Sapphire Sky

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

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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

 

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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

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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]

 

Previous Post: I Am Returning to the Father

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August 6, 2015

I Am Returning to the Father

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 11:06 pm

john-14-2

It is late Thursday night, and Jesus has just finished the Passover dinner with his disciples. He showed them humility by washing their feet. He told them that there was a traitor among them. During their time of astonishment, the traitor, Judas, left.

The events are now in motion. By the next morning, Jesus will be taken away to die on a Roman cross.

But Jesus needs to prepare his struggling disciples. He is going to leave and they cannot come. Jesus was their entire life for the last three years, and now he will be gone! They are still struggling with the thought that one of the disciples would betray him, and this new news must have been too much to bear!

What follows is one of the most touching and heartfelt conversations between Jesus and his disciples:

 

“I am leaving and you cannot come”

These events will lead to God’s glory. Before anything else, God’s glory is most important!

He will crush the power of sin and death.

God will show his justice, faithfulness, mercy and love by letting his own son die for the entire world!

Jesus will have the ultimate glory when he rises from the dead and returns to Heaven.

But what about the ones left behind?

What about his followers here on earth?

They are not left alone. We are not left alone. We have each other.

Jesus’ final command is to love each other. Regardless of background. He will repeat this command throughout this final conversation (see here).

 

Peter: “Why can’t I follow you? I would die for you!”

Peter is ready to follow his Lord Jesus to death! But Peter does not know his own weakness. When the time comes to be brave, Peter will be hiding like a coward, denying that he ever knew him!

He will do this three times.

It is easy to fall upon our own bravado. We belittle others’ failures and vow that we would have never done that if it were us!

But notice that this follows closely on Jesus’ command. We are to be known by our love — even when we fail!

 

“You will be with me for all eternity!”

Jesus gives some of the deepest words of encouragement in all of Scripture. He will no longer be physically present. But they needed to put their trust in an invisible God, and believe in him in the same way.

“Just as you have believed in the unseen God through the years, I want you to put your faith in Me, the unseen Christ, after I have gone back to the Father.” [7]

“Stop agonizing in your hearts. I am completely trustworthy.” [5]

Like a husband who is preparing a place for his bride, so Jesus is returning to the Father’s house to prepare a place for us. He will bring us back to himself and we will be with him for eternity!

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

 

Thomas: “How can we know the way?”

Thomas speaks for the rest of the group when he says, “I don’t get it”. How can we know the way?

Jesus’ reply is direct.

“I am the way”. He is the way, the only way to God. He is not just giving directions, he will take us there himself.

“I am the truth”. He is the truth, the only truth. They know the Father because they know the Son. With him is truth. Apart from him, there is no truth.

“I am the life”. He is the life, the only life. There cannot be death in his presence (see here). There cannot be life apart from him.

He is exclusive. No one else can get to the Father except through Jesus Christ.

“Religion is worthless because it provides no way to get to heaven.” – John MacArthur [9]

“While many religions will try to take bad people and make them better, only one is qualified to take dead people and make them alive.” – Stephen Davey [8]

 

Philip: “Just show us the Father.”

Philip’s request is, “Please just give us something tangible.”

But we already know the Father when we know Jesus Christ. He is given us not one, but two tangible things: his words that he said, and his works that he did.

How often do we look something more from God when we should be relying on what he has already given us!

 

“You will do greater things. Ask in my name and I will do it.”

Jesus showed the Father when he was on earth. Now that he is returning to the Father, he will enable us to do even greater things.

We reflect God the Father to our broken world.

We pray from the heart of Jesus Christ himself, asking to fill what he wants. We pray for God’s glory. We pray to love one another. We pray that our joy may be full. He promises to give us what we ask.

 

Previous post: It Was Night.

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July 30, 2015

It Was Night

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:22 pm

weather-768460_1280

It is an awesome responsibility to teach or to lead another person. Whether you are in the role of a parent, a teacher, or a mentor, it is a great privilege to teach another.

But what do we do when things go wrong? What do we do when a student turns away from what they have learned? When they reject the teacher? We can blame ourselves, but we cannot change another person’s decisions.

You could be a perfect teacher, and yet some would still turn away. The best teacher who ever walked on the earth had a student walk away from him.

That student did more than turn away from him. He turned him in to the authorities to be arrested, tortured, and then executed.

Jesus had intensely taught his disciples for three and a half years. They all saw him teach, work miracles, and raise the dead. Each of them were able to teach and do miracles themselves. Eleven of them would follow Jesus to their own death, yet one refused to believe.

Jesus was at the final Passover dinner with his disciples when he became greatly disturbed. To the shock and amazement of everyone in the room, Jesus announced, “One of you will betray me!”

The traitor had hidden himself so well that no one suspected him. Instead, they were all asking, “It’s not me, is it?” They suspected themselves more than they suspected the betrayer.

No one suspected Judas. He was the cultured and educated one. They trusted him with all of their money. He cared for the poor.

But the devil had already put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus (see here). Judas was already convinced that he no longer wanted any part of Jesus. Unknown to any of the other disciples, Judas had already secretly made plans with the chief priests to arrest him (see here).

You may already be familiar with Judas, but the surprising part of this section is how Jesus treats him. Jesus knew that Judas has rejected him and that he was about to betray him, yet how does Jesus act?

He washes his feet. He gives him the place of honor at the table. He passes the food to him, giving him the best piece of food (a gesture of friendship).

This was intensely upsetting for Jesus. He felt the agony of being betrayed by a close friend (see here). Yet even at the last minute, he showed nothing but love and friendship to Judas. He took every opportunity to try and rescue Judas.

But it is too late for Judas. After the last gesture of friendship, Satan took full control of Judas. Jesus told him to go and do it quickly. Judas knew that his game is up and he quickly leaves.

John’s final summary is as much poetic as it is factual: “It was night”.

It was night for Jesus. He would face the agony of separation from the Father as he takes the guilt of the whole world.

It was night for the disciples. They are on the darkest night of their lives. Before daylight, their master would be arrested, tortured, and headed for a Roman cross. They will all be scattered in terror.

But most of all, it was night for Judas. Jesus would rise again. The disciples would be brought back together. But for Judas, there would never again be light.

Jesus is very clear. He will be arrested and killed according to God’s plan, but Judas was no machine. Judas rejected and betrayed Jesus out of his own free will. Both Matthew and Mark quote Jesus’ statements about Judas, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

 

Remember!

  • Jesus knew about Judas, but never stopped trying to rescue him. Don’t stop trying to rescue those who do not believe.
  • Jesus never pulled back his friendship from Judas, even when he knew that Judas would betray him! Don’t pull back from friendships because of how they might fail you — they will! Only God will not fail you.
  • You are in God’s care, even the darkest times! Rely on God when it is night.

 

Previous post: Dirty Feet

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July 16, 2015

Dirty Feet

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 12:32 pm

Basin and the Towel

It was a Thursday evening when the men sat down for the Passover dinner. Their teacher had gathered them — just the twelve of them — for a special dinner that night. They could hardly contain their excitement!

They had followed their teacher for over three years, yet this week was one that they would never forget. They had come to realize that their teacher was more than someone special, he was the long-awaited Messiah! He had come to bring them back to God, and he would set up a new kingdom on earth. He was more than just a teacher, he was their lord and master.

How could anyone doubt him after this week! This must be the time that their master would take his kingdom! He had started out the week by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jerusalem — that great city, that holy city, that city of kings! The people of the city had rushed to him, waving Palm branches and chanting praises!

Surely he would set up his kingdom now!

He returned to the temple on Monday and threw out the crooked merchants and money changers. He then took charge of the entire temple for two days! He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple (see here). The priests and the synagogue leaders all tried to challenge him but he bested every one of their arguments. No one dared to challenge him any more!

He had taught them that he would be arrested and executed, and that he would come back to life on the third day. But this made no sense to them — maybe he was telling some strange parable? Maybe this was the distant future? For now, the whole nation was following him!

Surely he would set up his kingdom now!

The past two days had been much more quiet as they stayed in the small town of Bethany nearby. But it was now Thursday evening and they were getting ready for the Passover dinner. None of the men even knew where they would be having dinner until they were shown at the last minute. They were directed to a house in Jerusalem with a large upstairs room, on the Western Hill. The room was already furnished and prepared for the thirteen of them to come and celebrate (see here).

The men were so sure that it was time for him to set up his kingdom! The master had promised that they would rule with him and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (see here). Now that they were gathered together on this special occasion, this must be the time to hand out the assignments for his new kingdom! [7]

As they sat down to dinner, the twelve men struggled for the best places at the table. They argued about who was the greatest. All twelve of them wanted to look the best for the master and show them that they were ready to rule the new kingdom with him.

They were so intent on their struggle that they did not worry about social norms. All twelve of them reclined at the table with dirty feet. There was no servant available to clean them up before dinner, and they could not risk being seen doing servant’s work. It was time to rule!

Then, during dinner, the master shocks the entire group! He himself gets up from the table, removes his outer clothes, fills a basin with water, and washes each of their feet. Every single dirty, muddy foot is washed clean by the master.

Peter refused when the master reached him. “Never will you wash my feet!” But the master replies, “you have no fellowship with me unless you let me wash your feet”.

Peter’s quick reply is, “Then give me a bath!” But the master stops him. You are already bathed, and now you only need to wash your feet.

He then brings his lesson to a point. The bathing and the washing illustrate the relationship with him. Most of the men in this room, including Peter, have been bathed into a new life with him (Titus 3:5). One of them does not have a new life and will soon betray him.

But they also need daily cleansing. Even when you have the new life, you still need to be cleaned regularly from the filth of this world. You still have the new life, but you cannot have any fellowship with God without this daily cleansing.

The final point is that if the Lord Jesus Christ is able to wash his disciples’ feet, then we need to do the same. We need to serve each other in humility and apply the cleansing of God’s word.

 

Remember!

  • We need the one-time bath of a new life (John 3:14-16; Titus 3:5). It is only when we believe that we will have the eternal life that he has promised.
  • We need to allow The Lord to daily cleanse us (1 John 1:6-9). We need to remove the filth and sin in our own lives in order to restore fellowship with God.
  • We need to wash others’ feet. We need to serve in humility yet always applying God’s word. We need to wash both the good and the bad people in our lives. Jesus washed the feet of Peter, John, and Judas.

 

In an upstairs room, a parable

is just about to come alive.

And while they bicker about who’s best,

with a painful glance, He’ll silently rise.

Their Savior Servant must show them how

through the will of the water

and the tenderness of the towel.

And the call is to community,

The impoverished power that sets the soul free.

In humility, to take the vow,

that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

In any ordinary place,

on any ordinary day,

the parable can live again

when one will kneel and one will yield.

Our Saviour Servant must show us how

through the will of the water

and the tenderness of the towel.

And the space between ourselves sometimes

is more than the distance between the stars.

By the fragile bridge of the Servant’s bow

we take up the basin and the towel.

And the call is to community,

The impoverished power that sets the soul free.

In humility, to take the vow,

that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

– Michael Card

 

Previous post: The Final Message

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July 13, 2015

The Final Message

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 1:52 pm

John-12-24

 

For public speakers, what would you say in your final speech?

For writers, what would you write in your final letter? In your final article?

For pastors, what would you preach in your final sermon?

It is now late Tuesday of Jesus’ final week on earth. He entered the city of Jerusalem on Sunday (see here), and He has been teaching in the temple through both Monday and Tuesday.

The Jews had been listening to Jesus when a group of Greeks came to the temple, requesting an audience with the Lord. With these Gentile followers looking to hear from him, Jesus declared some of his most startling words:

 

“You need to die”

A grain of wheat is alone and useless unless it is planted. But when it is put into the earth and it “dies”, it will grow and become fruitful.

This message is personally about Jesus. Jesus had said several times earlier that his time had not yet come (John 2:4; John 7:30; John 8:20), but now the time had come. It is only a few days before he is going to die. Yet he will be glorified through his death as he saves mankind.

This message is also about his followers. When we set aside the value and control of our own lives, Jesus promises us life forever with him and honor from God the Father.

 

“Even the horror brings glory to God”

Jesus was horrified by the anticipation of his death on the cross (the English word, “troubled”, is not strong enough). The horror was not the physical pain, torture, and death of the crucifixion. The real terror for Jesus is that He would be torn apart from God the Father. The Father and the Son existed for all eternity in total union and intimacy (John 5:19-23). Now, the Son must stand alone to take the punishment for mankind.

But His encouragement through all of this was that God would be glorified. This was why he came. For only the third time in his ministry, God the Father gave an audible response — His death would bring glory to God.

 

“The enemy is defeated”

Satan is the ruler of this world, but his power is broken by Jesus’ death on the cross. He, and all in the world who follow him, will be judged on the last day. They are now on death row, awaiting their execution.

 

“Believe while you still can”

Jesus gave this invitation to his listeners, but it is the same for all people. You have only two choices: you can follow the Light or you can follow the ruler of this world into his judgement. Jesus is the light (John 1:4-5; John 8:12) and he is making one more call to believe in Him.

But beware! The invitation will not last forever. If you keep refusing to believe in him, the time will come when you will no longer be able to believe. The more you refuse him, the less chance you have to come to believe in him. You have only a “little while longer”!

 

Then Jesus left.

 

Sadly, many people refused to believe. They would rather have the blindness so God gave the blindness to them. They stayed in their unbelief for so long that they were no longer able to believe.

 

Previous post: The King has Come!

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July 6, 2015

Time to Choose!

Filed under: culture — Tags: — Travis Biller @ 10:08 pm

There are a lot of competing voices in our culture concerning the gay marriage issue. Who you listen to will make all the difference on how you decide where you stand.

People in positions of influence will make statements like, “My moral code is a matter of faith,” or “I don’t have the right to impose my moral code on you,” or “You can’t legislate morality,” or “I am not always right, and neither are you.” Comments such as these appear to have a form of wisdom.

Let’s briefly consider the above ideas. First, morality is not a matter of personal preference. The source of all morality is God. True morality, the type that leads away from sin, is a reflection of God’s holy character. He, in fact, demands that we obey his moral code as revealed in His law. God’s law is not something that is given to us as a suggestion. It’s not a preference. He revealed it to the world and commands that all must obey it; and He reveals that it is this law under which all will be judged.

Second, when understood correctly, law is morality legislated. That’s the whole point. If you support something legally, you support it morally. Throughout the history of our country we have legislated morality. The foundation of law in the West has been the Bible. The Magna Carta was the first piece of legislation that recognized that all people, the king included, were under the authority of God’s law. The term “the rule of law” enshrines this idea. In making laws, people have attempted to make morality normative for the people of that society. So, yes, you can legislate morality; and in making specific laws that seek to encourage people to obey that moral code you are, in fact, imposing a moral code on others.

Third, it is true to say that “I am not always right, and neither are you.” And while people are fallible and will certainly get things wrong from time to time, the Bible is infallible and is not wrong. So, while I may not always be right, we can rest assured that the Bible is always right. In fact, communicating this very truth the Bible warns that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). As a result the Bible encourages us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).

When one applies these realities to the current issue of gay marriage, a seemingly complicated issue becomes very clear. The Bible warns that all sin is an offense against a Holy God. Concerning certain sins the Bible clearly teaches, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Notice the many different sins listed. Homosexuality is just one of many that God warns His people about. They are to flee such sins. And, we must notice that every item on this list is called sin.

The real dilemma with the gay marriage issue is that there are segments of our society that demand that we ignore the Bible’s clear teaching; and instead of calling sin for what it is, we are now told that we must affirm and celebrate what God clearly condemns. Therefore the SCOTUS has now made it legal with the intent of imposing a new, man-made moral code upon its citizenry.

This issue is difficult for many people because they are forced into the position of having to make a very clear choice: affirm God’s Word and His authority over all life as revealed in the Bible, or affirm man’s word and his authority over life as revealed in the new morality. At this point the two are mutually exclusive. And we need to understand what is at stake. The new morality seeks to replace the old.

We have come to the place where sitting on the fence is no longer an option. We have to decide. Are we going to enshrine the new morality that will be legislated and normative for all people? Or, are we going to stay with God’s law that He demands we obey?

However, it needs to be noted: God does not reveal sin to condemn. He reveals sin to save people from the condemnation that results when people fail to repent (turn) from sin. God loves all sinners, no matter the type of sin they are ensnared by. But, God refuses to affirm sin for the sake of any person. To do so would lead Him to deny Himself as a holy God for the sake of our sin.

June 26, 2015

Welcome to the New

Filed under: Uncategorized — Travis Biller @ 10:11 pm

I remember exactly where I was on September 11th 2001. I was leaving my biblical Hebrew class in seminary when another student approached the prof and told him what had taken place. As news of the events unfolded I remember this sinking feeling in my stomach. I felt sick. When I heard the news that the Supreme Court ruled to make gay-marriage legal, I had that same feeling. On September 11th the twin towers fell. Today, two great towers of American culture have fallen.

Where America once had great respect for moral truth, today that tower is lying in a heap of rubble. And where America once had respect for the things of God, and even had a semblance of the “Fear of the Lord” that tower also is lying in a heap of rubble. Admittedly, one has to go back at least an entire generation to find those towers standing strong. But, for the majority of American history those two towers had a profound effect on the fiber of the American Republic. America is America only with those towers standing strong.

The founders of our republic understood the necessity of religion for a functional democracy. They believed that America would only be as strong as the people had a healthy love for the virtues and principles of religious truth. Sure, they were not all evangelical Christians, as we understood the term today. But, even those who were Deists believed in a God that created laws which govern civilization. In fact, it was those very laws that framed the bases for our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They expected each person in the republic to self-govern themselves according to those “self-evident” truths of nature and nature’s God.

America has a history that is unparalleled in the history of the world. No other nation has enjoyed the peace and prosperity that America has experienced. One of the reasons 9/11 was so shocking was that it was the first time America suffered loss on her own soil. With the Supreme Court’s ruling today, America has suffered another loss – but this one is a self-inflicted wound.

The two great towers of moral truth and fear of God have fallen. Upon those twin towers America’s peace and prosperity were built. But, the tragedy is not just that those towers have fallen. The greater tragedy are the new towers that replace the old.

The reality is that those towers were in decay and disrepair for at least a generation. Where they were once the proud monuments of the American conscious, over the past generation, as they became neglected, they began to be seen as an unseemly eyesore in the new moral landscape that our generation was building.

Over the last three decades as the new morality was being built, people began to grumble about the old buildings that were ruining the new skyline. At first there was an uneasy toleration for the old towers. Some wanted to keep them as a monument to the past. Many were more than happy to turn them into museum.  But, they learned that those twin towers were functional; and as long as they stood they kept people from embracing the new towers. Since those towers refused to become a relic of the past, they were targeted for demolition. Today that demolition is complete.

With the dust settling from the towers collapse, the new landscape is clear to see. In the place of the old, the new twin towers dominate the landscape. The two towers that now define the American landscape are the towers of Defiance against God, and Depravity in the name of God. The word America will remain, but her heart has been given to another. In time the moral and spiritual fabric of the new America will look nothing like the Republic of old.

The first tower, Defiance, receives her name from the statue that decorates the rooftop. The statue is of a woman who represents justice. However, instead of the old statue where the woman wears a blindfold and has a pair of scales, the new one has a woman, holding the hand of another woman, and with her free hand she is shaking her fist at God. And instead of a blindfold, she has a pair of binoculars hung around her neck, so when needed, she is able to clearly see all around her who dare to stand against her. She is called “justice” because she will, at once, bring all non-conformists to the bar of gay-wrath where their sentence will be swift and without mercy.

The second tower, Depravity, derives its name from the many plaques that decorate the great halls of this tower. Whereas the old towers had many verses from the Bible reminding its visitors of those great truths that guided the nation to greatness, this new tower has many aphorisms and platitudes intimidating the citizenry to rejoice over iniquity and sin.

What was once seen as wrong is now celebrated as good; and what was once embraced as good is now vilified as evil. Further, where, in the past, divine love was celebrate as truth which reveals reality, the new “divine” love demands that all be given acceptance and affirmation as it seeks to create a new reality. The old love revealed sin so those entrapped by its devices may repent and turn back to God. The new love demands that all declarations of sin become sin itself. To declare a protected act sinful is to engage in the worst sin possible. And where the God of the old age allowed differences of opinion and was willing to allow dissenters their own place, the gods of new age will in no way tolerate opposing points of view, and instead will work diligently to uproot all opposition. Justice is ready to serve.

Today begins a new age for this country. We have crossed a line that will forever define the new from the old.

June 14, 2015

The King has Come!

Filed under: theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 12:59 am

GoldenGate

The East Gate of Jerusalem today

The first man and the first woman had a perfect life. They were free from any problems and would never die. They had a perfect relationship with God, and would personally walk with him in the garden.

Yet they destroyed all of that in their rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Now they faced hard labor, sickness, and death. Their relationship with God was permanently damaged, and they would be forever separated from God.

Their disobedience — their rebellion against God — was their sin. This sin would infect the entire human race through Adam’s descendants, leaving every person separated from God. Humans were no longer capable of having any relationship with God.

But God made a promise to this man and this woman. They would have a descendant who would save the human race from their sin. He would restore their relationship with God.

Over time, God gave more information about the one would save mankind. He was given a title, “The Anointed One”, or in Hebrew, “Messiah”, or in Greek, “Christ”. He would be the sacrifice for sin for the entire world. He would lead his people to freedom and victory. He would rule in peace.  See a more complete list here.

God also gave a specific time for the Messiah. The Messiah would come to Jerusalem on March 29, 33 A.D. [2].

God had given this message about the Messiah to the Jewish people. But as time went on, they were no longer concerned about being saved from their sin. They had devised an elaborate set of rules and laws which gave them confidence that they were were able to personally earn God’s favor. They no longer needed a Messiah to save them from sin.

However, the Jewish nation was often oppressed by other nations. Although they no longer needed (as they believed) a Messiah to save them from sin, they longed for the Messiah to come and free them from their oppressors. They looked forward to the conquering King who would set up a kingdom that would never end.

Then the Messiah came. He came to his own people and his own did not receive him (John 1:11-12). He did not follow the religious laws like he was supposed to, and the religious leaders were jealous of his fame.

Jesus Christ was wildly popular when he was on the earth. He taught like no one else did and he worked spectacular miracles, baffling his enemies and validating his claims to be the Messiah. As his final public act, he caused an explosion in the Jewish religious world by raising Lazarus from the dead (see here).

The hatred of the Jewish leaders was complete. They wanted to cover up the miracle of Lazarus so they determined to kill Jesus. They gave orders everywhere that anyone should report Jesus if they knew where he was (John 11:45-57). Jesus Christ was now a wanted criminal.

Yet as the Passover drew near, it was time for Jesus Christ to enter Jerusalem. It was also time for the city to welcome the Messiah as their king, in fulfillment of the prophecies about him (Daniel 9:24-27). Instead of coming in secret, Jesus came at the head of a massive crowd, cheering him as king.

Why did the crowd welcome Jesus as their King on that day? The miracle of Lazarus had already drawn the interest and the excitement of the people. Jesus had traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem with a large crowd of Passover pilgrims, so they all knew that he was coming. He had spent the Passover (Saturday) in the nearby town of Bethany, so the next opportunity for him to come would be Sunday morning.

Jesus left Bethany with a large crowd of followers on Sunday morning. As He approached the mountain separating him from Jerusalem (the Mount of Olives), he sent two disciples ahead to bring a donkey colt with its mother. The donkey showed his claim as king and fulfilled the prophecy (Zechariah 9:9) that the Messiah would enter on a donkey, the symbol of royalty.

The crowd that accompanied Jesus was met by a larger crowd coming out of Jerusalem. Together, they chanted the Psalm of the Messiah (Psalm 118:24-26), “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord!”

The religious leaders objected to this praise and personally asked Jesus to tell them to stop. But this was the day of Messiah’s coming. If the people did not shout out, the rocks would proclaim him as King!

Through all of this excitement, Luke tells the shocking response by Jesus as he approaches the city. Jesus starts sobbing as the city comes into view. Neither his disciples nor his enemies were able to see through the crowd’s excitement, yet only Jesus saw that these excited people would not receive him. He is given a vision of what will happen to Jerusalem and it brings him to tears. He see the Roman legions surrounding the city, cutting off the supplies and eventually killing the inhabitants. This all happened because they rejected the Messiah.

The people were excited to receive a Messiah of their own design. They wanted a leader to save them from Roman oppression, but they did not want to be saved from their sin. Yet that was His purpose, and that was why He had come. He would be the sacrifice to bring the people back to God.

In less than a week, the same people who were welcoming him as king would be shouting for his death.

 

Remember!

  • How much do we value a relationship with God? Are we willing to value the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ in order to bring us back to him?
  • As the Messiah, Jesus Christ’s main objective is to free us from sin and bring us back to God. It is as true now as it was in the first century — don’t look for a substitute!
  • The disciples did not understand what was going on until afterward. Don’t miss the important things in life because we are caught up in the moment.

 

Previous post: Dare to Waste

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June 6, 2015

Dare to Waste!

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 1:44 pm

waves-close-up-view-circle-drop-of-water

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11), causing many to believe in him. But this also provoked the anger and jealousy of the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were all united in their plans to kill him (John 11:53).

Jesus had retreated to the town of Ephraim (John 11:54) and stayed there until it was time to come for the Passover. Within a couple weeks of the Passover, He had traveled north from Ephraim through the middle of Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11), and joined the bands of Galilean pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem [2].

As the crowds neared Jerusalem on Friday, Jesus had split from the group and spent the Sabbath in the nearby town of Bethany. It was there in Bethany that Simon, a healed leper, had hosted a feast for Jesus and his disciples on Saturday night.

During the dinner, Mary shocked the entire crowd. She approached Jesus as he reclined at the table with the dinner guests. She then broke a priceless bottle of perfume and proceeded to pour it on his head. She moved to his feet with the perfume and unbound her hair, using her hair to wipe up the excess from his feet.

The fragrance of this strong perfume permeated the entire house.

Mary’s actions shocked the crowd as she proceeded to anoint his head and wash his feet. But the disciples were deeply scandalized when someone started to add up the cost of the perfume that was wasted on Jesus. Judas lead the disciples in scolding her, saying that this cost over a year’s wage. Why not use that to help the poor?

Jesus’ response to Judas was sharp and abrupt, “Leave her alone!” Her worship of him was more important than even helping the poor.

Mary alone understood that Jesus was coming to die and she was preparing him for his burial. Her story will now forever be joined with the story of the Gospel itself. “She has done a beautiful thing.”

This scene would burn in Judas’ memory. He was still stinging from Jesus’ rebuke three days later when he goes to the chief priests and offers to betray the Lord Jesus Christ.

The other 11 disciples should have known better. They had been following Jesus for the last three and a half years, yet they were so caught up in themselves that they missed what Jesus was trying to teach them.

Mary was the only one who understood what was going on.

This short account opens the final week of Jesus’ ministry on earth. This final week will mark the highest and lowest points of Jesus’ entire days on earth. He will teach his disciples and confront his enemies but there is one primary purpose throughout this week.

He has come to die.

 

Remember!

  • From the example of Judas, we need to beware lest we become hardened through unbelief. As it says in Hebrews 3:12-13, we need to encourage each other daily!
  • From the example of the 11 disciples, don’t be so caught up in ourselves that we miss what Jesus is saying to us!
  • Finally, from the example of Mary, would we all be so caught up with love for the Lord Jesus Christ that we are ready to lavish our most valuable possessions on him!

Previous post: Greater than Death

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May 26, 2015

Greater than Death

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 10:46 pm

Jerusalem Tomb of the Garden

It is a subject that no one wants to talk about, yet it is the one thing that is inevitable for all of us. It is the one constant that unifies every human on earth.

We all will die.

Every culture has its customs and rituals for dealing with death. All of these rituals are ways to show respect for the departed and to comfort the loved ones.

In the ancient Jewish culture, the funeral would last for seven days, with the peak on the fourth day, or “high day” [1] . Friends and neighbors would come to gather around the grieving family and comfort them with loud wailing. The most dedicated friends would help prepare the body for burial by wrapping the body in linen strips and covering it with spices and perfumes. There was no embalming so the body was buried immediately.

The tomb was usually a cave which was built to hold several bodies. After the flesh had fully decomposed, a family member would come in and remove the bones. The entrance to the tomb was covered with a stone in order to keep out thieves and predators, and to protect people from the smell of the decaying body.

At some time during his ministry in Judea (October-December), Jesus had visited Mary and Martha in the small village of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). He had become very close to the sisters and their brother, Lazarus. After the Feast of Dedication in December, Jesus had crossed the Jordan into Perea, but the sisters were still able to stay in touch with him.

It was now later in the Spring, probably early March, when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus. Lazarus was gravely ill, and they hurriedly dispatch a messenger with the news, “your friend is sick”.

Jesus received the news and announced that this would not end in death. Rather, this event was for the glory of God. Now that he received the news about a close friend who needed him, Jesus waits in Perea for two more days. 

Lazarus had already died by the time the messenger reached Jesus. The point is re-emphasized — He loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, yet he waits for two more days. There is something greater than restoring Lazarus; there is something greater than comforting the sisters. It is God’s glory.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem had already announced that they wanted to kill Jesus, and Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem. When Jesus announced his return to Judea, his disciples were concerned for his safety (and their own). Yet Jesus was clear on his intentions: Lazarus was dead and he was going to go raise him.

Jesus arrived in Bethany on the fourth day, the “High Day” of mourning. Lazarus had been buried for four days and a large crowd from Jerusalem had come to console Mary and Martha. Martha met Jesus outside the town and tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yet even still, Martha trusts in Jesus. She is prepared that whatever He asks of God, God will give to Him.

“Your brother will rise again”, Jesus tells her. Martha knew about the resurrection of believers, but she still did not understand. Jesus tells her, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever who believes in me, though he is dying, yet he will live.”

Jesus is not just able to restore life. He IS life. Jesus uses the name of God (“I AM”) and declares that he is God and that he is life.

Do you believe this, Martha? Her hope was not on how she felt, it was that she believed in the giver of life.

The next meeting, with Mary, brings Jesus to tears. He will soon bear the weight of the entire world on the cross, yet for now he must bear the grief and heartache of this small town as they stand at the tomb of Lazarus.

Martha objected to Jesus’ command to roll away the stone covering of Lazarus tomb. It had been four days, and the stench would be unbearable. Yet she obeys when Jesus mildly rebukes her and reminds her of the glory of God.

With the stone rolled away, Jesus thanks the Father. The Father has heard his prayer, as he always does, and there will be no doubt that this is from God. Jesus then shouted in his top voice, “LAZARUS, COME OUT!”

I cannot even picture the astonished crowd as Lazarus staggers out of the tomb, still in his linen wrappings. Jesus commands the people to unbind him.

“It is a peculiar thing, you cannot get any instruction in the Bible as to how to conduct a funeral, for Jesus broke up every funeral He ever attended by raising the dead.” – D.L. Moody

It is not surprising that many believed in Jesus that day. Nothing had ever happened like this [8].

But back in Jerusalem, the religious leaders hastily convened a meeting of the Great Sanhedrin. In their minds, this miracle had sparked a national crisis. If more people believe in him, they might get in trouble with Rome.

Therefore, they concluded that they need to contain this belief in Jesus at all costs.

They need to kill him.

It is only a few short weeks before the final Passover, where Jesus will come to Jerusalem and die for the world. Now, everyone is talking about Jesus and his fame is going across the entire country. This miracle has also steeled the resolve of the Jewish leaders. They now are actively looking to kill him.

Jesus heads north to the small town of Ephraim, where he will await the time for one final trip to Jerusalem.

 

Remember!

  • Jesus breaks everyone’s preconceived notions on how he should behave. He delays when they expect him to hurry, he cries with those grieving, and then he raises the dead! Never underestimate the Lord Jesus Christ!
  • If you have not believed in Him, do not let any more time go by. He is the resurrection. He is the life. If you believe in him, you will live again!
  • Don’t be hardened by avoiding the truth. The Jewish leaders never doubted the miracle, but they loved their sin more than they loved what they knew was the truth!
  • Lean on the truth when you are hurting. Jesus reminded Martha of what she believed.

 

Previous post: My Sheep Hear my Voice

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May 17, 2015

My Sheep Hear My Voice

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 1:36 am

sunset-7416_1280

Almost three months have passed since Jesus was last in Jerusalem. Since then, Jesus had sent out seventy to preach the gospel, visited the sisters Mary and Martha, and taught many people throughout Judea (Luke 10:1-13:21).

It was now winter (John 10:22) as Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication.

The Feast of Dedication, known today as “Hanukkah” takes place in December. It commemorates the time when, in 165 B.C., the faithful Jews were able to rededicate the temple after it had been polluted by the Syrian oppressors.

It is during this time that Jesus is accosted by the Jews. They literally closed in on Jesus demanding that he tell them once and for all: Is he the Messiah?

Jesus had already told them several times, sometimes indirectly (e.g. Luke 4:16-21) and sometimes directly (e.g. John 8:58-59). The Jews had already tried to kill him on many occasions after speaking these words.

The problem was not that they needed more information. They already knew the answer but had decided not to believe.

They did not believe because they were not his sheep. Jesus returned to the pastoral analogy to tell about his true sheep. He has a close, intimate relationship with his own sheep. They hear his voice and they follow him. He knows them.

But at this time, when confronted by people who refused to believe him, Jesus gave some of the most reassuring words to his own sheep:

He gives them eternal life. They will never perish.

They are in his hands, and in the hands of The Father. Nothing will ever take them away from him.

Jesus repeated his oneness with the Father. The people wanted to kill him for daring to speak it, because it was the utmost blasphemy to say that he was God.

Unless he actually was God!

Jesus appealed to the Old Testament scriptures that they all revered. Psalm 82 refers to wicked men as “gods” when they represent God on earth. How much more is it appropriate to say this to one who was actually sent by God!

Furthermore, Jesus’ words already said who he was (see John 5 and John 8). But if they had any reason to doubt his words, his actions showed he was God (see John 5, John 6, and John 9).

The chapter ends with a group of people who do believe. Jesus returned across the Jordan River (to Perea), where people remembered John the Baptist, and that he had announced Jesus as the Messiah. John 10 concludes with saying that many believed in him there.

Even after he was dead, John’s ministry continued to flourish.

 

Remember! 

  • There are many people who refuse to believe. They don’t need a better argument, they need to come to God.
  • We are promised a close relationship with Jesus Christ and we are promised eternal life. There is NOTHING that will take us away from him! See also Romans 8:35-39.
  • We may never know all of the results when we teach God’s word. John the Baptist never knew how his words would be used long after his death.

 

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