Sapphire Sky

August 14, 2016

The Test of Character

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:34 pm

Pergamon_Museum_Berlin_2007108

It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves when problems come into our lives. We believe that nobody understands us, and we have a perfect right to indulge ourselves.

Why should I try to do the right thing when my world has collapsed around me?

Can we even reach out to others if we don’t understand them?

Should we fight back when we have been hurt? What if they have hurt us more deeply than anyone could ever know?

Where is God when my life is turned upside-down?

I have had the chance to read about a young man who experienced more horrors than I will ever understand. As a teenager, he saw his city overrun by an invading army. They pillaged the town, looted the temple of God, and took him captive. Now, away from his family in a strange land, he was emasculated, given a new name, and enrolled in the pagan seminary. The penalty for failing his seminary classes would likely mean death.

Daniel was a teen in Jerusalem when his city was captured by Babylonian forces in 605 B.C. Babylon had recently defeated both of the existing world powers (Assyria and Egypt) and had extended its empire across much of the Middle East. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken several of the most promising youths back to Babylon with him to serve in his court.

Among a class of 50-75 teens, Daniel and his friends were given new names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all named after the God of Israel, but their new names reflected the Babylonian gods: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their classes consisted of a three-year intensive training in the language, religion, and ways of Babylon’s elite. At the end of three years, they would be personally interviewed by the king himself to see if they were competent to serve him.

These circumstances would have been intense pressure for any teen, but Daniel made a commitment. Despite everything that happened, the Bible says that Daniel resolved that he would not disobey God. Literally, he “set his heart” to not defile himself. Whatever happened, Daniel would not choose any action which would cause him to break God’s law.

There were several things outside of Daniel’s control. He was a slave to the king of Babylon and his life existed at the whim of the king or his servants. Daniel could not control what happened to him, but he could control what he chose to eat and to drink. The boys were expected to feast daily at the king’s pagan banquet, but Daniel respectfully asked to abstain. Instead of the king’s food and wine, he asked to eat only vegetables and water.

Daniel’s overseer refused at first, for fear that the he would lose his life if the boys became sick. Daniel requested a test: the four of them would only eat vegetables and water for 10 days and then the overseer could compare the results. After 10 days, Daniel and his three friends were visibly healthier than the other boys. Therefore, the entire class was moved to vegetables and water for the duration of their schooling.

There were no miracles, but God’s hand was evident throughout Daniel’s schooling. God blessed Daniel’s decision and allowed the boys to be healthy after the 10-day test. At the end of their schooling, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were personally interviewed by king Nebuchadnezzar. Not only did the four young men surpass their class, but they exceeded all of the king’s existing advisors.

 

Remember!

We can learn from Daniel’s example about how to follow God, even when under pressure:

  • Daniel refused to be defined by his circumstances. Daniel had every excuse to stop obeying God, yet he set his heart to not disobey Him.
  • Daniel was not subject to peer pressure. All of his leaders and his peers ate the king’s banquet, yet Daniel and his friends refused. Out of a class of 50-75 teens, only these four refused to participate.
  • Daniel answered his opposition with tactfulness and respect. Daniel respectfully asked the steward to abstain from eating the king’s banquet. When the steward refused, he proposed a test.
  • Daniel was not consumed by situations which were out of his control. Daniel could not control his new name, his education curriculum, or his state as a eunuch in the king’s court. Instead, Daniel made sure that he was obedient to God in the areas that he could control.

“What a lesson for us-that purity of heart and faithfulness to God come before enlightenment in divine mysteries! If you attempt to reverse these things, you need not be surprised if you fall into all kinds of error.” – H.A. Ironside [8]

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March 30, 2016

How do you deal with depression?

Filed under: encouragement — Anthony Biller @ 8:42 pm

Renee's place

Depression is like a huge, black pit. After it pulls you in, you can’t get out. So you spend countless nights crying yourself to sleep. You spend days in your room separating yourself from others. You feel like doing absolutely nothing ever. You’re constantly hoping things will get better, but also wondering if they ever actually will. And the worst part? When you finally start to get happy again, depression tries to pull you back in and you crash harder than before.

Why I am writing about depression? Because according to suicide.org, a teen takes his or her own life every 100 minutes. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. Approximately 20 percent of teens experience depression before they reach adulthood, and between 10 to 15 percent suffer from symptoms at any one time.

I struggled with depression and anxiety for a few years. I…

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March 26, 2016

Events of the Passion Week

Filed under: theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 1:48 am

Acts 1:3 says that Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering…”. The original term for Jesus’ suffering in the King James version is referred to as His “passion” (Acts 1:3, KJV). Therefore, most Bible teachers refer to the final week of Jesus’ suffering on earth as the “Passion Week”.

It is often difficult to compile the exact chronology of the events that happened during that week. None of the four gospel accounts are a complete biography of Jesus Christ and often time indicators are omitted.

The actual days of many of these events are often debated by Bible scholars. Below is my attempt to show the chronology of the events during the Passion week as we can best understand them.

I have also included links to blog posts about the subject(s) as the posts are available.

 

Sunday – Entry into Jerusalem

 

Monday – Cleansing the Temple

 

Tuesday – Debating the leaders

 

Wednesday – Silent Day

  • Silent day: no recorded activity in scripture. Jesus remains in Bethany as the Jewish leaders prepare for His arrest.

 

Thursday – The Last Supper

 

Friday – The Passover Sacrifice

 

Saturday – The Sabbath

 

Sunday – He is Risen!

 

 

Sources:

  • Doug Bookman, Passion Week lecture and notes, http://www.bookmanministries.com
  • Robert L. Thomas & Stanley N Gundry, A Harmony of the Gospels, Sections 187-253, pages 176-259

 

March 21, 2016

A Different Kind of Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anthony Biller @ 8:09 pm

From my gorgeous, eldest daughter ….

Renee's place

Most children grow up having parents they look up to and love and they know their parents love them to the end of the world. They know, or they think, their parents love them more than they could imagine. Then how could my parents fall in love with kids they only had for a year whom they didn’t even raise and care for? How could they love them as much as their own children? Of course I’m not a parent so I wouldn’t understand, but to a biological daughter, watching my parents and siblings fall in love with six new kids so easily, I felt replaced for a while. My relationship with my biological brothers went downhill as they had new siblings who were closer in age. So, let me explain a little bit of what I’ve learned about love.

I love my biological and adoptive siblings the same. But it’s…

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March 18, 2016

4 things my little siblings have taught me

Filed under: adoption, Life!, love, marriage and family, Uncategorized — Anthony Biller @ 11:06 pm

Smelly shoes lined the floor. My bare feet stick to the dirty surface that hadn’t been swept since breakfast. As socks are always missing, they are a rare delicacy only to be enjoyed on speci…

Source: 4 things my little siblings have taught me

A letter from a Christian teen

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anthony Biller @ 11:01 pm

When I was in elementary school, one of my greatest enjoyments was driving past the high school on my way to violin lessons. Why? Teenagers. To me, a young naive child, teenagers were weird, messed…

Source: A letter from a Christian teen

February 17, 2016

18 Months and Counting

Filed under: adoption, Life!, love, marriage and family — Anthony Biller @ 9:52 pm

Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore!

Ps. 113:2

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On a recent trip to visit the Ark Encounter (it opens July 7, please buy tickets!) and Answers in Genesis, my friend Tim Dudley asked me why I had not blogged in about a year about our adoption. When I explained how busy I’d been, he gave me his trademark eye-roll and “Really? Too busy to write 500 words?”  (At the time, I didn’t realize that Tim hasn’t updated his blog in five years!) As usual, Tim was correct.

IMG_0022When we were first considering adopting six children; we went to the authoritative source on all things important – the blogosphere, and found several blogs written by families who had adopted large sibling groups. The sites were typically profuse regarding the decision to adopt, fluent regarding the initial stage, but then the posts became fewer and fewer between. That fueled my adoption paranoia: they started happy and optimistic, but then it went bad so they stopped blogging – didn’t want to share the horrors and strife that ensued. Or so I imagined from the darker crevices of my mind.

Well, having ten kids, six of whom we were given custody of 18 months ago as part of the adoption process, I’ve become one of “them”: after an iIMG_8121nitial flurry of blogs, I recall blogging once in the past 18 months about our return from the airport from Latvia. Now I know what I had before only suspected – it isn’t a desire to hide the horrors of our situation. To the contrary, the Lord has more than answered our prayers and richly blessed our family, as I’ll explain more below. No, it’s just that 24 hours has become much shorter. On the rare events we have any available, uncommitted time at the end of a day – I like to spend it in some form of a semi-vegetative state.

So for those few and far in between who might be considering large group adoption from Latvia, I offer some observations in no particular order from our experience thus far, a few of which may translate to adoptions from orphanages in general:

  1. Our Latvian children loved Ketchup® and sour cream, on EVERYTHING. Now, after 18 months, they simply really like those on most things.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff and they’re all small.karate
  3. Make sure you like your dentist.  Lesley was there at least weekly for about six months.
  4. Karyn Purvis is a huge blessing and resource. Watch her videos and absolutely first thing read her book The Connected Child.
  5. Kids flourish quickly and learn English even faster.
  6. Sanctification.  I wrote previously about how adoption further personalized the Gospel for us.  As I explain further below, in the past year I’ve learned how it also furthers my sanctification.
  7. Everyone has their eyes on the stress of the new kids.  The stress from the changed family dynamics can be more difficult on your biological kids, particularly where the “new” kids outnumber the original kids.  The process was at least equally disruptive to both sets of kids, but nearly all the focus naturally goes to the new kids.
  8. Structure is king a.k.a. we’ve made rules for EVERYTHING! It started about day 3 when we were consuming more than a gallon of milk a day. First new rule: limits on milk consumption.soccer
  9. The common guidance we received was to cocoon our family for most of the first year.  We didn’t do that.  Instead, we signed the new kids up for the same sports our bio kids were doing, which meant a lot of soccer teams, year round swimming, gymnastics, music and martial arts.  It’s worked for us.  With seven boys under one roof and many kids 10 and under (then), the activities gave added structure and plenty of positive outlets for energy.
  10. Our kids have become good friends with each other.
  11. You quickly realize how much you taught your children from the youngest years when contrasted with a child who hasn’t had the same, consistent level of parental involvement.
  12. The second law of sockdynamics: socks trend towards total disappearance. If you think your socks don’t match now, just wait.  Our kids have turned a fashion into mismatched socks.  I also try to only buy black sports socks for my boys since they can be worn with everything and for all occasions and all fairly closely match each other. Lesley also bought laundry bags for each kid to put their socks into, zip shut and keep socks together through the wash dry cycle.  The bags quickly went the way of half the socks: disappeared.
  13. Life is loud at our house.  We live the definition of boys: noise that moves.
  14. All meat is “chicken.”
  15. There are a lot of cool people in the adoption community.Gremlin
  16. Americans are friendly. (Our new kids tell us this.)
  17. Feeding candy to our little new kids was like feeding Gremlins after midnight. For the first year, we purged high fructose corn syrup from our house and greatly limited candy and processed sugar consumption. We also fed them a lot of Omega 3.
  18. Everyone likes Nutella and it makes everything edible and makes anything a dessert.
  19. Christ has cared for us in so many ways through his church.
  20. There are so many special memories.

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So many special memories.

One of our children on their first day in a new Bible study class at church – each child had to tell the class something special about themselves.  Our child proudly told the class he had a Mom and Dad.  The teacher, not familiar with us, looked puzzled.

That same child, soon after arriving with us back to the States, now our child being adopted, was puzzled and perplexed one night at dinner.  He asked earnestly, “Why when we were hosted was everyone nice to us but now they’re not?” I asked him what he meant. He explained that when we hosted them, our biological son Sean of about the same age shared everything with him and was alway pleasant, but now he does not share as much and they sometimes fight when they play.  “Do you fight with Joshua and David [his biological brothers]?” I asked.  “Yes,” he answered, which I knew having seen it often.  “Well,” I explained, “when we hosted, you were a guest in our home.  We are pleasant and tolerant to guests because we know that at some point they are going to leave. That is what it means to be a guest. But you are no longer a guest here.  You are family and Sean is now your brother. Do you see the difference? You are no longer a guest; this is your home and you are family.”  You could see the lightbulb turn on in his young mind as his face  lit up.  He smiled and looked down at his plate so his brothers didn’t see the tears streaming down his cheeks.IMG_8617.JPG

More hugs and kisses now when I come home from work.

One child often voluntarily gets up early and make me an egg sandwich, exactly the way I like it, before I leave for work.

Homeschooling ten children has been quite a challenge, particularly when six of them barely spoke English. Our three youngest had not learned to read at all (even in Latvian) while in Latvia.   To help with the workload, we incentivized the big kids, particularly with teaching the little ones to read.  We had small rewards for different milestones, culminating with our grand prize: a trip to Disney when we felt they had mastered beginner reading by reading through the dozens of early reader Bob books.  All of the kids did a great job and they all learned to read far more quickly than we anticipated.

IMG_5389.JPGThe trip to Disney was magical (and exhausting)!  We were thankful to have our good friends (and personal Disney experts), the Josephsons, with us.

Most importantly, the adoption of our children has brought us closer to our Father in heaven. We find God most when we come to the ends of ourselves.  Adoption brings me further outside myself and my natural limits, and thankfully beyond my abilities I find more of Christ and far less of me.  When I married my beautiful bride LesleIMG_4745.JPGy, there was a paradigm shift – living with and for someone beyond just myself.  I was not a Christian when I met Lesley so it was a paradigm shift.  Having children was another paradigm shift.  Not only did it deepen my comprehension of a deeper love (and a better understanding of the Gospel – the intimate, painful nature of a father sacrificing his son), but it also brought me into regular contact with my weaknesses and failings.  Parenting is good at that in my experience.  Adoption even more so.  I have found it somewhat ironic that “outsiders” sometimes tell us they see us as special servants because we adopted a group of kids.  Maybe that’s so, however, having ten kids has caused me to realize what a wretch I am in the flesh and how I am in need of a savior and in need of the strength of Christ in my daily walk.  It has been humbling.  Which is a good thing.PIX

If you are interested in hosting, see here, here (play the video!), and here. There are a lot of children out there yearning for a family, for a mother and father to love and protect them. If interested in adoption, see here. I encourage you login into these sites and view the pictures of the many children and read their stories.  If you are considering hosting or adoption, pray hard and trust God. It will not be easy, but you will be glad you did. He will provide.

God is great.

 

February 7, 2016

The Stranger on the Shore

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 5:46 pm

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He had still not recovered.

But how could anyone recover from what he went through?

Peter’s world had turned upside-down over the last three weeks.

Three weeks ago, Peter was at the top of the world. He had traveled to Jerusalem with his teacher and close friend, the greatest man he knew. He had seen his teacher heal blind men and silence his enemies. When they entered Jerusalem three weeks ago [12], the entire city burst with excitement! Peter had known that his teacher was the rightful king and surely he would set up his kingdom now (see here and here).

Peter was with his teacher on that fateful Thursday night when, over dinner, his teacher announced that there was a traitor in their midst. This was not a time for celebration nor excitement. Their teacher was going to leave them (see here).

Peter knew that he would do anything for his teacher. He would fight for him and he would die for him. His teacher had told Peter that he would run away, but Peter protested. His teacher may be smart, but he did not understand Peter’s loyalty. Peter would never leave him!

Peter remembered that night, when they left the room and walked outside the city. He could still see the large crowd that met them on that dark night, two weeks ago. The priests, their servants, and 600 soldiers were all being guided by one of Peter’s own friends (see here). 

Peter had taken up a sword to defend his teacher. He would fight to the death for him! But Peter was a fisherman, not a soldier. He only succeeded in injuring a servant and was humiliated. He watched the soldiers drag his teacher away as he skulked away in fright.

Most of his other friends had run away, but Peter and John had gathered enough courage to follow the soldiers at a distance. He followed them to the High Priest’s palace and watched his teacher’s trial from the courtyard (see here).

Peter huddled in the crowd of servants where he could see the proceedings from a distance. He would never forget being questioned by the servants, how they were certain that Peter must be a friend of that prisoner. The servants confronted Peter three times, and three times Peter denied any knowledge or association with this teacher.

Peter saw his loyalty disappear in the face of fear. He saw his teacher beaten by the Jewish authorities. He saw the Roman soldiers bind him and subject him to inhuman torture. He saw his teacher hang on Roman cross for six hours until he died alone (see here and here).

He remembered early Sunday morning, when Mary came running in with news. She had gone to the teacher’s tomb and someone had taken the body! Peter and John had raced to the tomb, observing the scene. They saw the empty grave clothes and realized why the tomb was empty – the teacher was alive! He had come back to life! (see here)

Jesus told the disciples, on several occasions, that He would die and rise again. But they had been slow to understand Him. They did not believe Him until they saw Him in person.

Peter had seen Jesus, his teacher, three times since he had come back to life. Jesus had met with him personally that Sunday (see here). That Sunday night, Peter was with many of the the other disciples when Jesus appeared in the middle of the group gathering (see here). Finally, Jesus appeared to the disciples again on the following Monday (see here).

Jesus had instructed the disciples to go to Galilee where He would meet with them (see here). Peter and the other disciples traveled back to the northern region, Peter’s home territory.

We can only guess the thoughts that were going through Peter’s mind as he made the long journey back up north. Although he was glad to see his risen Lord, it could not erase the guilt and humiliation that Peter had felt when he denied him. Jesus had told Peter that he would run away, but Peter was sure that He was wrong. The other disciples may run away, but he would never leave Him! The others did not love Him like Peter did!

But now, this was a different Peter. He was now a broken man, who could only look back at how wrong he was. He had tried and failed. Now what could he do? Now that he was back home, Peter leaned on what he knew best. He went back to fishing.

Six other disciples joined him, and together they spent the night on the lake. Their night was been a failure. After fishing all night, they did not catch a single fish.

But there, in the morning mist, they saw a stranger on the shore. He called out to them, “Have you caught any fish?” They had been fishing all night with nothing to show for it. “Put your nets on the other side of the boat”, replies the stranger. The men obeyed, if for no other reason than that they had nothing else to lose.

On the other side of the boat, they found so many fish that they could not pull the nets back in! John was the first to realize what was happening. The same thing had happened once before, and John shouted out excitedly, “It is the Lord!”

Upon this realization, Peter stopped his fishing, put on his coat, and leaped into the water! Peter swam to the shore while the others followed in the boat.

Peter found Jesus waiting for him, with a fish grilling on a charcoal fire at the shore. There were no lectures or warnings. The other disciples joined them from the boat, as Jesus gave only an invitation, “Come and have breakfast.”

Jesus looked of the other disciples, then he looked at Peter. “Do you love me more than these?” Peter had claimed earlier that that he was more devoted to Jesus than the other disciples. Now Jesus asked him if he really believed that he has a greater love that the others.

Peter’s response showed that, possibly for the first time, he was humbled. He knew that he did not have a greater love than the others. He could not promise to love Jesus fully as he should. But he did love his Lord, and he knew that Jesus knows it.

Jesus repeated the question three times. “Do you love me?” Three times, Peter replied that Jesus knew that that he loved Him. All three times, Jesus told Peter, “Since you love me, take care of my sheep.”

Jesus had one more instruction for Peter. Peter had said earlier that he was ready to die for Him. Jesus told Peter that when he is old, he will die as a martyr for God. But with this promise also came the instruction: when everything gets crazy, just keep on following me.

Keep on following me!

Don’t worry about being in control of your own life. Don’t worry about what is going to happen to the others. Just keep on following me!

 

Remember!

  • Be encouraged! This story is about Peter’s restoration. As Jesus restored Peter from his failures, so he can restore us when we fail.
  • Do we love Jesus? Before we can give anything else to Jesus, we need to give Him our love!
  • Follow Him! When life is out of our control, we keep following Him. Don’t worry about others, but only focus on Him!

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

 

Previous post: He is Risen!

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January 2, 2016

He is Risen!

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 1:00 am

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1 Corinthians 15:3-7
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

 

1 Corinthians 15:14-15
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

 

“Had the body of the Lord Jesus Christ never come forth from the tomb, it would have been silent evidence that He was either a deceiver or deceived when He declared that He was to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He would have been simply another martyr to what He believed to be the truth, or else to His own ambitions.” – H.A. Ironside [14]

Jesus Christ came to earth and lived among mankind for about 33 years. He taught people, healed the sick, and led a small group of disciples. He was arrested by His countrymen and crucified by the Romans. His friends took His lifeless body and laid Him in a new tomb.

If that was the entire story, it would make for a compelling biography. It would be the story about a good man who met a tragic ending.

But the story of Jesus Christ is so much more. He did not die as a tragic martyr on the Roman cross. He willingly, intentionally gave up His own life so that He could free mankind from the penalty of sin. When He cried, “It is finished!”, he permanently removed the barrier that separated us from God (see here and here).

But the story of Jesus Christ is even more than that! Close friends laid His lifeless body in the tomb on Friday evening, expecting never to see Him again. The Sabbath was quickly approaching, so they could not properly prepare the body for burial. They wrapped His body and covered Him with spices as was the custom, but they had to wait until after the Sabbath to complete the burial rites.

Jesus had led eleven faithful disciples, but they were now gone. Jesus had sent John to take care of His mother (see here), and the others had run away in fear. Only the faithful women stayed with Jesus through His death and burial.

As soon as the Sabbath was over (Saturday evening), these women bought and prepared the burial spices. They brought the spices to the tomb early on Sunday morning so that they could open the tomb and finish preparing the body.

Little did the women know what was happening at the very time. Jesus Himself came back to life with a new body that was no longer damaged! He slipped through his wrapped grave clothes and left the sealed tomb.

No one saw Jesus rise from the dead, but the soldiers on guard witnessed the dramatic events that followed! With a great earthquake, an angel descended from heaven and threw back the great stone.

The women would not know of these events until afterward. When they came to the tomb, the great stone was thrown back, the soldiers had run away, and the body was gone!

One of the women, Mary Magdalene, quickly left to tell the disciples. The other women stayed long enough to notice two angels sitting inside the tomb. The message of the angels was “Jesus is not here — He has risen!”

The account of the women

The women who had come early on Sunday morning to prepare the body were met with a surprise when they came to the tomb. The stone had been thrown aside and the body was gone! Mary Magdalene abruptly left the group to go report to the disciples while the other women lingered at the tomb.

The women encountered two angels at the tomb. The angels instructed them that Jesus had risen and to go tell the disciples. The women then returned to the disciples who did not believe them.

Jesus appeared to the women and greeted them after they left the disciples. They fell at His feet in worship and Jesus repeated the instructions that were given by the angels. They were to tell the brethren to go to Galilee where Jesus will meet with them.

 

The account of Mary Magdalene

Mary left the tomb, and ran to tell Peter and John that the body was gone. Unlike the other women, Mary never saw the angels, nor did she hear the news that He had risen. She believed that the body had been taken, possibly by the gardener.

Mary followed Peter and John to the tomb and waited outside while they investigated the scene. The men left while she stayed behind to grieve. She had followed the Lord Jesus since he had saved her from a life of demon possession. She followed him through His ministry in Galilee and when He went up to Jerusalem. She had stayed with Him through His six hours of agony on the cross, and she was standing near Him as He bowed His head in death.

She had followed Joseph and Nicodemus as they hastily removed His body from the cross and prepared Him for burial. She watched as they wrapped Him in linen cloths and covered His body with burial spices. She saw them lay Him in the tomb on Friday evening and she saw Joseph roll the great stone over the doorway.

Mary was one of the first women to the tomb on Sunday morning, and she may have led the other women. This was the last chance that she had to show her love to her departed Lord. She had personally seen that the body was missing and had run to tell Peter and John.

But now she was back at the tomb. Alone! There is no way to know how she handled the ordeal over the past three days, but now she gives full vent to her grief and despair. She sobs uncontrollably.

In the midst of her tears, Mary looks down into the tomb. To her surprise, there are two men (angels) in white, sitting where the body should have been. The angels ask why she was sobbing, and she tells them that they have taken the body and she does not know where.

Turning around, Mary notices that a man is standing behind her. The man asks the same question, “Why are you sobbing?” She does not recognize the man and expects that he must be the gardener. Perhaps he has removed the body? Through her tears, she blurts out, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

The man calls her by name, “Mary”. In the instant of recognition, she knows it is Him! He is alive! She yells out “My teacher!” as she runs to Him and desperately throws her arms around Him.

But Jesus has a message for her. “Stop clutching me like I am going to disappear. I am not ready to return yet. But go, and tell the good news to the others.”

 

The account of Peter (and John)

Peter was one of Jesus’ closest companions during His life, yet he was missing during Jesus’ death. Peter had followed John into the High Priest’s courtyard, yet it was there that Peter denied ever knowing Jesus. The narrative last shows Peter as a broken man, leaving the courtyard in tears as he realized his guilt (see here).

John was with Jesus at His crucifixion, and Jesus sent John away to take care of His mother (see here).

Mary Magdalene knew exactly where to find both Peter and John on Sunday morning. She brought the news that the tomb was empty. People must have taken the body and they do not know where He is. Peter and John ran immediately to the tomb.

John ran ahead of Peter and reaching the tomb first, he looked in to see the empty grave clothes. Peter followed and went into the tomb, observing that the grave clothes were folded but empty. The head cloth was neatly folded up in a place by itself.

Jesus had told them that He would rise from the dead but they had not understood. But now, looking at the empty grave clothes, they saw and believed. They knew that He had risen!

Jesus is beginning to restore Peter. He is bringing Peter from the broken, impetuous man to become the leader of His church. First, Jesus offered forgiveness. The angel specifically told the women to announce to Peter that He had risen. We also know that Jesus personally appeared to Peter (see here and here). Peter no longer needs to carry the guilt of denying His Lord.

 

The account of the disciples

Jesus had personally met with Mary, the other women, and to Peter. The disciples continued to gather together, yet they were not convinced of His resurrection.

As the disciples were gathered, Jesus himself suddenly appeared among them, saying “Peace to you!” They were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. But Jesus showed them that He was very much alive and real. He showed them His scars from the cross. They could touch Him and He breathed on them. Finally, Jesus ate before them, showing that He was really there.

 

The account of Thomas

Thomas was absent on the Sunday evening when Jesus met with the disciples. Thomas was skeptical when he heard that Jesus was alive. He insisted that he could not believe that Jesus had risen until he saw and touched Jesus himself.

Eight days later, Thomas had his chance to see Jesus in person. Thomas was with disciples as they were gathered together again. Jesus personally joined them and invited Thomas to touch the scars in his hands and side. Thomas no longer doubted, but cried out, “My Lord and My God!”

“Doubt says, ‘I cannot believe’. Unbelief says, ‘I will not believe’”. – Warren Wiersbe [5]

 

John’s Conclusion

These experiences are only a few of the many people who were impacted by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do not have many details about the resurrection itself, but we have a lot of detail about those who were affected by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

John concludes with a summary, not only of the resurrection itself but of His entire book:

John 20:30-31

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

“What a difference it made when the full realization of His resurrection took hold of them! For Mary Magdalene it meant moving from tears to joy (John 20:1-18), for the ten disciples it meant going from fear to courage (John 20:19-23), and for Thomas it meant moving from doubt to assurance (John 20:24-31). With Mary, the emphasis is on love; with the ten, the emphasis is on hope; and with Thomas, the emphasis is on faith.” – Warren Wiersbe [5]

 

Previous post: It is Finished!

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December 13, 2015

It is Finished!

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 1:07 pm

paid-in-full

(Photo from preceptaustin)

 

In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan tells of a man who was attached to a heavy burden. The man could not remove this burden and it grew heavier as his life wore on. Every time he disobeyed God, whether it be a wrong deed or a bad thought, made his burden heavier.

Then the man was brought to the cross. As he came to the cross, his burden fell off and rolled away, never to be seen again.

The story in an analogy of our lives. Every bad thought, every wrong action, builds for us a burden that we cannot bear. Our sins will consume us. Yet Jesus himself took all of our burdens at the cross. He took the guilt of all of our sins during three hours of darkness.

Jesus was arrested by his own countrymen and given to the Romans to be killed. The man who had no sin was subjected to unbearable shame, torture, and disgrace. He was then sentenced to die like a criminal between two robbers.

During the first three hours of his execution, Jesus forgave the soldiers who were dividing up his belongings. He forgave the robber next to him and promised him that he will be with Him in Paradise. He cared for His earthly family and left his mother in the care of his faithful disciple.

At noon, the sky became dark for three hours. No words were recorded during this time and Jesus was left in silence. But this was the bitterness of the cross. God the Father, who could not look on sin, turned away from his own son. There on the cross, Jesus took the penalty for all of our sins. All the sins of the past, all the sins of the present, and all the sins of the future.

The burden of sin was taken away.

Then, in the darkness, a cry broke the silence. It is the voice of Jesus crying out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” This was a direct quote, in the original Hebrew, from the ancient Psalm of the Messiah (Psalm 22:1). Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The people only paid attention to the first words, “Eli, Eli”, thinking that Jesus was calling out for Elijah. They believed the legend that Elijah would come down and rescue a righteous man. Therefore they believed that Jesus must be crying out for Elijah to come and help Him.

But His voice called out again, softer this time. His parched voice called out to the soldiers, “I am thirsty!” Jesus had one more thing to say and he needed all His voice to say it.

The soldiers took a sponge and dipped it into the sour wine that they had nearby. Putting the sponge at the end of a branch, they raised it to His lips so that he could drink it.

Summoning up all of His strength for his last words, Jesus shouted out, “It is finished!” It is done. The task is completed. The debt has been paid in full!

Then, with his last breath, Jesus said, “Father, if your hands I commit my spirit”. The scripture only says that he breathed his last.

Jesus Christ, the only perfect man who ever lived, now was dead.

But with his death, the burden was removed. Everything that we did against God has been paid for. We are no longer guilty.

The temple curtain was torn in half at the death of Jesus Christ. No longer are we separated from God. No longer do we need a priest to speak to God in our behalf. The curtain that separated the people from God has now been removed with the death of his son.

There was an earthquake at the death of Jesus and people came alive out of their tombs.  The same soldiers that put Jesus on the cross and divided up His clothes were terrified by the sight. Their centurion spoke for them all, echoing the sign over Jesus’ head, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

All that Jesus said and did on earth was concluded with the final statement, “It is finished!“

“In this word, ‘It is finished!’, will I comfort myself.  I am forced to confess that all my finishing of the will of God is imperfect, piecemeal work, while yet the law urges on me that no so much as one tittle of it must remain unaccomplished.  Christ is the end of the law.  What it requires, Christ has performed.” – Martin Luther

 

Colossians 2:13-15
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev’ry bitter thought,
Ev’ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.  

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
“Finished!” the vict’ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

– Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

Previous post: The First Three Hours

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November 29, 2015

The First Three Hours

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:58 pm

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In the first century A.D., The Roman empire stretched across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. This was a time of peace, called the Pax Romana, where the Roman government was able to manage all of the various languages and cultures under its single rule.

However, the thought of revolution terrified the Roman government. Rome needed to control a massive empire with a much smaller force. Any revolts in the Roman provinces could cause a disaster. The Roman governors in various provinces must keep the peace at all costs!

Rome’s most effective way to keep peace in the provinces was through fear and intimidation. Any man who was caught trying to revolt against Rome would be made an example. He would be subjected to one of the most cruel, lingering, and public executions ever devised by mankind: the crucifixion [5].

Crucifixion was invented by the Assyrians and the Persians as a way to execute a condemned criminal away from their “mother earth” [6]. However, the Romans had taken and perfected the crucifixion into a hideous instrument of torture and death.

According to Josephus, more than a thousand people were crucified by Rome on 33 A.D. [9]. By that year, the Romans had also crucified more than 3,000 men in Palestine alone [10].

The crucifixion was intended to be cruel [5]. The shame and the horror that were dealt on the victim were more than we can even imagine. The victim was first scourged, being beaten so severely that his back was cut open, exposing raw flesh (see here). The victim himself would carry the wooden crossbeam through the city to the place of execution. At the place of execution, the soldiers would remove the victim’s clothes, then drive large nails through the victim’s wrists, nailing him to the crossbeam [7]. Soldiers would then lift the crossbeam onto a permanent post (about 6 feet tall). Finally, another large spike would be driven through the victim’s feet and into the post.

The crucifixion was so painful that the word “excruciating” came from this experience. The crucifixion was so shameful that proper folk would not use this word in public [6].

“There is one difference between a guillotine and a cross: the guillotine was designed to be merciful; the cross was designed to be hideously cruel.” – Doug Bookman [5]

The crucifixion was intended to be lingering. A person cannot properly breathe when suspended by his arms, but the Romans placed a wooden seat, or “sedulum” on the cross. This allowed the victim to push himself up to breathe, but it also prolonged the agony for up to a week [6]. The victims would finally die from shock, blood loss, exposure, predators, or suffocation. The soldiers could hasten the victim’s death by breaking his legs, thereby forcing the victim to quickly suffocate to death.

The crucifixion was also public. The Romans would place the crucified victims on a low hill outside the city gates, where people would commonly pass. Everyone who passed by and looked at the dying victims on the crosses would be afraid to go against the power of Rome.

Finally, the crucifixion was a guaranteed death. The attending Roman soldiers needed to personally guarantee that the victim was dead before he was removed from the cross. If there was any life left in the victim after he was removed from the cross, every one of the attending soldiers would be put on crosses.

When Jesus humbled Himself and came to earth, he chose this death, the death by crucifixion, in order to pay for the sin of all mankind!

Philippians 2:5-8
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

“Christ was on the point of making atonement for sin, therefore sin must be revealed in all its enormity.” – A. W. Pink [8]

It was customary for four Roman soldiers to be assigned to a prisoner that was sentenced to crucifixion. We have no reason to believe that it was any different for Jesus’ crucifixion. The four soldiers would tie the prisoner’s arms to the crossbeam and lead him through the city streets to the place of execution. They would carry a sign containing the list of the prisoner’s crimes for all to see.

The sign for Jesus had only one statement, written in three languages, “The King of the Jews”. This so infuriated the Jewish leaders that the immediately petitioned Pontius Pilate to have this sign changed. Pilate refused.

Pilate surely intended for his sign to show that “This is the best of the Jews, and he is no match for Rome!”, or “This is the best of the Jews, and they want to kill him!”. Little did Pilate know that this sign would be the first written notice of who Jesus truly was.

At some point along the way, Jesus was unable to carry the crossbeam at the pace for the Romans. The soldiers pressed a passing traveler, Simon of Cyrene, into carrying the crossbeam for Jesus.

They led Jesus from Herod’s palace to the north of the city, the “place of the skull”, or Golgotha. Once they reached Golgotha, they stripped Him of His clothes and nailed His wrists to the crossbeam. They then placed the crossbeam on the post and completed the crucifixion by nailing his feet to the cross.

It was 9:00 a.m.

The four soldiers divided up Jesus’ personal belongings among themselves. One took His turban, another His outer cloak, another His belt, and the last one took His shoes. Jesus had a seamless inner tunic which could not be divided so they gambled for it. Little did these pagan Roman soldiers know that they helped to fulfil a thousand-year-old prophecy about the Messiah:

Psalm 22:18:
They divide my garments among them,
   and for my clothing they cast lots.

Jesus was silent during this time but now He spoke. Looking at the Roman soldiers dividing up His clothing, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. He did not just say it once, but repeatedly. For every roll of the “dice”, as they fought over His clothes, Jesus repeated, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

Jesus was now the public spectacle. He was soon taunted by all of the people who passed by. The travelers taunted Him, believing that He was going to destroy the temple. The Jewish leaders made a special trip from the temple to counter Pilate’s sign, and now followed the travelers in their own taunts of Jesus on the cross. The Roman soldiers, on duty for the crucifixion, also joined in the same taunts at Him.

But Jesus was not alone. He was crucified between two robbers, who also joined in the chorus of taunts against Him. Even the men condemned to die threw the same abuse at Him!

One of the robbers stopped his taunting and looked at the sign above Jesus. He knew that Jesus was innocent and he read the sign saying that He is the king of the Jews. He looked at the sign and believed.

He then stopped the other robber from his taunting, “Do you not fear God? We deserve our punishment but this man has done nothing wrong!” Then, turning to Jesus, he said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied to the robber with His second statement from the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” The robber who repented would be with Jesus that day!

There was one final scene during the first three hours on the cross. A small group of faithful women were standing near the cross, including Mary, Jesus’ mother. Jesus’ third statement from the cross was to give his mother to the care of the disciple John.

It was three hours since Jesus was nailed to the cross at Golgotha. In the eyes of the world around Him, He was simply a Roman prisoner who was executed that day. He showed no power, nor did He defend Himself against the crowds of people who abused Him.

But in the midst of the agony and the shame, He made three very personal statements:

  • Forgiveness for the ignorant men who caused His pain
  • A way to heaven for the wicked man who believed in Him
  • Care for the faithful ones who stood with Him

May we learn to love and appreciate the sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He gave Himself so that we may live.

May we thank Him as we identify with the different groups of people around the cross, that we would ask for forgiveness and be faithful to Him.

May we let Him be our example as we endure suffering in our world. He committed Himself to the all-knowing God (1 Peter 2:23-25).

On a gray April morning as a chilling wind blew
A thousand dark promises were about to come true
As Satan stood trembling, knowing now he had lost
As the Lamb took his first step on the way to the cross

They mocked his true calling and laughed at His fate
So glad to see the Gentle One consumed by their hate
Unaware of the wind and the darkening sky
So blind to the fact that it was God limping by

The poor women weeping at what seemed a great loss
Trembling in fear there at the foot of the cross
Tormented by memories that came like a flood
Unaware that their pardon
Must be bought with His blood

This must be the Lamb
The fulfillment of all God had spoken
This must be the Lamb
Not a single bone will be broken
Like a sheep to the slaughter
So silently still
This must be the Lamb

– Michael Card

Previous Post: Before the Governor

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November 15, 2015

Before the Governor

Filed under: theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 2:14 pm

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During the Roman time of peace in the first century (the Pax Romana), Rome would allow the provinces a level of self-government. This self-government allowed vassal kings to rule over their own provinces as long as they swore allegiance to Rome.

Herod (also known as Herod the Great) ruled all of Palestine until his death in 4 BC. After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided among his three sons: Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip. Philip ruled the regions to the East, Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea, while Archelaus ruled Judea and Samaria.

Archelaus proved to be the worst of the three sons. He was corrupt and inefficient and by 6 AD, the Jews had begged Rome to replace him. The Romans removed Archelaus and replaced him with a series of governors (also known as procurators). These governors were Roman commanders who were responsible for governing the regions and reporting to Rome.

The Roman governor over Judea from 26-36 A.D. was a man by the name of Pontius Pilate. Pilate had problems with the Jews from the start. On three separate occasions, Pilate had caused such a riot among the Jews that Rome had to directly intervene [6].

On the first occasion, it was customary for the Roman governor to enter the city with his banners and the Roman standard, consisting of an eagle and the bust of Tiberius Caesar. The Jews would not allow the bust of Caesar, believing that the image of the emperor was an idol. Previous governors had obliged the Jews by removing the bust of Caesar, but Pilate refused.

The Jews followed Pilate through the streets of Jerusalem, begging him to remove the image of Caesar. They then followed him back to his home in Caesarea and pursued him for five days, protesting the image. Finally, Pilate brought all of the Jews into the amphitheater, surrounded them with soldiers and demanded that they stop their protest. The Jews all bared their necks and told Pilate to go ahead and kill them. Pilate was defeated. He knew that he could not massacre these Jews without getting in trouble with Rome so he had to back down and remove the image of Caesar.

On another occasion, Pilate needed funds to build a new aqueduct into Jerusalem, so he raided the temple treasury. The furious Jews rioted and Pilate sent his soldiers among them, dressed in common clothes. Upon his signal, the soldiers pulled out their swords and began to kill the Jews around them. The massacre of the Jews reported in Luke 13:1 may have been from this occasion.

On a third occasion, Pilate had shields hung in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. The shields had the picture of the emperor, which the Jews believed to be an idol. The Jews protested the images to Caesar and Pilate was ordered to take them down.

The Roman governor had two jobs: collect taxes and keep the peace [1]. Tiberius Caesar cared little about what happened in the provinces as long as the money and stability remained consistent. But the governor was in trouble if the revenue stopped or if Rome needed to send in troops to crush a revolt.

Pilate was already in trouble with Rome because of the Jewish revolts under his leadership. His position in Rome was even more tenuous since his sponsor in Rome had been executed shortly before the trial of Jesus Christ. Pilate knew well that one more problem would cause him to lose his position and likely his own life.

This was the context when the Jewish leaders brought their prisoner to Pontius Pilate. Pilate’s home was in Caesarea, but he came to Jerusalem to oversee the city during the Passover celebration. It was there, at Pilate’s temporary abode in Herod’s palace [7], in the early morning hours that the priests came to him with their case.

The Jewish leaders had tried their prisoner but they needed the Romans to execute him (see here). They wanted Pilate to order this man’s crucifixion.

This trial was no surprise to Pilate. Pilate was holding court in the early morning hours (probably about 4:30 a.m.) out on the pavement in front of his residence. The Jewish leaders must have prepared him that they would be bringing Jesus to him.

“What are the charges?”, asked the governor.

The Jewish leaders responded that they would not have brought the man if he was not guilty. When pressed further, they brought a list of charges including misleading the nation and claiming that He was a king.

The charge of being a king got the governor’s attention. The Romans feared any types of insurrection in the provinces and there was no room for a new king. But Pilate was also suspicious of the Jews. He took Jesus away for a private conversation, asking him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus’ response unnerved Pilate. “Are you asking this for yourself or you only interested in the charges?” Pilate seemed to dismiss the question as an issue for the Jews. But Jesus continued, “My kingdom is not of this world”. In other words, “My kingdom does not come by force”. He is not going to start a war with Rome. His kingdom is a kingdom of truth.

Pilate emerged from the private conversation announcing that Jesus was not guilty. He would declare Jesus’ innocence five times during this trial. Furthermore, two additional witnesses testified to Jesus’ innocence: Herod Antipas and Pilate’s wife.

Pilate realized that he was in a difficult position. He knew that the Jewish leaders demanded that he execute an innocent man. If he gave in to them, he would have violated Roman justice and empowered his enemies. He was interested in hearing about this man, but he could not afford a riot from the Jews by setting Him free.

Pilate then began a series of attempts to free Jesus without starting a riot from the Jews. Any riot would bring swift retribution back to him from Rome.

 

First Attempt: Send Jesus to Herod

Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee. Gallilee was Herod’s (Herod Antipas’) jurisdiction and Herod was also in Jerusalem at that time. Pilate sent him to Herod. Perhaps this could become Herod’s problem. Not only would this absolve Pilate of any blame, but the Jews had less power over Herod. Herod would be free to render judgement with much less pressure from the Jews.

Herod looked forward to meeting Jesus but was soon disappointed. Jesus did not perform any miracles, nor did he reply to any of Herod’s questions. Herod and his soldiers mocked Him, put him in a fancy robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.

 

Second Attempt: Compromise with the Jewish Leaders

Pilate called together the leaders of the people and announced that neither he nor Herod had found Jesus guilty. Pilate offered a compromise. He found the man innocent, yet he offered to punish Him and release Him.

Luke’s gospel account says that the Jewish priests and elders would not change their mind. Jesus must be killed.

 

Third Attempt: Trade Jesus for a Criminal

The Jews had a tradition of freeing one prisoner at Passover. Pilate attempted a shrewd political move by offering to release a criminal for this Passover. He appealed to the Jewish people, who were enamored with Jesus, and gave them two choices for a prisoner to release.

He could either release Jesus or Barabbas. Barabbas was a known robber, insurrectionist, and a murderer. Surely the people would want to release Jesus over this man!

But the priests and the elders had influenced the people. When Pilate presented them with the question, they all shouted to release Barabbas and have Jesus crucified!

 

Fourth Attempt: Appease the mob with torture and humiliation

Pilate had Jesus scourged. This horrible beating was the first step of the Roman execution. The goal of the scourging was to cut open the prisoner’s back in order to maximize the pain and agony when hung on a wooden cross.

After Jesus was scourged, the Roman soldiers twisted together thorn branches in order to form a mock crown. They pushed the thorns on to his head and placed a purple robe on his bleeding back. The soldiers then mocked Him, pretending that he was a king, and hitting Him with their hands.

Pilate then presented the bleeding and bruised Jesus to the people, still in His crown of thorns and purple robe. Pilate said, “Behold the man!”. Surely this man is no threat!

Pilate even tried to reason with the crowd but they only became more agitated. They shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!”

 

Response by Jesus

The Jews told Pilate that Jesus must die because according to their law, He was guilty of blasphemy. He made Himself out to be the Son of God.

Pilate brought Jesus into the headquarters for another private conversation. Pilate was looking for an answer from Jesus that would help release Him, but Jesus was silent.

Jesus replied to Pilate that the only authority over Him had been granted by God Himself. The most wicked one is not Pilate but the high priest (Caiaphas) who had brought Him to Pilate and demanded His death.

 

Threats by the Jews

Pilate tried to release Jesus after talking with Him, but the Jews made a final threat. They would report Pilate to Caesar if he released Jesus. Pilate knew that he was already in trouble with Rome, and so he gave in.

Pilate took water and washed his hands before the crowd. He used the same ritual from the Old Testament for an unsolved murder to say that he was free from the guilt of this man. The Jews quickly jumped in to accept any guilt for Jesus’ death.

Jesus was handed over to the Roman soldiers for further torture and abuse while they prepared for the crucifixion.

 

Remember!

Jesus was our example for how to answer for our faith:

1 Timothy 6:13-16

I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

“Either the blood of Jesus is on our hands, or the blood of Jesus covers our hearts” – Stephen Davey [8]

 

Previous Post: Before the High Priest

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November 7, 2015

Before the High Priest

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 9:56 pm

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It was Thursday night before the Passover. At some time after midnight, Judas had led the temple guards and the Roman soldiers up the slopes of the Mount of Olives to where they found Jesus. There it was that the entire crowd fell down when this Rabbi called upon the name of God. There it was that one of His disciples charged into the crowd with a sword, severing a servant’s ear. There it was that Jesus healed the man’s ear and made His disciples leave (see here).

The soldiers bound Jesus and took Him back to the high priest’s palace in the city of Jerusalem. There, at the palace, were two of the most powerful men in Judea. Annas was the former high priest who had been deposed by the Romans. But Annas still directed the religious leadership in Jerusalem and he had placed in his own son-in-law, Caiaphas, in the position of high priest (see here).

Annas and Caiaphas had been trying for several months to capture Jesus and now they had him! They had successfully hired one of Jesus’ own disciples to turn Him in. They desperately wanted to kill him, and now all they needed to do was convene a trial so that He could be executed.

As Jesus was being brought into the palace, they hurriedly gathered the ruling council (the Sanhedrin) so that they could get a guilty verdict. It was imperative that they finish this trial and execution before morning. The crowds had shouted His praises when He entered Jerusalem (see here) and they may not like to see their prophet on trial. No one wanted a riot.

Everything about this trial was illegal. It was done hastily, without proper witnesses, without a defense, at night, and the only evidence they could find was a forced confession (see here).

Jesus’ eleven disciples had all scattered at his arrest. Two of these disciples, Peter and John, had apparently gathered enough courage to follow Jesus to the high priest’s palace. John knew the high priest, so he was able to gain entrance to the courtyard for both himself and Peter. There, from this courtyard, Peter could watch the events of Jesus’s trial unfold.

Jesus was first brought to Annas while Caiaphas gathered the Sanhedrin. Annas began to question Jesus, looking for an admission of guilt. Jesus simply answered that he had done nothing in secret. He was telling Annas that if he had charges against him, he needed to bring forth witnesses. The priest’s attendant struck Jesus (literally, punched him in the face) for his response, but even that did not cause Jesus to react in anger. Annas could find nothing incriminating against Jesus, so he sent Him to Caiaphas.

Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard, looking for a place to warm himself in the cold night air. The guards and servants huddled around a small fire. Peter may have been reflecting on the night’s events. He had single-handedly attacked a Roman cohort of 600 men, failing miserably! Now his master was being arrested and tried by wicked men, and all he could do was watch!

Just then, the voice of a servant girl broke through to Peter’s thoughts. “You’re not one of them, are you?”, she asked. This was not the place to make a scene; it would accomplish nothing. Why couldn’t she just leave him alone?

We can only guess at what Peter was thinking, but we know his reaction. He quickly snapped to the servant girl, “I am not!”

Meanwhile, the trial of Jesus moved to the next stage. Annas could not find any charges against Him, and he was brought before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had hastily gathered in the night so that they could form an indictment against this man. They needed two reliable witnesses to charge Him with a crime, but they could not even hire witnesses who would agree! The closest that they could come was when two witnesses claimed that Jesus had said that He would destroy their great temple. But even these witnesses were inconsistent and unreliable.

Jesus kept silent throughout this entire trial. There was no value to speaking in this mock trial, but Jesus also knew the prophecy:

Isaiah 53:7
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
   yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he opened not his mouth.

Finally, Caiaphas spoke out in frustration. The morning was coming soon and they still did not have any charges against this man. Caiaphas demanded with an oath that Jesus answer them. “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”

Jesus replied, “I am, and I will come back and judge you with the authority of God himself!” Jesus had answered them very directly. He was the Messiah, the king of the Jews. But he also was God. He made it absolutely clear that the only charge against Him was blasphemy. They wanted to kill Him because He said that He was God!

The high priest tore his robes in the feigned horror. “What further witnesses do we need! You have heard it yourselves!” The council replied, “He deserves death!”

Then the members of the high council themselves descended on Jesus, beating Him, spitting on Him, and ridiculing Him. The ones who accused Him of blasphemy now blasphemed His holy name!

The Sanhedrin could not execute a man. They needed to bring Him to the Romans with their charges. But they had conducted this trial in the middle of the night, and they knew that the Romans would never agree to such a mockery of justice. They needed to wait until the morning light in order to give some legitimacy to their affairs before they could bring Him to the Romans.

Therefore, they put Jesus in holding (probably a dungeon or a cellar) until the first light of morning.

Meanwhile, Peter escaped the crowd from the courtyard and had moved to the entranceway of the high priest’s palace. He took little notice of the rooster crowing as he approached the entrance. Peter’s solitude was not to last long. Another servant girl identified him, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” Peter answered the crowd with an oath, “ I swear I do not know the man!”

Peter made his way back to the courtyard. An hour passed before Peter was identified for a third time. This time, it was one of the relatives of the servant of the high priest, the very man whom Peter had removed from his ear earlier that night.

The accusations were much stronger and much more specific this time. The servant’s relative remembered him on the Mount of Olives. They all noticed his speech, that he spoke with a Galilean accent. Surely he must be one of Jesus’ disciples!

Peter responded in terror. The account says that he pronounced a curse on himself lest he lie, and swore (affirm with an oath) that he did not know the man!

At the same time that this is happening, dawn is just beginning to break. The Sanhedrin have sent to bring Jesus back from the dungeon so they can finish the trial. As they led Jesus through the courtyard, Peter was in the middle of his oaths, shouting that he did not know the man! Just then the rooster crows, announcing the dawn.

Jesus simply looked at Peter. Peter was crushed! Possibly for the first time that night, Peter realized how far he has fallen. The account simply says that Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Now that dawn is coming, the Sanhedrin brought Jesus back to ask Him again if He was the Messiah. He did not answer them until they asked if He is the Messiah and the Son of God. It is not enough for them to accuse Jesus of simply being the Messiah. He is not going to trial as a usurper, but it must be clear that they are charging Him as a blasphemer. He said that He was God, and that is why they want to kill Him! [1]

 

Remember!

  • The lesson from Peter – we often prepare for the big battles yet fall for the small things. We are ready to fight Roman soldiers but fall when questioned by a servant girl!
  • Peter recognized his failure and repented. What makes a disciple is how we we repent when we fail!
  • Jesus left us an example of how to respond when we suffer unjustly. Peter himself said later in his life:

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:19-24

 

Previous post: The Trial of Jesus Christ

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October 24, 2015

The Trial of Jesus Christ

Filed under: culture, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 11:23 pm

The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell that Jesus Christ endured a three-part Jewish trial before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin:

These four accounts describe the trial before the Sanhedrin, but they also raise a lot of questions related to the history and the culture:

What is the Sanhedrin? Weren’t the Romans in charge?

Why are there two High Priests mentioned? Who was in charge?

Doesn’t a trial require proof? Were there any laws to protect the accused?

The notes below are an attempt to address these questions.

 

The Great Sanhedrin

The ancient Jews had a very elaborate legal system. Every town, depending on its size, was ruled by one of three possible tribunals [2]:

  • Towns with less than 120 male inhabitants had the lowest tribunal, consisting of three judges. These judges had very limited power, and could not try capital offenses.
  • Larger towns would be ruled by a greater tribunal, consisting of 23 men. These tribunals had greater power and could try capital offenses on very limited occasions.
  • The highest tribunal was in Jerusalem. This group was also called the Senate, the Council of Elders, or the Great Sanhedrin. This tribunal had the highest authority and the power to oversee all of the other tribunals.

The Romans stripped the Sanhedrin of most of its civil authority during the Roman occupation. The Sanhedrin had jurisdiction over all religious matters, but they were no longer allowed to punish major civil cases. The Sanhedrin could try capital cases, but they needed to bring their conclusions to the Romans for punishment. The Romans were free to follow the recommendation of the Sanhedrin, or to retry the case themselves. The trial of Jesus Christ is an example of such a case where the Sanhedrin tried the prisoner and brought him to the Romans, but the Roman procurator (Pontius Pilate) chose to retry the prisoner himself.

The Great Sanhedrin was made up of equal parts priests, elders, and scribes. The High Priest would oversee the proceedings.

 

The High Priest

Throughout most of the first century, the Sanhedrin was dominated by one man, Annas. Annas was the high priest from AD 6-15. The Old Testament law stated that a high priest would hold his office for life, but Annas was deposed by the Romans and AD 15. The Romans saw the political importance of the High Priest’s position and wanted to ensure that the high priest would follow their lead.

Annas had a reputation of being powerful, ruthless, corrupt, and very wealthy. Annas was required to step down from the high priesthood, but he ensured that the succession of high priests who came after him included five of his sons, his son-in-law, and a grandson. The High Priest during the time of Jesus Christ’s ministry was Caiaphas, the son-in-law to Annas.

Annas was no longer the official High Priest, but he still retained the title (“High Priest”) and maintained the power to rule over the Jewish religious system.

Jesus had directly challenged the power of Annas and Caiaphas on many occasions. His most direct challenges were on the two times when He stopped Annas’ profitable business of selling animals and exchanging money in the temple (see here for the first occasion and here for the second). These challenges made Jesus tremendously popular with the Jewish people, but He was hated by Annas and his fellow priests.

It was Annas and Caiaphas who had orchestrated in AD 33 to have Jesus arrested, tried, and executed by the Romans.

 

The Laws of Justice

The Jews had greatly prided themselves in their legal organization and their laws of justice. These laws insured fairness to every individual who was tried, and would ensure that justice was served.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

However, Annas and Caiaphas used their power and influence to bypass many of the Jewish laws in order to pronounce a guilty verdict on Jesus Christ. The following is a list of Jewish laws of justice, and how they were broken in the High Priest’s attempt to ensure that they kept their power:

 

Trials were not to be held secretly at night, but publicly during the day [4]

The Sanhedrin began the trial of Jesus Christ in the middle of the night and concluded at daybreak (Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1).

 

The accused was never to be required to speak [4]

The High Priest (Caiaphas) demanded that Jesus speak (Matthew 26:62-63; Mark 14:60).

 

Two witnesses were to come forward and agree on the charges [4]

Deuteronomy 17:6

On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

This also means that the Sanhedrin could not originate charges. The charges must be originated by the witnesses.

The witness were supposed to be the prosecution and the Sanhedrin was to be the defense. Yet the priests and the Sanhedrin were trying to find any false witness who could incriminate Jesus! (Matthew 26:59-60; Mark 14:55-56).

The accused was to be set free if the witnesses contradicted each other [1].

A false witness was such a serious crime, that the false witness would be given the same penalty as was intended for the accused person (Deuteronomy 19:16-19).

 

The accused was never to be required to have to incriminate himself in any way [4]

This is similar the American Fifth Amendment. The accused was never required to testify against himself.

The Jewish medieval scholar Maimonides said, “The law does not permit the death penalty as a sentence for a sinner by his own confession.” [3]

Yet, the High Priest demands that Jesus, under oath, testify against himself (Matthew 26:63).

 

The death penalty was to be determined only after a day of fasting [4]

All 71 members of the Sanhedrin were required to fast for a day before condemning a man to death. Yet, they respond immediately to Jesus, saying that “He deserves death!” (Matthew 26:66; Mark 14:64).

This also means that they could not try a capital case during a feast day since they would be prevented from participating in the feast  (John 18:28).

 

A unanimous vote by the court would allow the accused to go free [4]

The belief was that only a biased and unmerciful court would vote unanimously to kill a man. Yet, Mark’s account shows that the Sanhedrin was unanimous in condemning Jesus to death (Mark 14:64).

 

Capital cases could only be tried at the regular meeting places of the Sanhedrin [2]

The regular meeting place of the Sanhedrin was in the Hall of Judgment in the Temple complex [3]. The Sanhedrin tried Jesus Christ at the High Priest’s palace (Matthew 26:57-58; Mark 14:53-54; Luke 22:54) and concluded that he was guilty of blasphemy, a capital offense (Matthew 26:65-66; Mark 14:64).

 

The judges must consider the defense of the accused

Following the principle stated in Deuteronomy 13:14, the High Priest should make a diligent search in order to find out if the statements against the accused were true. Yet Jesus was never provided a defense, nor did the Sanhedrin take the time to consider Jesus’ statements. Instead, they rushed to judgment (Matthew 26:66; Mark 14:64).

 

The accused could not be physically punished before he was convicted [3]

Jesus was struck by the attendant in front of Annas (John 18:22), and the Sanhedrin members themselves stepped down to abuse Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:66-68; Mark 14:65).

 

Previous Post: The Kiss

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October 15, 2015

The Kiss

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:57 pm

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It is the night before Passover.

Jesus had spent the last few hours in agonizing prayer (see here). He was consumed with horror and despair as he considered what he was about to face.

Slowly and painfully, He came to terms with the Father’s will. “Not my will, but yours be done”.

Meanwhile, the disciples slept.

As Jesus woke the sleepy disciples, the lanterns and torches were visible through the trees. Nearly a thousand men were converging on their small garden!

The Chief Priests and their servants were there. They had wanted to kill Jesus Christ ever since he had raised Lazarus from the dead (see here).

The Temple Guard was there. This group of men was responsible for maintaining order in the temple. They were especially busy during Passover time. These guards were not allowed to use lethal force, but were nevertheless armed with clubs.

There were six hundred highly trained Roman soldiers. These men were fully armed and stood ready to put down any kind of revolt.

Finally, they were led by one man. Jesus’ close friend, who had followed him for over three years, now led the enemy to this very spot!

Judas!

Judas walks up to Jesus, throws his arms around Him, and kisses Him. Repeatedly.

But this is no kiss of love or affection. Judas holds on to Jesus until the soldiers come to arrest him. Jesus responds to Judas, “Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? Do what you came to do.”

The time in the garden was terror for Jesus, but now he is calm. He confronts the crowd, asking, “Whom do you seek?” They answer Him, “Jesus of Nazareth”, to which he replies, “I AM”.

He calls upon the name of God and the entire crowd falls to the ground!

But Jesus does not fight nor does he run away. They pick themselves up and Jesus repeats the question. They reply again that they are looking for Him, and he commands them to let his disciples go.

Peter is far from calm. In a rush of bravado, he charges into the crowd swinging a sword. He tries to act like a Roman soldier, crashing his sword down on the head of the High Priest, but misses terribly. Instead, he cuts off the ear of the priest’s servant.

Instead of being the hero, Peter gets yelled at by Jesus, “Stop it!”. Peter would be the guilty one if he killed someone that night.

Peter’s action was also futile. Jesus could call on an army of angels if he wanted, but this arrest is necessary. The Old Testament scriptures predicted this event must happen.

“Why did Peter fail so miserably? For one thing, he had argued with the Lord when Jesus warned him that he would deny his Master that very night. Peter had slept when he should have been praying, and he talked when he should have been listening.” – Warren Wiersbe [3]

Even during His arrest, Jesus shows compassion to his enemies. He touches the injured servant and heals his ear.

Jesus had commanded the officers to let his disciples go, and now they all run away. Jesus is left alone, but the Father is with Him (John 16:32).

The soldiers seize Him and take Him away.

 

Remember!

Prayer is critical! Jesus struggled through prayer, yet was able to meet his attackers with calmness and compassion. Peter slept through prayer, responded with foolish bravado, and then ran away in terror.

God is not hidden, even through the worst of times! The disciples were overwhelmed, but God was still in total control. Trust in God’s sovereignty.

Don’t fight for God! Don’t be like Peter, and run off on foolish bravado when we should be still.

Friends may fail, but God is always with you! Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter failed Him. All of the other disciples deserted Him. But the Father was with Him!

 

Previous post: The Garden

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October 10, 2015

The Garden

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:12 pm

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The garden.

Gethsemane.

There were moments in the life of Jesus Christ when he suffered greatly, but this was total agony!

Here, in the garden, is the greatest struggle that Jesus will face. He will endure hardship, torture, and death at the hands of men on the way to the cross. But there was no struggle as he went to his death. The great struggle for Jesus Christ was here in the garden, in Gethsemane.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus said, “my food is to do my Father’s will” (see here). But now the horror of the cross draws near and it terrifies Him! It is not the physical pain that Jesus Christ fears, but the separation from His Father. He, the one who knew no sin, will take upon himself the guilt of all the sins of the world!

Jesus contemplated his upcoming death on Tuesday. The thought about what he was going to suffer horrified him, but Jesus refused on Tuesday to ask the Father to save him (see here).

But now it is Thursday night. The horror is so intense that Jesus struggles in anguish. He drops to his knees. He falls to the ground. He picks himself up, only to fall again. His blood vessels burst, and the blood mixes with sweat. God the Father sends an angel to comfort Him and keep Him alive.

Jesus refused to pray for deliverance on Tuesday, but now He asks for it three times! “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!” He cries out to the father was a plea of a child, “Abba, father!” That is to say, “Daddy help me!”

You may have seen the popular pictures of Jesus in the garden. In the pictures, Jesus is gently kneeling next to a large boulder with a serene look on his face. A ray of light illuminates Jesus and the ground around Him. Jesus looks sorrowfully and wistfully at the sleeping disciples in the background. In some pictures, he even has a halo on his head.

The true picture of Jesus Christ in the garden is anything but placid and serene. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is subjected to more suffering and conflict in that garden than we will ever understand. His struggle is filled with stumbling and falling, with loud wailing and tears, and sweat that was mixed with blood!

Hebrews 5:7
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

Gone is the eloquent prayer that he prayed as he left Jerusalem (see here). Matthew and Mark show that Jesus was filled with dread as he approached the garden. He left eight of his disciples and continued deeper into the garden with Peter, James, and John. He leaves those three and continues on alone.

He commanded his disciples to “watch and pray”. If there was a time when He needed companions, it was now. But as He goes on alone, the weariness and the sorrow of the day have taken their toll on the disciples. They fall asleep. Jesus is alone.

After struggling in prayer for an hour, Jesus returns to his sleeping disciples. He wakes them up and rebukes Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?” He then warns the disciples to be alert and pray so that they do not enter into temptation. He knows that they want to follow him, but they do not know their own weakness. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”.

Jesus returns to His struggle in prayer, only to come back to find the disciples sleeping again. Leaving again, He returns for a third time into the garden to pray. His prayer is now complete and the struggle has ended. He returns to the sleeping disciples.

The time for sleep has come to an end. The time for prayer has ended. The enemy is at hand.

“But in that night the fierce wind of hell was allowed to sweep unbroken over the Saviour, and even to expend its fury upon those that stood behind in His Shelter.” – Alfred Edersheim [5]

“He disarmed Death by burying his shaft in His own Heart.” – Alfred Edersheim [5]

“The whole of the tremendous debt was put upon his shoulders;
the whole weight of the sins of all his people was placed upon him.
Once he seemed to stagger under it: ‘Father, if it be possible.’
But again he stood upright: ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.’
The whole of the punishment of his people was distilled into one cup;
no mortal lip might give it so much as a solitary sip.
When he put it to his own lips, it was so bitter,
he well nigh spurned it—’Let this cup pass from me.’
But his love for his people was so strong, that he took the cup in both his hands, and
At one tremendous draught of love He drank damnation dry, for all his people.
He drank it all, he endured all, he suffered all;
so that now for ever there are no flames of hell for them, no racks of torment;
they have no eternal woes;
Christ hath suffered all they ought to have suffered, and they must, they shall go free.”
– C. H. Spurgeon [9]

 

Previous post: The Lord’s Prayer

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October 1, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 11:18 pm

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We know that Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer to the Father.

He spent all night in prayer before choosing the 12 apostles (see here).

As his popularity grew, he would withdraw to desolate places to pray (see here).

He spent at least nine hours in prayer before coming down to rescue the struggling disciples on the Sea of Galilee (see here and here).

We know that Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer, but we have only brief excerpts of his words. John 17 has the longest recorded prayer from Jesus Christ, and it shows His heart as he comes to the Father on behalf of his disciples.

What does Jesus Christ pray for?

 

He prays for his glory

First, he prays for his glory. As the cross is rapidly approaching, Jesus is comforted by the fact that the cross will bring glory to Him and to God the Father (see here). He also looks past the cross to when He will return to the Father. Jesus Christ has been the focus of total glory and honor since before the world began. He now looks ahead to his return to glory with the Father.

It is all about God’s glory. Jesus is about to endure the agony and the separation of the cross, yet he looks forward to the glory that will come through it. With this in view, Jesus says, “It is time. Let it come.”

1 Peter 3:18,22
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, … who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Colossians 3:1
​If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

 

He shows a new relationship with God

Jesus showed the world a different relationship with God. Faithful Jews throughout the Old Testament knew of God as someone to be revered and worshipped, but Jesus introduced something new. Never before in history had anyone addressed God as “Father”.

We need to revere and worship God, yet we can also know Him closely. We can have a close relationship with Him so that we ourselves can call him Father.

There is a special significance to the name of God. In the Jewish culture, the name of a person meant much more than simply a way to identify him. A person’s name expressed the nature and character of that person. A man’s name was his essence. [5]

Romans 8:14-15
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

 

He prays for His own – “Father, keep them”

Jesus prays for His own. These are the eleven disciples who are standing with him. Jesus recalls the following about them:

  • The Father gave them to him out of the world
  • They believed the words of God
  • They obeyed God
  • They know that Jesus Christ was sent by God the Father
  • They know that Jesus Christ was empowered by God the Father
  • Jesus taught them the Father’s character (his name)

God the Father had given these eleven disciples to Jesus Christ. But His own are much more than these eleven. This prayer and these promises are for all who have believed in Him. We became part of His own when we believed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus asks the Father to preserve us. He does not ask on behalf of the world that is rebelling against God, but he asks to preserve the believers who live in this world.

Remember again who is preserving us. We are being preserved based on the character and nature of the Holy God. Jesus kept every one of his disciples when he was on earth, and now he has committed us to the Father.

None of Jesus’ disciples were lost except for Judas, who never had believed in Him (see also here).

He left us this promise that the Father will keep us. We will not be lost. Through this promise we can have complete joy, even in severe trouble (see also here).

“But He says…I’m leaving. I’m leaving and the glory display of My presence and their surrounding that presence will change and they will remain. O Father, keep them.” – John MacArthur [5]

John 10:27-29
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

He prays for His own – “Father, set them apart”

Believers in Jesus Christ are left in a world that is hostile to God and hates any who represent Him. Jesus does not pray for us to be taken out of this world, but that God would protect us through this world. His prayer is to protect us from the devil.

Jesus prays that God would sanctify us in this world. Literally, the word “sanctify” means to “set apart”. The truth of God’s word sets us apart from this world. We are in this world, but we are set apart to be used for God’s special purpose.

Ephesians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

He prays for His own – “that they be one”

Jesus prays for all believers, that we be one. We have different cultures and different gifts, but we have a common Father. We are kept and set apart by the same God. We have the same hope, that we will be reunited with Jesus Christ.

Jesus prays three times that “they be one even as we are one”. Our unity is patterned after the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are united because we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

We are given close fellowship with the Holy God. As we have this close fellowship with God, we will be united with the other believers in Jesus Christ who share this same fellowship with God.

One of the results of our unity is that we show Jesus to the world. We show the world that Jesus is from God and that we have the love of God.

In the second century, Tertullian wrote that even the heathen exclaimed with admiration, “Behold how these Christians love one another.” [9]

1 Corinthians 12:12-13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Ephesians 4:4-6
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

He prays for His own – “that they be with me”

Jesus prays that we would be with Him. When we are with Jesus, we will see his glory. As Jesus promised earlier (see here), He will come back for us. We will be with him for eternity.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

 

Remember!

Jesus brought these requests to the Father before he finished his time on earth. These are not goals for us to achieve, but requests to God on our behalf. We know that all prayers by Jesus Christ are answered (John 11:42), so we can be sure that these have been done!

We know that the Lord Jesus Christ has returned to Heaven and is seated on the right hand of God the Father.

We know that we have a new relationship with God – he is now our father!

We know that the Father will keep us — nothing will separate us from him!

We know that the Father has set us apart — we are separate from this world and holy to Him!

We know that we are one in Jesus Christ — we all are one body!

We know that when we leave this mortal body, we will be with Jesus Christ!

Jesus did not pray for our action. All action in this prayer is by God the Father.

This prayer is not for what we will do. This prayer is for who we are!

 

Previous Post: Just a little while longer

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September 16, 2015

Just a little while longer

Filed under: encouragement, theology, Uncategorized — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 9:59 pm

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This will not be easy.

We can easily get caught up in our current events. Hatred is an all-time high. Biblical morals are at an all-time low.

Americans are vocally showing their hatred for Christians and anything different from them.

Religious zealots around the world are looking to kill and destroy Christians and anything associated with them.

Our government often acts like it is paralyzed. At best, it is doing nothing. At worst, is the cause of the problems.

These thoughts were written almost 70 years ago. This was from a pastor in the 1940’s. [3]

Two other teachers also shared the exact same thoughts. One taught this same message in the 1970’s [6] and the other in the 1990’s [1].

Jesus promises that the world will hate us. The world’s system of belief has been set up by the devil and will always be opposed to Jesus Christ.

During his final time of teaching, Jesus has used the most personal and comforting words to encourage his terrified disciples.

He gave encouragement:

  • He will be glorified (magnified) and God the Father will be glorified in him (John 13:31-32, see here).
  • He will come back for us like a bridegroom returning for his bride (John 14:1-4, see here).
  • He is the only way to God (John 14:5-7).
  • He will send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will teach us, guide us, and will never leave us (see here).
  • He will answer our prayer (John 14:13-14; John 15:16; John 16:23-24).
  • He gives us a peace that is beyond anything the world can offer (John 14:27).

He left instructions:

He also warned Peter that he did not know his own weakness (John 13:36-38). But there is a greater warning for all of us.

We are to abide in Him and to love each other because the world will be our enemy.

Jesus never promises an easy life. The world will hate those who claim Jesus Christ as Lord. They hated Him and they will hate us when we represent Him.

The world will hate us because we are not part of this world.

The world will hate us because we show them that they are guilty. Jesus came to earth almost 2,000 years ago and they rejected Him. Even today, people still refuse to believe in Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit within us will show Jesus Christ to the world. He will show people their sin of rejecting Jesus Christ. He will either convince them or judge them (see here).

Followers of Jesus will be thrown out social, political, and religious circles. Just like Saul in the New Testament (see here), they will kill Christian men and women, thinking that they are serving God by killing them.

Jesus says, “Remember that I told you, it will get rough”.

So how can we respond to this?

It is popular to curse the darkness. Should we fight back?

Should we live in fear?

Jesus takes the last part of his final sermon to tell his disciples how to respond. These words for them are just as appropriate today. The threats may have changed since Jesus’ day, but the same devil controls the people of the world today as he did 2,000 years ago.

Jesus tells us the following:

 

Leave them to the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit will convict the people who do not believe in Jesus Christ. As discussed here, the Holy Spirit will show each man and woman the truth about Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who will convince those who believe, and it is the Holy Spirit who will pass judgment on those who refuse to believe.

It is not for us to personally convince people of Jesus Christ. We need to stay close to Jesus Christ and let the Holy Spirit work through us.

 

The sorrow is temporary

Jesus was arrested, tortured, and executed while his enemies celebrated. Yet the Roman cross — the instrument of His execution — is our cause for joy. We can look back and see how God used the anguish and sorrow of the cross to defeat death and crush Satan. It is because of this cross that we have hope of life in Jesus Christ.

In the same way, the horrors and the sorrow that we experience today will someday cause us to rejoice. Like the pains of childbirth, Jesus promises that there will be a time when our pain will end and it will be replaced by joy.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Jesus promises that when he comes back, he will give us joy that no one can take away!

“Sorrow can crush us if we don’t view it as temporary, allowed, and designed for our spiritual growth.” – Stephen Davey [4]

 

We have direct access to God the Father

We are the friends of God (John 15:15-16). There is no longer any need for parables or figures of speech. We can learn directly about God. We can pray directly to God!

 

We will fail

It is comforting to know that Jesus predicted that his followers would all run away. They thought they had it all figured out, but they did not know the enemy who is against them.

Jesus knew that they would fail when he gave all of these promises. Not one of these promises were broken by their failure. There is nothing that we can do to break the promises of God!

 

“I have overcome the world”

We will have tribulation. Literally, this word means to “be pressed together”. We will have distress, affliction, anguish, pressure in this world, but Jesus is greater!

John 16:33
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

 

Previous post: The Vine and the Branches

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September 8, 2015

The Vine and the Branches

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 12:06 am

grapes-694164_1280

This passage contains one of the simplest and one of the most well-known allegories of the Christian life: the vine and the branches.

The popular belief is that you need to behave well in order to be a good Christian. You get closer to God by acting better, doing good deeds, and being kind to other people. You then make God happy by how nice you have become.

Jesus teaches the complete opposite!

It was late Thursday night, on Jesus’ final night on earth. As he walked through the streets of Jerusalem with his disciples, the great temple would be in full view in front of them. A massive golden vine covered the top of the wall, with the grapes “as tall as a man’s height” (according to Josephus) [3].

In front of this backdrop, Jesus says, “I am the true vine.”

The great vine was the national symbol of Israel. God himself had used the vine to illustrate Israel, but they had turned away from God. Instead of showing God’s glory to earth, they had become a wild vine bearing useless fruit (see Isaiah 5:1-7 and Jeremiah 2:21).

Israel was supposed to be the means to bring people to God, but they failed. Israel was to showcase God’s glory, but they thought only of themselves. Unlike faithless Israel, Jesus is the true vine. Jesus is the way to God (John 14:6) and he brings glory to God (John 15:8).

All of us who have a relationship with Jesus Christ have a part in Jesus’ mission. He is the vine, the true vine, and we are the branches.

Our job – our essential job – is to abide in Him. As a branch stays in the vine, so we are to stay close to Jesus Christ. Jesus supports and gives life to his people in the same way that the vine supports and gives life to the branches.

Jesus never teaches that you should do good things to get close to God. He says the opposite – stay close to him and he will do the good things through us. This is beyond anything that we can do, and so God gets all of the credit!

Jesus makes several wonderful promises of what will happen when we abide in him.

 

We produce fruit when we abide in him. Jesus gives us permanent, tangible results when we stay close with him. This fruit in our lives may vary, but it includes repentance, good works, godly attitudes, wisdom, praise, and impact on others (see below for a more detailed list).

We are totally helpless to generate this fruit apart from Jesus Christ. We often think that our problem is that we are not trying hard enough. Jesus says to stop trying altogether. “Just abide in me!”

“We are not handicapped, we are paralyzed!” – Stephen Davey [4]

 

We will be pruned when we abide in him. He cuts out the empty parts of us so that we can produce more fruit. This pruning process can be painful, but God wants us to grow into a more fruitful branch for Him.

“And so when we have to pass through great trials, deep waters and many sorrows, it is not an evidence that He does not love us, that He does not care for us.” – H.A. Ironside [2]

 

He answers our prayers when we abide in Him. God never promises to answer our prayers when we are avoiding Him (Psalm 66:18). But when we abide in Him, we are able to pray from the very heart of Jesus Christ, asking what he himself would ask (see here).

 

We radiate the love of Jesus Christ when we abide in Him. We are anchored in the love of Christ and we show it by our love for others. We are no longer slaves, but friends of the Lord Jesus Christ! He demonstrated his love for us, as his friends, by giving his own life for us (see also Romans 5:8).

We keep Jesus’ commandments when we are anchored in His love by abiding in Him. It is no longer a duty to obey him but an act of love. We show our love to Him by loving His children.

 

We experience full joy when we abide in him. Jesus was only hours from dying on a Roman cross, yet he promised joy to his disciples! This joy is beyond happiness, and can survive through the worst of pain. How do we experience this joy? We experience this full joy when we abide in Him.

We experience this full joy when do what we were created to do – to glorify God!

 

Jesus gives one more promise in this section. Your time is limited if you do not know Jesus Christ. If you have never believed in Him, then you are as useless to Him as a branch that never produces grapes. You can pretend to be close to Jesus Christ, but take a warning from the useless branch. The destiny of the useless branch is to be thrown away, to wither, to be gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

If you have not believed in Jesus Christ, do not hesitate any longer! This may be your last chance to believe in Him (see here). Be warned, but come to him before you are thrown out like the useless branch.

If you have believed in Jesus Christ, abide in him. Abide in Him! Stay close to Jesus Christ and obey him out of your love for Him. All of the good deeds that you can do are useless if you do them apart from Jesus Christ.

 

Previous Post: The Holy Spirit

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August 24, 2015

The Holy Spirit

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , , — Steve Knaus @ 9:22 pm

john-14-16
The New Testament says a lot about the Holy Spirit. In the book of Ephesians, we are told to be filled with (literally, “dominated by”) the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21). The book of Galatians contains the famous passage about living in the Spirit and the fruit (effects) of The Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

But what did Jesus say about the Holy Spirit? Up to this point, Jesus has taught extensively about God the Father and God the Son. As seen in John 5, the Father and the Son are totally equal and abide together in total intimacy.

But Jesus has not taught directly about God the Holy Spirit until now. He alluded to the Holy Spirit in John 3 and John 7, but he did not directly teach about the Holy Spirit until he was ready to leave.

Jesus’ entire ministry was a living demonstration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus surrendered the use of his divine attributes when he came to earth. This included his omnipotence (being all-powerful) and omniscience (being all-knowing) (see here). He lived on earth with the same limitations of humanity, except that he had no sin (see here). He totally relied on the Holy Spirit for direction, knowledge, and power to perform miracles.

The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus Christ when he was baptized by John (see here). The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan (see here). He gave him supernatural knowledge about the Samaritan woman (see here). Most notably, when the Pharisees accused Jesus of doing miracles by the power of the devil, Jesus condemned them for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (see here and here). The miracles of Jesus were done through the Holy Spirit.

But now Jesus is leaving. He promises to send the Holy Spirit, the same person who enabled him through his ministry on earth. The Holy Spirit will come as a helper, one who will come alongside believers in this world.

 

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Jesus also refers to Him as the Helper (also translated “comforter”) and  the “Spirit of Truth”.

The Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force. The world does not know him, he dwells with you. He will teach you. …

The Holy Spirit is God. Jesus promises to send another helper, literally, “one who is exactly like me”. He will come from the Father.

The Holy Spirit will be with us forever. Old Testament saints knew that the Spirit of God would come upon people for a short time, but now he promises to stay with us forever!

The Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth. He is the Spirit of Truth. He is our divine teacher who will bring God’s Word to our mind, and will illuminate His Word so that we can understand it.

The Holy Spirit is unknowable to the unbelieving world. Those without Christ cannot see or know the Holy Spirit. By contrast, he will show himself to those who believe.

The Holy Spirit is in complete unity with God the Father and God the Son. The Father sends the Holy Spirit in the name of the Son.

The Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals Him to those who believe. His ministry always points back to Jesus Christ.

“And he is the comforter. We often believe that the comforter is like a warm fuzzy blanket, but he is the strength that will give us the ability to stand against evil. He fortifies us with supernatural strength.” – Stephen Davey [2]

 

The role of the Holy Spirit with the unbelieving world

The Holy Spirit shows Jesus Christ, even to those who do not believe. He is the voice behind the persecuted Christians who tell of Jesus, even when it leads them to torture or death. The Spirit of Truth will bear witness of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit will either convince or convict those who do not know Jesus. If He does not convince you to believe in Jesus, He will be the one to convict you. If he cannot persuade you, he will pronounce the sentence of eternal punishment.

He shows you your sin. If you do not believe in him, your unbelief will be the one sin that condemns you (John 3:18).

“… the outstanding sin which will separate you from God forever will be that you rejected the Savior whom He has provided.” – H.A. Ironside [6]

He shows you the standard of what it means to be “righteous”. There was only one perfect person — Jesus Christ! Jesus defeated death and is now with God the Father. He sits with the Father in complete perfection.

He shows you your ultimate destiny if you do not believe. Satan, the ruler of the world, is already judged. Those who refuse Jesus Christ will face judgement with him.

“If Jesus Christ swung the death blow at Satan and hit dead center, you don’t think that someone less than Satan is going to get away. When Satan was judged, every man and every angel that ever attached himself to Satan was damned with him.” – John MacArthur [5]

 

The role of the Holy Spirit with believers

Jesus tells his 11 terrified companions that this is to their advantage that he leave them. Why?

What could be better than living with God himself? They had spent over three years with him!

How can this be an advantage?

Jesus was limited by his human body. While Jesus was in one place on earth, the Holy Spirit can be everywhere. While Jesus was with some believers on earth, the Holy Spirit will be in all believers.

The Holy Spirit teaches wherever God’s Word is present. When Jesus taught in one city, the next city was not able to hear the Word of God. Without the Holy Spirit, the Gospel could never spread across the entire world.

The Holy Spirit gives understanding. The disciples could not understand what Jesus did and what He taught. They needed the Holy Spirit to give them understanding (John 12:16).

Below is just a sampling of the many ways that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers [4]:

“He opens up the riches of grace and love, and gives us to know the wealth of the realm over which Christ is set and which we are to share with Him.” – H.A. Ironside [6]

 

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