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Archive for April, 2014

The message of Easter assures us that God has not gone out of business. It is His personal guarantee that no matter what happens in our world, or how bad it may seem to us, He is in final control. This is a magnificent view, the long view. But where does it touch your life and mine?

The Psalmist tells us that humans have been made “a little less than God,” As Genesis puts it, “we are made in God’s image, and after His likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Whatever else this may imply, it means that we share in the ongoing purpose of God and that we can participate in the victory that belongs to Him. We see something of this in our quest for self-fulfillment. We want to find meaning in our existence.

The trouble is that on the road to personal victory or fulfillment there is a formidable obstacle which the Bible calls simply “the world.” Again and again God reminds us that the world is our problem. “Everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world” (I John 2:16). Another New Testament writer asks, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4).

What is going on here? Doesn’t Genesis say that everything God made was good? This is rather confusing. Yet John and James are not talking about the physical world of beautiful landscapes and colorful sunsets. They are talking about a world that is hostile to God, a world that greed and lust and hate and oppression would destroy or make unproductive. God wants our world to be one of moral and spiritual beauty.

The world, as John defines it, can defeat us. It can bring to nothing what we have perceived as a shining purpose. All of us are vulnerable at any age to the pressures of people about us. One young woman remorsefully told the story of betrayal: “Everything he said to me seemed so right!” Sometimes even religious rituals may be offered to make evil an occasion of celebration. Remember: the Ku Klux Klan has its chaplains. The Apostle Paul said, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold” (Romans 12:2).

The kind of faith of which Easter speaks provides a winning strategy. John says, “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes in Jesus, the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5). If we believe that Jesus is God’s Son, that He brings us an authentic word from God, and if we want our lives to be what God intends, then the power of the world can be overcome.

Dr. Harvey Cox tells the story of a psychologist who had a woman patient in her mid-twenties who complained that she had become nervous and fretful because her life had grown so hectic. The reason, she said, was “too many weekends, too many discos, too many late hours, too much talk, too much wine, too much pot, and too much love-making.” The therapist at this point asked her mildly, “Why don’t you stop?” The patient stared blankly into space for a moment, and then her face brightened. It was as if she had a revelation. “You mean I don’t really have to do what I want to do?”

The truth of Easter is that we do not have to do what the world has programed us to do. God created us to live on a higher plane. He is able and willing to give us a new way of looking at life and a new way of making decisions. That is why the early Christians, following the resurrection of Christ, went everywhere proclaiming the value of repentance and faith in Christ. Life can be different. Once we finally decide that it will be so in our own case, we discover that whatever is born of God overcomes the world. Easter makes it possible for us to share this message with others every day of every year.

 

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Charles Swindoll, in The Darkness and the Dawn, tells the story of a wonderful Christian named Edith Burns who lived in San Antonio Texas. She was the patient of Doctor Will Phillips, a gentle physician who saw patients as people. He loved them all, but his favorite patient was Edith Burns.

One morning Dr. Phillips went to his office with a heavy heart because he had discovered that Edith Burns had cancer. He knew that she had an appointment that morning. When he arrived in his office she was already there. She had her big black Bible in her lap, and she was witnessing to another person who was also waiting to see Dr. Phillips. Edith had the habit of introducing herself in this way: “Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?” Then she would explain the meaning of Easter. Many times they would accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

After being called into the doctor’s office, Edith entered and sat down. When she took a look at her doctor, she said, “Dr. Will, why are you so sad? Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?”

Dr. Phillips said, “Edith, I’m your doctor, and you are the patient.” And then, with a heavy heart, he said, “Your lab report reveals that you have cancer. And Edith, you’re not going to live very much longer.”

“Why, Dr. Phillips,” Edith replied, “shame on you! Why are you so sad? Do you think God makes mistakes? You have just told me I’m going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and many of my friends. You have just told me that I’m going to celebrate Easter forever. And you are having trouble giving me my ticket.”

Within a few weeks, Edith had reached the point in her illness where she needed to be hospitalized. “Dr. Will, I’m very near home now,” she said, “so would you make sure that they put women in the room with me who need to know about Easter?” They did just that, and one patient after another shared the room with Edith. Many of them became Christians because Edith shared with them the story of Easter and what it means to those who believe.

Everybody on Edith’s hospital floor, from staff to patients, were so excited about Edith that they started calling her Edith Easter – that is, everybody except Phyllis Cross, the head nurse. Phyllis said she wanted nothing to do with Edith because, “She is a religious nut.” Phyllis had been a nurse in an army hospital, and she had seen and heard it all. She was the original G.I. Jane. She had been married three times. She was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.

One morning the two nurses who were to attend to Edith were sick and could not work. Edith had contracted the flu, so Phyllis had to go in and give her a shot. When she walked in, Edith had a big smile on her face as she said, “Phyllis, God loves you, and I love you, too. I’ve been praying for you.”

The head nurse frowned. “Well, you can quit praying for me. It won’t work. I’m not interested.”

“Well, I will pray,” said Edith. “I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family.”

“Then you will never die,” snapped Phyllis, “because that will never happen,” and she left the room abruptly.

Every day when Phyllis Cross walked into the room, Edith would smile and say, “God loves you, Phyllis, and I love you too . . . I’ve been praying for you.” Then one day Nurse Cross found herself drawn to Edith’s room like a magnet draws iron. Edith said, “I’m glad you’ve come today because God has told me that today is your special day.”

Phyllis said, “Edith, you have asked everybody here the question, “Do you believe in Easter? But you have never asked me.” So, Edith asked her the question and shared the meaning of Easter, and Phyllis accepted Christ as her personal Savior. Later, when Phyllis walked into the room she realized that Edith had gone home to be with her Lord.

With tears streaming down her cheeks, Phyllis said, “Happy Easter, Edith. Happy Easter!”

 

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Jesus has a very full schedule for the evening ahead. In the upper room of a friend’s house He and His disciples meet to celebrate the Passover meal. He washes His disciples’ feet, they eat the Passover meal together, Judas goes out from among them to execute his dark plan of betrayal, and Jesus shares a new memorial meal with them. Following this there are long quiet talks, in which Jesus speaks more seriously to His disciples than He has ever spoken.

Next, Jesus and His disciples move down the hill toward a garden full of Olive trees where He has often prayed. Many of these olive trees are still alive today. The full moon can be seen in the night sky above. Here in Gethsemane Jesus is approaching the crisis point in His ministry and feels the strong need to pray. He urges His disciples to be keenly alert, and pray, lest they yield to temptation. He leaves all of them among the olive trees except Peter, James, and John, whom He takes a little further. He experiences both an intense longing for fellowship and a longing to be alone. In the next twenty-four hours He will be illegally tried, wrongly condemned, and crucified.

Now, alone in Gethsemane, He falls on His knees, then prone, out full length, on His face. Tremendous agony is upon Him. Bits and pieces of His prayer are caught by the three as they fight falling asleep. “My Father – if it be possible – let – this – cup – pass – from – me.  Yet – Thy – will – be – done.”  The words used here to tell of His mental distress are so intense that translators have a difficult time finding English words strong enough to adequately express them. The weight of the sins of the world was weighing heavily upon Him. Angels come to minister to Him.

Eventually calm returns to the scene, and His mood reveals the victory He has gained in prayer: “My Father, if this cup cannot pass away except I drink it – if only through this experience can Your great plan of redemption be worked out – let – Your – will – be done.”  He returns to the drowsy disciples with the earnest advice about being awake, and alert, and praying, because temptation is always nearby. He gently admonishes Peter by saying, “Simon, could you not watch with me for one hour?” What masterful control He had in the presence of unutterable agony!

At this point Jesus steps out from among the olive trees to meet a group of Roman soldiers who are heading His way. He knows they are coming, and He goes to meet them. They are only a small part of the great rabble that the chief priests have drummed up to get rid of Him. Judas, who is with the soldiers, keeps up the pretense of friendship, and greets Jesus with a kiss. It is bad enough to betray Jesus, but to use love’s token to do hate’s work makes his betrayal so much worse. The silver he has been paid for his betrayal is under his belt, and he shrinks back into the crowd. This is only the beginning of the indignities that Jesus will suffer in the next twenty-four hours.

Peter, who had earlier said to Jesus, “No, Lord, you shall not die,” grabs a soldier’s sword and cuts off his right ear. Jesus gently stops the consternation that develops with a word. At this point the Father could send twelve legions of angels to defend His Son if He were but to give the word. However, He knows that if He does this, His plan for the redemption of mankind would never be accomplished. With a word of apology to the soldier for Peter’s rash action, Jesus restores the man’s ear with a touch. Surely this soldier never forgot Jesus.

The soldiers, now satisfied that Jesus will not use His power on His own behalf, seize Him and begin to bind His hands. At this point Jesus looks into the face of the leader of the soldiers, and says, “You hunt me down and treat me as though I were a common robber. I have never tried to hide from you. But now things are in your control, and in the control of the powers of darkness.”

Meanwhile all of the disciples, with the exception of John and Peter, forsake Him and flee. Peter follows at what he thinks is a safe distance, but John remains in the crowd and goes along with them. The procession makes its way back across the Kedron brook, up the steep slope to the city gate. They enter Jerusalem and travel through its narrow streets to the palace of the high priest. God’s Passover Lamb has now been delivered for the sacrifice!

 

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One of the most interesting characters mentioned in the New Testament was a man named Barabbas. Having been tried in court, found guilty, and sentenced to die, his cell was very likely located in the fortress of Antonia in the city of Jerusalem. The Roman governor, Pilate, was holding court within hearing distance. He possibly heard the crowd outside his cell cry out words that chilled him to the bone: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” He knew it would not be long before he would hear the footsteps of a Roman soldier coming to escort him to a Roman cross.

According to the accounts by Matthew and Mark, during the Feast of Passover the governor normally set free any prisoner the people wanted released. It is not known how this custom began, but it was clearly in place at the time Jesus was brought before Pilate to be tried. Prior to this very important feast the people would approach the Roman governor and ask that a specific prisoner to be set free.

Being anti-Semitic, Pilate had absolutely no sympathy with this Jewish custom. On this occasion, however, he welcomed it. First of all, he knew that the charge against Jesus had been trumped up by the Jewish authorities. But he also knew that if he did not go along with crowd’s demand, a riot could possibly take place. Should a bad report be sent to Rome about his regime, he would lose his position as governor.

The second dilemma Pilate had was that he was convinced Jesus was innocent. Also, his wife had dreamed Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against Him. It is interesting that of all the judges before whom Jesus stood, Pilate gave Him a chance to declare His innocence. He looked only for the facts, and they led him to believe that Jesus was not guilty of the crime with which He had been charged. When the crowd refused to accept Pilate’s judgment, he washed his hands of the matter and allowed Jesus to be crucified.

As we look back upon that eventful day, this question remains: Why, of all the prisoners who were sitting in Roman cells waiting to be tried, did Pilate select Barabbas as the one he would offer to be released? Why not one of the two thieves who would later that day be crucified along with Jesus? Why would Pilate offer to set free a man described in Matthew 27:15 as being notorious? The word “notorious” meant that Barabbas was much more than a petty thief, picking pockets in the crowded streets of Jerusalem. He was a murderer, a hardened criminal. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian of the day, agreed with Matthew that Barabbas was indeed notorious.

“When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate asked them, ‘which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’” (Matthew 27:17). “They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’” (Matthew 27:22). At this point Pilate gave in and allowed Jesus to be crucified.

Imagine that you are Barabbas in that cell, believing your time on planet earth is growing very short. Feel the tension as the footsteps of the Roman centurion is heard coming to escort you to your death. Your heart is beating rapidly, and your breathing becomes shallow. But when the cell door swings open, Barabbas hears these words, “You may go free, for another man has died in your place.”

The freedom Barabbas gained when he heard those words can be yours. Yes, Jesus Christ also died for you. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

 

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