Sapphire Sky

August 13, 2018

The Key To Happiness

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:11 pm
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A sign from the Church of the Beatitudes, near the Sea of Galilee

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

 

The famous opening to the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, starts with this sentence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The pursuit of Happiness.

What makes you happy?

What does it mean to be happy?

How do you define happiness?

If we honestly answer this question for ourselves, we often expect to find happiness at the end of our pursuits. The businessman expects to find it at the next promotion or closed deal. The athlete looks for it after the next win. The concerned parents look for happiness in their “successful” children. The romantics look for happiness in the man or woman of their dreams.

We find temporary happiness at the top of the mountain that we are climbing. But like the old song about the bear that went over the mountain, all we really see is another mountain. The happiness of success, of reaching your goals is temporary.

Common descriptions of a happy person today would include adjectives such as: smart, successful, wealthy, winning, powerful, proud, self-reliant, trouble-free, and able to get everything he wants.

The descriptions of a happy person in the first century would be very similar. The Greeks valued the wise and the educated. The Romans valued the powerful and the ruthless. The Jews valued the devout and the pious.

But Jesus gave a completely different view of the happy person. The happy person was not the powerful, the successful, the educated, nor the pious one. The happy person was low enough to enter God’s kingdom.

Jesus used a word for “happy” which has a much deeper meaning than the fleeting good feelings that we may have. The true happiness gives you joy and hope, even through terrible circumstances. This word is often translated as “joyful” or “blessed”.

“‘Blessed’ implied an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that did not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” – Warren Wiersbe 5

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The happy person is not the wealthy or the wise one, but the one who recognizes that they have nothing that they can give to God! When you come to God, you don’t start on your knees, you start by crawling on the ground! It is only when you realize that you are totally destitute that you can come to Him. Happy are those who recognize their absolute, total need for Him, for these are the ones who are in His kingdom!

 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The happy person is not the one who is laughing, but the one who is mourning. We have nothing to offer God, and our very nature is to rebel against Him and disobey Him. The truly happy person is the one who is brought to grief over his failure to please God, for he will be comforted. It is when you mourn over your disobedience that you can come to God for forgiveness, and He will comfort you.

 

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

The happy person is not the assertive and the proud, but the one who is humble and restrains himself. It is the one who responds with humility — even when pushed around — that is part of God’s kingdom. The meek and the humble are looked down upon in our culture, but these are the ones who will rule over the earth.

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The happy person is not the one who is content, but the one who is starving for justice and an upright life. The members of God’s kingdom earnestly desire to see right done in the world. Those who need to see righteousness like this will be brought to God Himself — the true source of everything right and good in the world!

 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

The happy person is not the one who is served, but the one who helps others who are in need. The members of God’s kingdom will show kindness to those in need, even when they are getting what they deserve. For it is those who are showing mercy who realize how much mercy God has given to us! We were the destitute, the mourning, and the humbled!

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The happy person is not the one who follows after life’s pleasures, but the one who pursues God’s glory. This is the one who keeps his heart pure and set apart for God. God shows mercy to those who have come to Him in humility and grief, and he cleanses their hearts and makes them pure. These are the ones who can truly know God!

 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

The happy person is not the winner, but the one who negotiates peace. This is the one who works through interpersonal conflicts in order to bring unity among others. But this is also the one who goes to the lost ones who have rebelled against God, and shows them that they need to repent and turn to Him. The peacemakers are the ones who work for peace between others, and peace with God. When we negotiate peace, we are representing God Himself as His sons. Not simply children of God, but sons of God, bearing His image and authority.

 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Finally, the happy person is not the one who is free from trouble, but the one who is harassed for the sake of Jesus Christ. We identify that we are part of the kingdom of heaven when we are persecuted and harassed for His sake. We are also in great company, including all of the great prophets of old, and we will have a great reward in heaven!

This is the key to ultimate happiness. We will go through poverty, mourning, humility, and persecution, but we have the ultimate joy of knowing that we will be with Jesus Christ in His kingdom!

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:14-15

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.1 Peter 2:9

 

Previous Post: The Message of the Kingdom

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August 6, 2018

The Message of the Kingdom

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:19 pm
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The Sea of Galilee, as viewed from the surrounding hills where Jesus taught

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

Matthew’s gospel account tells how Jesus traveled throughout the region — preaching, teaching, and working miracles (see here). As His fame grew, people came to Him from across Galilee and the surrounding regions. But Jesus’ message was the same: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).

As the crowds began to grow, Jesus went up a mountain and began to teach His disciples:

Matthew 5:1-2
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them…

Jesus had travelled throughout the countryside, preaching that the kingdom is at hand. He now took his disciples aside and laid out what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom.

Thus begins the first of many great discourses in Matthew’s gospel account. It is also one of the longest recorded sermons in Scripture, covering three chapters in Matthew (Matthew 5-7, with parallels in Luke 6:17-49). This teaching by Jesus contains some of the most well known parts of all scripture, and some of His most beloved quotes. Because of the location where Jesus taught, it has been traditionally known as the “Sermon on the Mount”.

Many parts of the Sermon on the Mount are well known in our culture, even by those who have never read the Bible. It opens with the famous series of beatitudes, where Jesus taught about the blessings of those who follow Him, even though they are poor, hungry, and weeping. Jesus urged his followers to be salt and light to the outside world, and He set a much higher standard than was ever given in the Old Testament law.

He criticized religious hypocrisy and indifference, showing that it is meaningless to give God what is no value to you, and the danger of being religious only for the praise of other people. He showed that the treasure in heaven is much more valuable and permanent than anything you can gain here on earth. He taught how to properly judge others, being mindful of your own failures. Yet He also gave comfort for when we doubt if God is caring about us, or when we doubt if He is watching over for us. We are reminded that we are much more valuable in God’s sight than all of the intricate design of His own creation!

And finally, He warned His listeners to not only hear Him, but to also do what He says. The one who hears His words and follows them is the wise man who built his house upon a rock, but the one who ignores His teaching is the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and everything he has will be destroyed.

The Scripture says that when Jesus was finished, all the people were astonished at the way he spoke. English translation does not put that strongly enough. They were stunned! They were flabbergasted!

Matthew 7:28-29
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

It was very common for the rabbis of Jesus’ day to stand up and give lectures. They would call upon the authority of a great rabbi from years before, who would call upon the authority of their previous rabbis. But Jesus did not quote the authority of previous teachers, he relied on His own authority. In Matthew 5, He repeats the saying, “you have heard it said … but I say …“ (Matthew 5:17-48). He was not conforming or enhancing the current Jewish system of religion. He was following the law, but making it completely different, bringing it into something new.

Theologians have debated over how we should apply the Sermon on the Mount in our day. It does not contain instructions for how to have eternal life, and at a quick glance, it appears to be all about our works. Much of the sermon is directed toward our attitudes and our actions. The Sermon on the Mount is not how to gain entrance into God’s kingdom, it is how His citizens should live, now that we are in His kingdom. There are some important things to remember about the Sermon on the Mount:

First, Jesus was speaking to his disciples, who have already repented and trusted in Him. The disciples were already following Him, but needed instructions for how to live as citizens of His kingdom. Therefore, it would be wrong to view the Sermon on the Mount as the entrance requirements for how to get into God’s kingdom. This would also contradict other Scripture, which clearly states that we are saved by grace, not by good works (Romans 4:5, Titus 3:4-7, Ephesians 2:8-9). We do not follow God’s law to become His children, we follow God’s law because we are His children!

Also, instead of discarding the Old Testament law, Jesus raised its expectations up to a higher level. It is popular today to believe that Jesus came to put aside any type of law keeping. But Jesus did not come to take away the law of Moses, He came to fulfill the law. In this sermon, Jesus showed that the letter of the law is not nearly as important as the spirit of the law. You may pride yourself on never committing murder or adultery, but you are just as guilty if you harbor hatred or lustful thoughts.

“This sermon is not a ‘constitution’ for the kingdom God will one day establish on earth. The Sermon on the Mount applies to life today and describes the kind of godly character we should have as believers in this world.” – Warren Wiersbe 2

 

Previous post: What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

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July 19, 2018

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Filed under: theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:50 pm

The thoughts of kings and kingdoms are foreign to our 21st-century mindset. The very mention of them brings to mind fairy tales and medieval legends. Our view of a kingdom is romanticized and very separated from our day-to-day life.

But in the ancient world, the king was supreme. His word was absolute and uncontested. The citizens would thrive under a good king or chafe under a bad king, who would rule until his death or defeat (by a more powerful king).

When God established the nation of Israel and called them to be His own people, He set up a government where God Himself would rule as their perfect king (see Exodus-Deuteronomy). But the people rejected God’s rule and demanded a king of their own (1 Samuel 8:4-9). Throughout the rest of Old Testament History, the fortunes of God’s people rose and fell based on the character of their kings.

But God had greater plans for His people. Every book of the Old Testament promised that a great king would come. He would save mankind from the curse of sin, and lead Israel in a victorious, perfect kingdom. He was the Promised One, the Anointed One, or in Hebrew, The Messiah (see here).

The Old Testament prophets also wrote about His kingdom. Daniel saw the empires of mankind destroyed by the kingdom of God that would never end (Daniel 2:44, 7:27, see here). Isaiah saw the kingdom of God as a kingdom of peace and safety, where the wolf would dwell with the lamb (Isaiah 11).

This kingdom of God was a real promise that Jews anticipated. As they were dominated by the world empires — Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome — they looked forward to the day when their Messiah would come and free them, restoring peace to the world. When John the Baptist came announcing that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, the people came by the thousands. They were ready to be free!

Jesus followed John with the same message: the kingdom of heaven was at hand1. But Jesus never came with military force. He never drove out the Romans, nor did He oppose any conquering army. He had no political power. Yet Jesus spent most of His ministry teaching about His kingdom. So what is His kingdom? What is the kingdom of heaven?

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July 6, 2018

The Ministry of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:56 pm

Thoughts from Matthew 4

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Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee

What does it mean to be like Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

How can we be imitators of Jesus Christ?

Matthew 4 tells the beginning of Jesus Christ‘s ministry on earth. He had been waiting for 30 years, until he learned that John was baptizing in the Jordan River. He then came to be baptized, launching His three and a half year ministry (see here). In a dramatic showing, the Holy Spirit descended on him after His baptism and God the Father audibly accepted Jesus as His son.

Jesus was then taken immediately by the Holy Spirit after His baptism. He was brought to the wilderness where, after an extended fast, He was severely tempted by the devil (see here). Jesus started his ministry with a challenge from the enemy.

Now, almost a year has passed. John’s Gospel accounts tells us about this year that followed the temptation, when Jesus had stayed in the south country of Judea, gathering disciples (see John 1-4) . It was there that He met Andrew, Peter, John, Phillip, and the Nathanael (see here). It was also during this time that He threw out the corrupt businessmen from the temple (see here), and shortly afterward had a lengthy discussion with one of the top teachers of Israel, Nicodemus (see here).

Jesus also had taken a brief visit to Galilee during that year. John’s gospel account tells of how He came up to Cana for a wedding feast, and where he performed His first miracle (see here). It was also during this visit to Galilee that Jesus relocated his family from his hometown of Nazareth to the town of Capernaum, by the sea of Galilee (John 2:12).

It was about a year since Jesus‘ baptism when John the Baptist was arrested by Herod Antipas. John had been preaching in the North (Galilee) while Jesus was was in the South (Judea, John 3:22-24). Yet, when Jesus heard the news that John was arrested he knew that the time has come for him to head north. The opposition was mounting against Him and the time was growing short.

Jesus’ message was the same as John – repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The king was here, and He was getting ready to set up his kingdom. It was now time to prepare yourself for the kingdom, starting with getting right with God!

He also gathered followers as he went through Galilee. He had already known Peter, Andrew, James, and John from His time in Judea, but he now called them to leave their professions and follow him, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. When they heard Him, they left their fishing and immediately followed Him.

Many pastors have preached on this passage, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men“. It is a well-known quote from the gospels and it is often applied toward missions or evangelism. I have heard one popular pastor use this passage as a launching point to explain why we need to strategize and determine how to reach the world with the gospel. This is a good sentiment and is true to Scripture. However, that is not what Jesus is saying here. He gave a command and the promise. The promise is that Jesus will do the making. He will make us into fishers of men. It is not a job that we take on upon ourselves.

What is our job? Our job is to follow Him. That was Jesus’ command to Peter, to the other disciples, and therefore to all of us who believe in Him. We are to follow Him! The last scene in the four gospels is when Jesus appeared again, to Peter, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had risen from the dead and had come to restore and commission His broken disciples. His final message to Peter was the same as at the beginning, “Follow me!“ (See here).

What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ? Just like the disciples of old, we spend our time with Him, and hang out with Him. Jesus Christ consumes our thoughts and our focus. He becomes our role model.

We cannot imitate Jesus’ every action on earth, so that cannot be what it means to follow him. We cannot heal the sick like Jesus did. We cannot raise the dead. We better not say that we are God, and I trust that we will never have the opportunity to be crucified!

But this passage in Matthew shows us how we are to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit as he went to his temptation (Luke 4:1). Luke again highlights the fact that Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee (Luke 4:14). This is the key to Jesus‘ ministry, and this is how we are to follow him. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit in the same way that Jesus did. He is to direct our every move, so that we work through His power.

It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee:

 

He was a light in the darkness

John was in prison but the need was as great as ever. This land of Galilee was historically dark because the people of that region had turned away from God, and were terribly abused by conquering nations. Isaiah predicted that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1-2). The persecuted, wicked people of Galilee would have the first light of the Messiah — He would bring them truth and life.

Isaiah lived over 700 years before Jesus Christ. But the people was just as dark in the time of Jesus. The people were consumed by their self-seeking ways and needed to turn back to God.

We also need to be a light to the darkness. Matthew says that Jesus went out preaching the good news about the kingdom. Our message about the kingdom may be different from Jesus (we are not the king, nor are we preaching the message of an imminent physical kingdom), but we need to be a light in darkness, bringing the good news about Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him.

 

He called others to follow Him

Jesus called his disciples to come and follow Him. He promised that He would make them fishers of men.

We need to call others to Jesus, but we also need to remember that we are fishers of men. The first four disciples — Andrew, Peter, James, and John — all lived different lives and had radically different ministries, yet God uses each of them to being people to Him.

We need to follow Him. He does the transforming.

“Jesus never commanded the disciples to catch fish. He commanded them to follow him and He would make them fishermen.” – Stephen Davey 6

 

He taught, preached, and healed

Jesus went throughout the land of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the message of the kingdom, and healing many. His fame became so great that people from the surrounding areas all came to see Him. Even the people from Judea, whom He had left to return to Galilee, followed Him north!

We will not have a ministry like Jesus, but this example shows what can happen when we are led by the Holy Spirit. God will more than fill up what we leave behind!

 

As a final thought, it would be good to remember what happened to the first four fishers of men. Jesus had called each of them, and promised that He would use them.

Andrew is the most noted for bringing others to meet Jesus. He first brought his brother Peter to see Him (John 1:40-41, see here). Andrew was the one to bring the boy to Jesus when He fed the 5,000 (John 6:8-9, see here), and the Greeks went through Andrew when they wanted to see Jesus in Jerusalem (John 12:20-22, see here). Church tradition holds that Andrew traveled north to preach the gospel in what is now eastern Europe and Russia.

Peter was typical example that we think of when we hear of the term, “fisher of men”. We see him leading the church in Acts, and preaching to thousands (Acts 2:38-41). Jesus predicted that Peter would die a martyr’s death and tradition says that he was crucified upside-down by the Romans.

James was always known in the gospels as accompanying his brother John, through the good and the bad. James was the first Apostle to be killed, being murdered by Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12:1-2.

John was the disciple who lived the longest. He referred to himself in the fourth gospel as “The disciples whom Jesus loved” (e.g. John 13:23). His only claim to fame was that Jesus chose to love him. John was the writer of five books of the New Testament, including the fourth gospel and the final book of the Bible, Revelation.

These were four disciples with for different lives and four different ministries. Jesus does not tell us how we will become fishers of men, he only says that we are to follow him.

Follow him!

 

Previous post:  The Temptation of the King

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June 26, 2018

The Temptation of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 6:14 pm
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The Judean Desert, as seen from Masada

Thoughts from Matthew 4

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop doing things wrong? If our lives were perfect and we never disobeyed God?

Unfortunately, it does not take long to find out that that is not the case.

Even when we belong to God, we still doubt Him and try to get what we want without Him.

We still challenge God, asking Him to meet our agenda, as if we are more important than the God of the universe!

We still look for shortcuts to meet our needs, ignoring God’s plan.

Life is a never-ending battle with temptation. And sadly, we often lose.

The Bible opens with Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, falling to temptation. They disobeyed God’s law, and the entire world descended into chaos (see here).

David, the greatest king over Israel, is well known for his fall into temptation. It only took a short walk on the roof with his wandering eyes, and we next find out that he was guilty of adultery, murder, and lies to cover up his actions (see here).

But there are also notable victories over temptation. Joseph chose to run away naked when his master’s wife tried to seduce him (see here). Daniel was taken away from his home, yet he chose to follow God and not get caught up in the idol worship of his peers (see here).

But by far, the greatest example of victory over temptation was Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus had just finished an incredible start to His ministry. He was baptized by John the Baptist, the greatest prophet in history! The Holy Spirit came visibly down upon Him, and God the Father Himself spoke from heaven to announce the Son of God!

But then the Holy Spirit took him immediately into the desert. Jesus was there for 40 days with the burning sun and the barren rocks, and with absolutely no food to eat. But He was not alone. Satan dogged His every step, trying to get Him to turn away from God.

The Bible shows Satan’s strategy for tempting people to turn away from God. They are small in number and very predictable, but extremely effective:

1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Satan’s three ways to tempt us are:

  • The desires of the flesh — what makes us feel better?
  • The desires of the eyes — what looks good to us?
  • The pride of life — what gives us importance?

There in the desert, he used all three of these weapons against Jesus Christ.

First, he challenged Jesus personally. Jesus had not eaten for 40 days and was very hungry and physically weak. But He was the Son of God — why not do a miracle to feed Himself? This temptation was akin to the desires of the flesh — suggesting that Jesus answer His own needs for hunger.

Eating bread is an innocent activity, but the message from Satan was much more insidious. He was saying to Jesus, “Since you are the Son of God, you should be able to take care of yourself now. You no longer need to rely on the Father, and you can feed yourself!”

Jesus responded by quoting scripture back to Satan. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We need to depend on God, not only for our food, but for our very existence!

Satan’s next attack was at Jesus’ role as the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He took Jesus to the rooftop of the temple overlooking the steep valley below. Satan himself then quoted scripture (Psalm 91:11-12), showing that God would never let the Son of God get injured. Instead, Jesus would descend safely down to the worshippers below, and be hailed as their king. This temptation was akin to the pride of life — Satan was attempting to get Jesus to turn away from God and seek glory on His own.

Jesus had defeated Satan in the first temptation by totally trusting in God. This time, Satan used His trust in God to try and get Him to force a miracle.

Jesus responded again with a quote from Deuteronomy, this time Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. We trust totally on God for our needs as we do His will. But we are testing God when we create a crisis of our own design and then demand that God get us out.

Satan was not easily overcome. He next took Jesus to a high mountain for a final challenge. Showing Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world, he offered them to Him. All Jesus needed to do was to bow down to Satan — once! This temptation was akin to the desires of the eyes — he was trying to tempt Jesus by what looked good to Him.

Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to glory. No longer would He need the three-plus years of ministry, concluded by the suffering on the cross. He could have the worship of the entire world immediately!

This is also the boldest of Satan’s temptations. He no longer couched his suggestions with “since your are the Son of God…” Now, he directly insisted that Jesus bow down to him.

Jesus’ response to Satan was decisive and direct. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:10, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”It was wrong for Jesus to try and shortcut God’s plans, but it was especially wrong to ever bow down to Satan!

Jesus also finally commands Satan to leave him, “Be gone, Satan! ” Satan then left Jesus for a more opportune time.

Jesus was attacked in every way by Satan’s temptations, but he emerged victorious! Jesus never disobeyed God, and when challenged, he always answered His challenges with God’s word.

What can Jesus’ example teach us about temptation?

 

Expect temptation to come!

Temptation is a part of our life when we belong to Jesus Christ. The closer we get to Him, the more Satan will attempt to pull us back.

But we need to anticipate the temptations, knowing that we can win. Defend yourself when you are weak, and be ready to answer back when temptation comes.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

 

Answer temptation with God’s Word!

Jesus relied totally on God’s word when confronted by Satan. Immerse yourself in God’s word, keeping Him on your mind and heart for when the tempter comes.

Psalms 119:11
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

 

Resist the devil!

Jesus sent away Satan after the attack. We have the same promise that he will flee from us when we resist him. Note, however, that it is not enough to simply stand up against the devil. We need to first submit to God. We need to let God fill the place in our life that was formerly taken over by the devil.

James 4:7
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 

Pray!

Jesus went through the same temptations as us, so He understands when we are tempted. We need to make it a habit to first come to God when temptation comes. Stay close to Him and ask Him for the grace and the strength to get through it.

Hebrews 4:14-16
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

Previous post: The Initiation of the King

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May 25, 2018

The Herald of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:38 am

Thoughts from Matthew 3 …

I remember many of my children’s books that I had when I was younger.  There were colorful Bible Story books, showing scenes and characters from popular events.

But there was one character that I always loved to see. They always pictured him in a faraway place, holding a long staff and wearing strange clothes. He had to be the strangest man that could ever think of:

He lived in the desert!

He dressed in camel hair (my picture books always showed him wearing some strange, hairy toga)!

He always had a big beard (in all my picture books)!

HE ATE BUGS!!

My Bible Story books showed people coming from far and wide to hear him. They would go into the desert to listen to this strange man preach. He would then lead them into the Jordan River where he would baptize them.

As I grew older, I saw many movies which dramatized the life of this man in the desert. He was no longer just a picture in a book, but a live person walking through my TV screen. It seemed like all the movies depicted this person, John the Baptist, as a very angry man. He was always shouting at people, trying if he could to scare them into repentance.

As we look at the Bible says, the picture of John the Baptist emerges as a very important man. Jesus would later describe John as the greatest man who ever lived (Matthew 11:11)!

Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews, was about to arrive. John’s message had the following parts:

First, the king is coming! The long-awaited Messiah was about to be here! He would come and set up His kingdom on earth as the prophets foretold.

Second, the people were not ready. They needed to repent!

Finally, if their repentance was true, then they needed to come into the Jordan River with John. They would put their heads under the water and demonstrate to the world that they were now ready for the kingdom.

What does it mean to repent? It is much more than simply being sorry for disobeying God. Repentance involves both the knowledge and the sorrow that you have violated the law of a Holy God. It then involves a conscious act to turn away from your disobedience and to turn to God.

“Repentance means that the natural man takes God’s side against himself.” – H.A. Ironside 6

This was John’s message, but he had opposition. The religious leaders came to see why he was upsetting the status quo. John compared them to deadly snakes and urged them to flee from the fires of God’s judgement.

These religious leaders were caught up in their own imaginations about what it meant to be right with God. They believed that they were safe from God’s judgement because of their family relations — they were descendants of Abraham! They also believed that God would look favorably on them because they worked so hard to keep the law. But John said that all of these things — the family connections, their own good deeds — they all were worthless to God. They needed to come back to Him.

There was no longer any time for middle ground. You need to either repent and join the king, or be swept away in God’s wrath.

The people were impressed by John, but he always deflected their praise (see also here). He was not the king, he was simply the announcer for the king. When the king comes, John did not consider himself worthy to wash his feet!

 

Remember!

Most of us have head of John the Baptist before this. The story of his life may not give you any new information. However, don’t forget some of the things that God is showing us through his life:

  • If you have not turned to God, then the time is now! Repent and join Him! You may not have another chance!
  • If you already belong to God but are not obeying Him, then you too need to repent. Don’t let this day go by before you get right with God!
  • Don’t stop at the inward steps of repentance, but show it in your life. If you really have turned from your disobedience and turned to God, then there will be real, tangible changes in your life.
  • Don’t let your pride or preconceptions stand in the way of getting right with God. Very few of the religious leaders believed John because they thought they knew better.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

 

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May 13, 2018

Friends and Enemies of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:58 am

Thoughts from Matthew 2…

Matthew’s second chapter continues his account of the promised King.

 

Who was this king? Who is this person that Matthew was writing about?

Matthew’s first chapter told of the heritage and birth of the new king. He has the heritage and the rights of the great dynasty of Israel, going back to King David himself. His birth was a miracle, born to a poor unmarried woman and her betrothed husband.

But why should we care? Why should our modern world care about an ancient Jewish king?

Because He is much more than that. He is not simply some distant story. He was God Himself, come to mankind!

Matthew’s account is clear: He was born to a human mother among a human family. He was very much human (see here).

But His father was God (see here, here, and here). Therefore he was also very much God.

And He came for a purpose. Matthew stated His purpose in his first chapter, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He will save His people from their sins. He was the promised one that the Jews had been waiting for, their Messiah!

But Matthew then showed that Jesus did not only come for the Jews. He was born to a Jewish family, but some of His first attendants were outsiders, or Gentiles.

Jesus was still a young child — probably only a few months old — when He was visited by dignitaries from far away. These visitors, or Magi, had learned of the new king and come to worship Him.

Even at the start, Jesus’ own people didn’t care for Him (see here). The religious leaders knew exactly where He would be. They even gave directions for the Magi but they never came.

The king over the Jews saw Him as a threat. King Herod knew that this was the long-awaited Messiah, and he tried to kill him. At first he tried to use deception to find the baby. When that failed, he resorted to massacre. He sent his soldiers to murder all the young boys in Bethlehem!

But it was these outsiders, the ones who should have never cared, who came to worship Jesus the Messiah. The Magi used their own resources to travel a long and dangerous road, carrying priceless gifts, unsure of the final destination.

God had given them a glimpse of His glory, in the form of a bright light, in their home country of Babylon. That vision caused them to come to Jerusalem, seeking the new king of the Jews. They were then directed to the nearby village of Bethlehem, where they again encountered God’s light. They found the new king and worshipped Him, giving their gifts.

Remember!

Most of us have heard about the “wise men” as part of the Christmas story. It can seem distant, exotic, and very removed from our present lives. But we should take time to remember some of the lessons from these wise men (or Magi):

  • The Magi knew very little about God, but they followed what they knew. They didn’t know His location but they came gladly to worship!

  • You don’t need a Jewish heritage to worship Jesus Christ. You only need to follow Him.

  • God does not look for those who are especially powerful, religious or smart. The educated priests ignored Jesus Christ and the powerful king wanted to kill Him!

  • God will protect His own! He directed Joseph to take Jesus and Mary away to Egypt when Herod wanted to kill him, and then back to Israel when it was safe to return.

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May 2, 2018

The Birth of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 1:03 pm

If you were to tell the story of a great king, what would you tell about his beginning?

Most stories have the king born amidst splendor, with the great people of his day. Others may tell a great “rags to riches” story, how the great king emerged from such a humble start.

But for the King of Kings, the truth is greater than any fiction that we could imagine! Jesus Christ Himself came to earth, born of a poor village girl, in the middle of a terrible scandal.

His mother, Mary, became pregnant out of wedlock. She had had no relations with a man — there was no human father. The baby was a miracle from God Himself.

Mary was away for several months, visiting her cousin Elizabeth. She returned to her conservative, religious small town of Nazareth, showing that she was obviously pregnant. Nobody believed her.

Her own husband didn’t believe her. She was betrothed to Joseph, anticipating the great celebration where they would fulfill the ceremony and become man and wife. But all Joseph could see was that his wife was unfaithful to him. He cared enough for Mary to not make a public scene, but he could never marry her after what she had done. He opted for a quiet divorce.

This was the beginning of the life of the King of Kings. Born to a scandalized mother and a heartbroken father.

But Matthew’s account is not about Mary, nor is it really about Joseph. This was about the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit created the embryo in Mary’s womb. He also sent an angel to direct Joseph. There were things that Joseph needed to know about the child, and things Joseph needed to do.

Joseph needed to complete the marriage. Mary was not unfaithful and she was his wife.

The child was the work of the Holy Spirit. God was directly intervening with mankind, and the result was the baby who was growing in Mary’s womb.

Joseph was to name the child Jesus, meaning, “Jehovah is Savior”.

This baby has a special purpose. He will save his people from their sins. He will be the long awaited Messiah!

Matthew shared the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ on earth, showing a sharp contrast between what the world sees as opposed to but God sees.

The world saw Mary as an adulteress, who had a baby without a husband. God saw her as a pure woman who was willing to follow and obey Him regardless of the cost (see here).

The world saw Joseph as a poor carpenter who was either complicit or the cause of Mary’s adultery. God saw him as a man willing to follow Him in protecting and caring for the young Messiah.

The world saw Jesus as an illegitimate child. God knew that he was a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and the One who would be the Saviour of the world.

The apostle Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that the wisdom of God is seen as foolish to the world, yet the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. It is so easy to see ourselves and others as what the world sees us. We need to look at people the way God sees them.

Finally, we should never go to Matthew’s gospel account without being challenged to renew our appreciation for Jesus Christ. He is the King of Kings; He is the long awaited Messiah to the Jews; He is the one who will save the world from the curse of sin!

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April 25, 2018

The History of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 11:16 pm

The New Testament opens with a message for the Jewish people. It is a message that they will not accept, given by one of the most hated people.

The Romans in the first century relied upon a hierarchy of publicani, or tax gatherers, in order to collect taxes for the empire. Local merchants would pay for the privilege to collect from their countrymen. These local tax gatherers would often add on a large percentage of taxes for themselves, thus becoming both very wealthy and very hated by the local people.

The tax gatherers were considered the worst of society. They were often used in the gospels to illustrate bad people, with the synonymous term, “tax gatherers and sinners” (e.g. Matthew 9:11, Mark 2:16).

Matthew (also known as Levi) was such a tax gatherer who left his business to follow Jesus (see the passages here).  Matthew turned from his old life to become one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (see here).

Matthew’s message to the Jewish people is that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the long-awaited king who has come to save His people (see here).

Matthew’s gospel account begins by showing that Jesus deserves the title of king. Jesus is the descendent of David and heir to the throne over all Israel.

The first part of Matthew’s gospel account traces Jesus’ family tree back to Abraham. This family tree dates back for 2,000 years and includes many heroes of Old Testament history, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and many of the kings of Judah. This list includes some of the greatest men to have ever lived.

This list included some very evil men. Rehoboam was the foolish king who divided his father’s kingdom. Manasseh was so wicked and violent that God promised to remove the kingdom because of him. Jeconiah was cursed to never have a descendent to sit on the throne of Israel (see Jeremiah 22:30).

This list included scandals. Judah fathered Perez because his daughter-in-law disguised herself as a prostitute. David took Bathsheba as wife after adultery and murder. Jehoshaphat married his son Jehoram to the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, setting up two generations of family murder and intrigue.

This list included foreigners and women. Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who rescued the Israelite spies and turned to follow their God. Ruth was the Moabite widow who chose to remain faithful to her destitute mother-in-law.

The list ends with Joseph, who would be the legal guardian of Jesus the Messiah.

What is the point of this history lesson? Is it simply a chance to reflect on history, with perhaps a chance to walk down memory lane?

Of the many lessons that we can gather from this passage, remember the following:

 

God can use broken people!

The family history of Jesus Christ is full of fallible humans. Even among the great figures in history:

  • Abraham lied and tried to build his family through a slave girl
  • Isaac was partial to one son over the other
  • Jacob was a liar and a deceiver
  • David was an adulterer and a murderer
  • Solomon was a polygamist
  • Asa would not trust God
  • Jehoshaphat befriended the evil kings of Israel
  • Uzziah tried to become a priest
  • Hezekiah bargained with God for his life
  • Josiah had three wicked sons

If God was able to use broken people in past, He is just as able to use you and me, despite our failures.

 

God’s plan is not broken by evil people!

The bloodline of Jesus Christ was never broken!

  • Even when Jehoram was murdering his brothers and Athaliah was murdering her grandchildren, God’s plan never failed.

  • Even when Manasseh was searching Jerusalem so that he could murder anyone who was faithful to God, His plan never failed.

  • Even when the Babylonian army was burning the temple and taking the people into exile, God’s plan was never broken.

If God’s plan never failed through the worst of ancient history, He is fully able to keep his plans today, despite anyone who rises to oppose Him.

 

Jesus is king!

Jesus is the king, not only over ancient Israel, but over the world today. He has all authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).

Jesus still has just as much authority today as He did 2,000 years ago. We can know that, through all of our uncertainties, He is still king!

 

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April 18, 2018

Who is Jesus?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 5:50 pm

I encountered this question almost four years ago, as I was starting out on a study on the Gospel of John. I have recently started to study the Gospel of Matthew and hope to use this blog as a way to share my discoveries from Matthew’s gospel account.

Matthew’s objective is different from John, and he is writing to show that Jesus is the King. Although Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, he also shows that the kingdom of Jesus Christ includes all people.

Sapphire Sky

Who is Jesus?

There may be no one in history with more written about than this man.  Authors have been busy for almost 2,000 years writing pages and volumes that reflect their thoughts of Jesus Christ.

Like the people who lived 2000 years ago, everybody today seems to have an opinion.   He is often called a great teacher, a miracle worker, a martyr. Some say that he was God.

The more I hear from people, the more I see that most people are trying to reinterpret the life of Jesus Christ into a person that they would like to see based on their own wants and needs. Lonely people want a friend. Hurting people want a miracle worker. Liberals like the one who opposed the religious and political establishment. Conservatives like the one who promised to uphold the law. Everybody likes the message of love, although few agree on what it means. The list goes…

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March 26, 2016

Events of the Passion Week

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday – Entry into Jerusalem

 

Monday – Cleansing the Temple

 

Tuesday – Debating the leaders

 

Wednesday – Silent Day

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

 

Thursday – The Last Supper

 

Friday – The Passover Sacrifice

 

Saturday – The Sabbath

 

Sunday – He is Risen!

 

 

Sources:

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

 

February 7, 2016

The Stranger on the Shore

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

IMG_0400

He had still not recovered.

But how could anyone recover from what he went through?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep on following me!

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

 

Remember!

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

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

 

 

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January 2, 2016

He is Risen!

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

IMG_0352

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The account of the women

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

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

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

 

The account of Mary Magdalene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The account of Peter (and John)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The account of the disciples

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

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

 

The account of Thomas

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

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

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

 

John’s Conclusion

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

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

John 20:30-31

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

 

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

 

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December 13, 2015

It is Finished!

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

paid-in-full

(Photo from preceptaustin)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The burden of sin was taken away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

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November 29, 2015

The First Three Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was 9:00 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Michael Card

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November 15, 2015

Before the Governor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

First Attempt: Send Jesus to Herod

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

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

 

Second Attempt: Compromise with the Jewish Leaders

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

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

 

Third Attempt: Trade Jesus for a Criminal

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

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

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

 

Fourth Attempt: Appease the mob with torture and humiliation

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

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

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

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

 

Response by Jesus

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

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

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

 

Threats by the Jews

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

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

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

 

Remember!

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

1 Timothy 6:13-16

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

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

 

Previous Post: Before the High Priest

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November 7, 2015

Before the High Priest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Remember!

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

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

 

Previous post: The Trial of Jesus Christ

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October 24, 2015

The Trial of Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

The notes below are an attempt to address these questions.

 

The Great Sanhedrin

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

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

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

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

 

The High Priest

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Laws of Justice

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

Deuteronomy 16:18-20

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Deuteronomy 17:6

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

The judges must consider the defense of the accused

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

 

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

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

 

Previous Post: The Kiss

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October 15, 2015

The Kiss

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

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It is the night before Passover.

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

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

Meanwhile, the disciples slept.

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

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

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

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

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

Judas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The soldiers seize Him and take Him away.

 

Remember!

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

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

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

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

 

Previous post: The Garden

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October 10, 2015

The Garden

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

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The garden.

Gethsemane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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