gaging on the strong odor after four days in the heat as Jesus prayed. Did Jesus do this on purpose? Jesus says he prayed “for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you [the Father] sent me.” Did Jesus let them wait in the smell of death for their benefit?  I think so.

Remember when he told the disciples that Lazarus was dead he said, “and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” He wanted there to be absolutely no doubt as to it being a miracle, and that nobody but God could have done it. Like a man seeing who was blind from birth. Like an old woman giving birth to a son. Like Elijah pouring water on the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:30-33) until it filled the trench.

I grieve that many of us are there in the interval between obedience and answered prayer. And it smells like death and it looks like death and we are trying not to give in to despair. Then, all of a sudden I realize something gaspingly wonderful. What were they waiting for standing outside the tomb? What are we waiting for now? We are waiting for Jesus to pray. It says Jesus prayed. Jesus is always interceding on our behalf. He has not forgotten us, he has not given us up to hopelessness, death and despair. He is praying for us. That gives me hope for which I can joyfully wait.

Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me (in the past tense)” even before he called Lazarus out. Even in the midst of the hopeless smell of death, in the interval between the obedience and the seeing, Jesus thanked God for hearing and answering. Then he called the dead man out. They all must have breathed deeply about the same time as Lazarus did.

I have been there a lot, standing in the smell of death, waiting for God. Waiting for the tears to turn to joy. I am there now holding my breath. Like the world held its breath in the darkness before the Resurrection. And time stretches long when you are trying not to breathe. But I know that Jesus is praying for me, and in this dark time he is working life in me and in you. And I believe that God keeps his promises. I believe that God’s Word is true. I believe that Lazarus will walk out.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (NASB)

Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Father, I thank you that you have heard me. John 11:41

Image in the Public Domain, Detail from The Raising of Lazarus illumination on parchment, c. 1504

 

Joy Overcomes Fear

Hope gave them boldness to stand. Joy gave them strength to run.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the LORD came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 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 and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:1-8

These verses always make me smile (sorry!) The men, the guards at the tomb, fainted dead away at the sight of the angel and the earthquake. But, when the angel turned to give the good news to the women, they were still standing. Not only did the women not collapse in fear, they were able to make their legs work to run and give the disciples the angel’s message.

But I think the reasons behind why the men and the women were there at the tomb gives the clue to their respective responses to the angel. The women were there out of love for Jesus, to serve him one more time. They had been there with him in his life; they had followed him and listened to him and saw his love and care and healing touch. At least one of them had received healing herself. But, they had both heard Jesus say he would rise again.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Matthew 16:21

They were there to take care of his dead body, but in the back of their minds must have flickered that great hope of the resurrection. In spite of the hopeless situation, they clung to that hope. And when they saw the angel, that hope must have flamed up.

The guards were there because they had been told to keep the tomb secure. It was a assignment, nothing more. They may have seen and heard Jesus, they definitely had heard about him. But, they didn’t know him. They had not put their faith and hope in him as the women had. It reminds me of a couple of verses.

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.  2 Corinthians 3:12 (NIV)

Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)

Hope gave the women boldness to stand before the angel. Joy gave them strength to run with the message. Let us also boldly run with joy to carry the Good News!

For love is as strong as death… Song of Songs 8:12

He is not here; he has risen!

He is risen indeed!

 

 

Image in the Public Domain: He is Risen, the First Easter by Arthur Hughes (1832-1915)

 

Hoping From

We were never meant to put our hope in this earth. For He, and only He, is the Rock-Solid Place. He is all our future and in him is all our hope.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. Job 19:25 (NIV)

I recently read an article by J.D. Walt in Seedbed (Take the Long View https://www.seedbed.com/step-3-take-long-view/ ). He was commenting on a quote about hope by British theologian, Jeremy Begbie.

“Christians do not hope ‘in’ the future. We hope ‘from’ the future.” In other words, we aren’t hoping everything is going to turn out ok in the end. We live as those who have already won. The future is a settled matter. Because of Jesus, the future is as fixed as the Sun. Our hope is not rooted in our hopefulness. It is securely anchored in the settled future. We hope “from” the future … He not only holds our future, He is our future.” J.D. Walt

Hoping from the future. Our hope is not wishful thinking. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19-20).” This idea of “hoping from” made me think of one of the most magnificent statements of hope and faith in the Bible spoken by Job:

“I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet (yet!) in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27 (NIV)

Job is not hoping his Redeemer lives. He knows; he is hoping from an assured future. Job looks ahead to the end and declares this amazing prophetic affirmation of the return of Jesus and of the resurrection of the dead. It affirms the resurrection – I myself will see him with my own eyes (but argues against reincarnation – I, and not another). But as I looked at Job 19:25 word by word in the Hebrew I discovered some additional “wonderfulness.”

There is so much in just the word “redeemer” – ransom, act as kinsman-redeemer, buy back – but that will have to wait for another day. What really stopped me in my tracks was the word “earth.”  I was expecting the Hebrew word erets – אֶרֶץ. It is used for earth or land all over the old testament, over 2,500 times, starting in Genesis.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (erets). Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

Strong’s Concordance says that erets comes “from an unused root probably meaning firm.” This reminds me of “terra firma,” solid ground. But I was surprised to discover that erets is not the word translated earth in Job 19:25. The word is aphar – עָפָר. Aphar is a very different word, meaning  ashes, dust, earth, ground, mortar, powder, rubbish. I imagined Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, victorious returning conqueror, planting his feet on a rubbish heap. What could it mean?

This word, aphar, does not have the meaning of permanence or solidity, but rather, weakness and impermanence.

Then Abraham spoke again. “Since I have begun, let me go on and speak further to my Lord, even though I am but dust (aphar) and ashes. Genesis 18:27 (NLT)

For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust (aphar). Psalm 103:14 (NLT)

And then I realized. God made the Earth firm, solid, perfect. But when Jesus comes back, he will not stand on an Earth that is firm, as some permanent, rock-solid place. But, he will stand in the debris of our sins and rebellion, on the rubbish heap, in the blowing-away dust, this dying place. And He will change it as He changes us, making all things new. We were never meant to put our hope in this earth. For He, and only He, is the Rock-Solid Place. He is all our future and in him is all our hope. We can’t hope “in” the ruined rubbish heap of this world. We can’t hope “in” our own hopefulness, our own fleeting strength. But we can hope “from” that future with Him, that “settled matter,” the everlasting, the unchanging, the unfailing. For by faith we are already there, seated with God in the heavenly places if we are in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). We can live as those who have already won. Hope from!

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:35 (NIV)

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2 Peter 3:13 (NIV)

He raises the poor from the dust (aphar) and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people. Psalm 113:7-8 (NIV)

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:52 (NIV)

I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:27 (NIV)

The Best Gift

I don’t think Mary’s best gift was the expensive perfume. I think, to Jesus, the most precious gift was something else. As usual, Jesus went straight for the heart.

During supper, a woman came in with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste of money,” they said, “She could have sold it for a fortune and given the money to the poor.” But Jesus replied, “Why berate her for doing such a good thing to me?” Matthew 26:7-10 (NLT)

John 12:3 identifies this woman as Mary, Lazarus’ sister. I can relate to how Mary felt. I have been berated for my gifts too. I have thought for months of what I could give someone that would be the best, most appreciated, gift possible, only to have it rejected. Only to have it repulsed, given back, put aside, shoved in a drawer. And I too have been shamed. This woman brought the very best, most precious, gift she owned, and the disciples berated her for it. I can only imagine that it would have been very intimidating and crushing – these were The Disciples after all, important men, the very ones chosen by Jesus. And they were shaming her for bringing this gift of her very best.

But I don’t think her very best gift was the expensive perfume. I think, to Jesus, the most precious gift was something else. As usual, Jesus went straight for the heart.

Jesus had been warning the disciples for a while what awaited him in Jerusalem. He came right out and said plainly he would be killed several times. He even told them he would rise again (Mark 8:31), and all he got for it was a rebuke from Peter. But Mary believed Jesus when he said he was going to be crucified. She came and offered Jesus her best – her faith and her trust that Jesus had a good plan, and if Jesus said he was going to die and rise again, he would die and rise again. She was the only one who “got it” and she responded in faith, empathy, and love. Like Abraham, who believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19), she proved her faith by her actions. Jesus confirmed, “she did it to prepare me for burial.” That must have been comforting to Jesus.

Jesus highly honored her trust, proclaiming, “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Others had worshipped Jesus. Others had loved him. But only about Mary does he say this. Manford George Gutzke gives a good explanation.

Do you realize that this is the only deed done to the Lord Jesus Christ personally that He ever asked anyone to repeat? Everything He taught, He did Himself. Every illustration He gave, He gave Himself, except this one. This one He presents to us because it is an example of what anyone can do to serve the Lord. When you think about the Gospel being preached you realize there is only one thing that Christ cannot illustrate Himself: that is, how a person should act toward Him. He can illustrate obedience, faithfulness and humility, but He could not illustrate a believer’s response to the Son of God.[i]

Yes! This is something we all can do – give Him our heart, our trust. And we will not be shamed if we do. I have a suspicion that this Mary was one of the women early at the tomb on the third day. It would make sense, because there are promises for people like this woman who put their faith and trust in Jesus.

As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 9:33 (NIV)

As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts (to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence) in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 10:11 (NIV)

And hope (expectation of good, confidence, faith) does not disappoint (dishonor, disgrace, shame) us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5 (NIV)

Our hope in Him does not shame us. The NetBible translators explain that “one is said to be put to shame who suffers a repulse, or whom some hope has deceived.” Jesus looked at this woman’s true gift of her heart, love, empathy, her trust, her hope, and did not put her to shame. He did not repulse her. He did not berate her. Just the opposite.

He will never shame you either. You may be berated by others, but your hope in Him will never deceive. Give Him your best and most precious gift.

[i] Plain Talk on Matthew. Zondervan Publishing House, 1966. p. 216.

Image in the Public Domain

Jesus wept

I realized that a person can be a Christian their whole life, safe in their little cocoon of church and fellowship and keeping all the rules and trying to please God that way, but never get down and dirty, never touch the lepers, never mourn with those who mourn – and never know His pain, His sufferings, His passion toward us that shakes the earth and rolls away the stone, the power, strength, violence of His resurrection.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 (NIV)

I have always read about sharing in Christ’s sufferings (the Message translates it as “be a partner in his suffering”) as physical suffering, like persecution, being physically harmed or imprisoned. And it definitely does include that facet. Paul said, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24). But, that word translated “sufferings” – pathema – has a distinct emotional side. Its base is the Greek word pathos, which means “a feeling which the mind suffers” and “subjectively, a passion.” It’s the reason why Christ suffered physically on the cross – “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” For God so loved the world that he gave.

I recently started working in a jail ministry and I know now, because I have felt it, that these sufferings also include carrying the pain of a lost world, people hopeless, afflicted, in horrible pain of regret and guilt. People staring at the next 20 years in prison, missing their kids growing up, knowing the consequences are unending. In fact, I’m thinking that the sufferings of Christ were, and are, mostly heart pain. Mostly, mourning with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), mostly, carrying the afflictions of soul and spirit.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows (anguish, grief, pain, sorrow). Isaiah 53:4 (NIV)

Jesus wept with those who wept. Jesus groaned and sighed with grief over their sufferings. Jesus was angry with those who refused to share this pain (Luke 13:15-16).

When I first visited the jail, the powerful passion of his love for these who most view as the lowest of the low astonished me, I am ashamed to admit. It is a physical heart-pain, almost unbearable. And I realized that a person can be a Christian their whole life, safe in their little cocoon of church and fellowship and keeping all the rules and trying to please God that way, but never get down and dirty, never touch the lepers, never mourn with those who mourn – and never know His pain, His sufferings, His passion toward us that shakes the earth and rolls away the stone, the power, strength, violence of His resurrection. The passion that raises the dead to life, gives hope to the hopeless, transforms lives. I want to know that power. But the only way to truly know it is to know Christ first, for there is no power, there is no life-giving passion, there is no resurrection apart from Him. “I am the resurrection and the life.” I walk in Him, plug into the life-giving sap of the Vine, and He fills me with His love.

Lord help me to know you and the power of your resurrection. Let me be like you in your death, take up my cross daily. Let me be a partner in your sufferings.

Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily (sighed with grief), and commanded, “Ephphatha!–Open up!” Mark 7:34 (MSG)

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)