Archive for the 'Easter 2017' Category

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Monday – Jesus' Last Command

Jesus’ resurrection is the catalyst for the mission of the church, beginning with the disciples and throughout history. Jesus’ mission to earth is coming to an end and shortly he will be returning to the right hand of the Father. Before he does so though, he has some more words to say to his disciples.

Jesus’ authority

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ authority is a major theme. Where Matthew records Jesus doing miracles, this is to highlight Jesus authority in action and not just merely in words. Matthew records Jesus’ authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6) and he imparted authority to his disciples for a short time when they went on a mission in Matthew 10.

In some of Jesus’ final words before ascending back to the right-hand side of God the Father, Jesus gave specific instructions to his followers. His disciples.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:16-20)

Jesus has authority (Matthew 28:18) over all things, all people, all circumstances and happenings including authority over all spiritual beings, whether angels or demons. Jesus has authority over all nations, governments and rulers. Jesus has authority over all earthly and spiritual authorities. Jesus has the authority. This means regardless of whatever the Christian Disciple faces; Jesus is in control.

Therefore, as Christian Disciples, we can obey Him without fear of retribution from those who would seek to harm us. We can obey Him regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. It is a great comfort to know, that he is in control of everything. Through his death on the cross and his rising from the dead, Jesus has conquered all enemies. People often confuse authority with authoritarian. Authoritarian means severe, rigidity and a dictator.

None of these applies to Jesus. We have been given a free will, but as his Disciples, His followers today in the 21st century, we should choose to exercise our free will to obey Him in every facet of our life and live a life worthy of Him. That is part of how we take up our own cross and follow Him – as Jesus commanded. As the Christian depends on Jesus’ authority, the Christian Disciple gains wisdom, guidance, and power.

You go

If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then the Disciples would not have had a story to tell. But Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, and the early church exploded numerically as the twelve Disciples exercised Jesus’ authority and his power.

We read about the growth of the early church in the Book of Acts in the Bible. Christianity is a faith whereby all Christian Disciples – all followers of Jesus - are to tell others of the goodness of God. Indeed, God Himself is a missionary God. Ever since Genesis 3 and the fall of man, God has been on a mission to bring and call people back to Himself.

That was the purpose of the nation of Israel, to be a light to all nations of the goodness and glory of God. That was the purpose when God, who is outside of time and space, entered human history taking on human flesh and restricted Himself in a human body as the man we know as Jesus Christ. Jesus’ whole mission was one of calling people back to life in God.

As followers of Jesus Christ, all Christian Disciples are to evangelize. Evangelism is showing and telling others of God’s message of reconciliation to all people of all time. It is not forcing people to adopt Church standards (1 Corinthians 5:12) and nor is it simply a message of join the church as a symbol of good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). If people know you are a Christian, they will be watching how you behave, conduct yourself in your life and your words. You are a witness for God – whether you want to be or not. Let’s be good witnesses. Sow seeds, somebody else may come along and water those seeds and yet another be God’s assistant in reaping those seeds so that the person you sowed seeds of the Gospel into, becomes a follower of Jesus Christ.

Why evangelize?

The prime motivation for evangelism is out of gratitude for what God has done, in that we love because he loved us first.

“For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” As the servants and followers of Jesus, we are to tell and live out God’s reconciling message – the message of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:14)

We are all to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5) even though not everybody has the specific gift of being an evangelist. But we are not just to evangelise but also we are to disciple. We are to intentionally make disciples of Jesus Christ. If there are 2 words which scare a lot of the modern Church, they are evangelism and discipleship. Yet, if we are to be obedient to Jesus, there is no other way. In the last words of Matthew’s Gospel, all Christian Disciples are to make disciples throughout the whole earth. Making disciples is not just evangelism but ensuring that guidance and care is given to new Christian disciples. So we are to evangelize and disciple.

The Holy Spirit is coming

How is this achieved? How can the Christian Disciple exhibit Jesus’ authority and power in evangelism? Who gives the impetus for Christian Disciples? That is part of the role of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus said would come once he had ascended back to the right hand of God the Father. The coming of the Holy Spirit was predicted in the writings of what we call the Old Testament. For example:

“And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”, (Ezekiel 36:27).

This prediction from centuries before, ascertained that Almighty and All-powerful God will indwell those who follow Him. Throughout his ministry, Jesus had talked about how after he was to depart, and that the Holy Spirit would come (John 15:26). We know from the other writings in the New Testament who the Holy Spirit is and what his ministry is. Further details can be found on this website.

Jesus still meets people today

But, as we have seen, the good news is that Jesus is still living. The rest of the four Gospels and the beginning of the book of Acts tell us a little more of what Jesus did before He ascended into the heavens. But Jesus still meets with people at the present time. How does He do this?

Jesus walks with us, where ever we go and in particular in the darkest periods of our life. Just as he did with the two people on the road to Emmaus, he walks with those who proclaim to follow Him (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-32). Jesus speaks whenever the Bible is faithfully preached and read from, just as He opened the eyes of those on the Emmaus road when He explained the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). Jesus meets us in the Communion or Lord’s Supper, with the bread and wine, which symbolise His flesh and blood as an act of remembrance of what He did for humanity.

But that is not the end, because Jesus has promised that He is coming again. Not as a baby next time, but as an all-conquering Son of God in judgment to gather those who follow Him. Are you ready?

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Sunday – Risen and Firstborn from the Dead!

1 Corinthians 15:1-8: Now I declare to you, brothers, the Good News which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold firmly the word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers at once, most of whom remain until now, but some have also fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as to the child born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also.

That was the Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church about the Jesus having been raised from the dead – physically! All four Gospels, Matthew, Mark Luke and John, tell us that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried in a tomb. What do these four Gospels say about the Jesus’ resurrection or rising from the dead?

Let us first look at the sequence of events over the period of time after Jesus death till He ascended. Now remember, the Gospels are documents which have recorded historical events.

1. The tomb is empty

  • Two Marys watch the burial: (Matthew27:61, Mark 15:47, Luke23:54-55)
  • Roman soldiers guard the tomb and place an official Roman seal upon it: (Matthew 27:62-66)
  • Women prepare burial spices then rest: (Luke 23:56)
  • An angel rolls the stone away: (Matthew 28:2-4)
  • Women arrive at dawn with spices: (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-4, Luke 24:1-3, John 20:1)
  • Angels appear to women: (Matthew 28:5-7, Mark 16:5-7, Luke 24:4-8)
  • Women dart back to tell disciples: (Matthew 28:8, Mark 16:8, Luke 24:9-11, John 20:2)
  • Peter and John investigate the empty tomb: (Luke 24:12, John 20:3-9)
  • Peter and John go home: (Luke 24:12, John 20:10)
  • Mary Magdalene weeps by the tomb: (John 20:11)
  • Mary sees two angels: (John 20:12-13)

2. Jesus’ appearances

  • Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene: (Mark 16:9, John 20:14-17)
  • Jesus appears to the other women: (Matthew 28:9-10)
  • Women report to the disciples: (Mark 16:10-11, John 20:18)
  • Guards testify to the priests: (Matthew 28:11-15)
  • Jesus meets two people on the Emmaus Road: (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-32)
  • Jesus appears to Simon Peter: (1 Corinthians 15:5, Luke 24:34)
  • 2 report to disciples in Jerusalem: (Luke 24:33-35)
  • Jesus appears to the Disciples less Thomas: (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-24)
  • Disciples report to Thomas: (John 20:25)
  • Jesus appears to the Disciples and Thomas: (Mark 16:14, John 20:26-29)
  • Jesus appears to seven people: (John 21:1-14)
  • Jesus questions Peter 3 times: (John 21:15-23)
  • Jesus appears to 500 people: (1 Corinthians 15:6)
  • Jesus appears to James: (1 Corinthians 15:7)

3. Evidences for the resurrection

These facts remain for the resurrection. Look at them and study them.

Notice the changed attitude of the disciples after seeing the risen Jesus. They changed from defeated, cowardly people to victorious, brave people. Nobody who could have produced the dead body of Jesus, did so. Their silence is as significant as the preaching of the Apostles. Or take the multiple appearances of Jesus to various numbers of individuals and groups of people at, various times of the day and in differing circumstances. This shows that Jesus’ resurrection was physical in nature! Some people say Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual in nature but not physical. But the amount of people that saw Him physically afterwards dispels that particular myth. What about the current tangible evidence - the survival and inordinate growth and impact of the early church and that the church is still growing 2000 years later. If there was no bodily resurrection of Jesus’ would people really have risked persecution and death for knowing a lie? One or two people maybe, but not hundreds and thousands!

4. Dealing with Doubters

Yet people still doubt. Let us say Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Surely the authorities, both Jewish and Roman, would have produced his dead body in order to quench this new movement! But they didn’t, and the reason they didn’t is because there was no body to produce! Would the disciples have really risked death for telling and maintaining a lie about the risen Jesus? They were beaten, confused, defeated and dispersed men until they saw Jesus truly did rise from the dead. After seeing Him, they were transformed and victorious people.

I have had people say to me that somebody (even the disciples) stole the body. Hardly likely, and if that had occurred, for what reason? How would they have got past the Roman Guard and moved the stone a great distance from the tomb? This very reason is what the Jewish authorities tried to perpetuate by way of a bribe, in Matthew 28:11-15 “Now while the disciples of Jesus were going, behold, some of the guards came into the city, and told the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave a large amount of silver to the soldiers, saying, “Say that his disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him and make you free of worry.” So they took the money and did as they were told. This saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continues until this day.”

Then we have the swoon theory. Jesus didn’t die but merely fainted and recovered consciousness in the tomb. Even the sceptics disagree with this theory, one of whom said “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life”.

Or perhaps, they all went to the wrong tomb. That’s it – they went to the wrong tomb. Whilst one person may have gone to a wrong tomb, not everyone would have done. Besides, the gospel accounts tell us that people were waiting outside the tomb where Jesus was buried! Surely Joseph would know which tomb Jesus was buried in, seeing as Joseph owned it!

Lastly, Jesus didn’t die on the cross but somebody was substituted for him. This is certainly untenable, given the rigidity and strict record keeping of Roman rule and with the eyes of the Jewish hierarchy watching. This conjecture is a lie of satan, because he knows the significance of Jesus having risen physically from the dead.

Significance of the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ provided the central theme for the sermons and teaching in the early church (Acts 1:22; Acts 4:33, Acts 17:18) and certainly within Paul-ine theology. But what significance is there in Jesus’ resurrection?

The resurrection proved and vindicated all Jesus’ teaching and claims as the suffering Servant and attested to His being fully God and the last Judge of all mankind (Isaiah 53:10-12; Acts 2:36; Acts 3:13-15; Romans 1:4). The resurrection, declared God’s approval of Jesus obedient service and the fulfilment of all the Old Testament promises, resulting in forgiveness of sins and salvation being only found in and through Jesus Christ, which was the prime motive for evangelism in the early church (Acts 2:32, Romans 4:24-25).

Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of the bodily resurrection for all believers in Him, giving a new attitude to death and transforming hopes (1 Corinthians 15:12-58, Romans 8:10, 2 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Peter 1:3 & 21). As the resurrected King, Jesus now intercedes for us and has perfected the redemption of all those who choose to follow Him (Romans 5:10; Hebrews 6:20; 1 Peter 1:21).

Finally the resurrection of Jesus’ physical body is a sure victory over satan, sin and death. All three are conquered and squashed. Satan is a defeated creature and will do anything to drag people into defeat with him. The power of sin is conquered, and sin’s grip is overcome if you are a believer in Jesus Christ. Finally, as I said earlier, death has been beaten, because those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ will live forever with him – death is not the end but a beginning.

 

 “Now if Christ is preached, that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain. Yes, we are found false witnesses of God, because we testified about God that he raised up Christ, whom he didn’t raise up, if it is so that the dead are not raised. For if the dead aren’t raised, neither has Christ been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then they also who are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all people most pitiable.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

 

Or let me put it in my own words - if Jesus Christ did not physically rise from the dead, we as Christians are the product of the greatest delusional lie and are the most foolish of all people.

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Saturday – Choices to be Made

Choice 1. The decision to accept Jesus' Cross for you, is yours alone to make

 

Jesus is dead. His disciples have dispersed, probably in hiding, thinking they are next. Jesus’ body has been placed in a new tomb and the women are waiting to ceremonially deal with His body. As we have seen, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, is God’s solution to the suffering and sin of the world. Only by Jesus Christ going to cross have sin, suffering and satan been dealt mortal blows. The cross provides the solution as it provides a substitution, propitiation, redemption and a victory. The cross is not a symbol to be merely placed around the neck on a chain, to be worn as a lapel pin, or as a item statement of fashion. The cross is not meant to portray Jesus as some form of sadomasochistic ‘tragi-hero’ as some people try to make it out to be. The cross is God’s solution to the problem of sin, suffering and pain, as much as the wise of this world would love to think that it is not.

The cross is a choice. You can choose to deny the cross and say it doesn’t matter. You can say that it is an irrelevance and that is your right. God will not force you to accept the cross and love him. If He did, He would have created Adam so that Adam would automatically love him and not given him free will to rebel. That way the cross would not have been needed. But such is the enormity of the love of God, that each person, including you and I, have a choice to make – follow Jesus and take up your own cross and be an overcomer for Him. God will not force you to accept it, but he will keep on calling you back to the cross. Calling sometimes in quiet ways and at other times, much more loudly. You can deny the cross and its meaning and when Jesus Christ comes again in judgment, you will find that He denies you entrance into His glorious kingdom. When Jesus comes again, everyone will know who He is and bow down to Him. But only those whom He knows, will be granted access into everlasting life.

How you think of the cross, ultimately has relevance to you and affects your reality. You can accept the cross as your personal substitution, personal propitiation and personal redemption. That way you have peace with God. The cross of Jesus Christ thoroughly epitomises God’s glory, and if there were any other way that God the Father could restore people into relationship with Himself, then surely He would have done it that way. But there was no other way – Jesus Christ, as the Son of God who was simultaneously fully God and fully human, died on a Roman cross. He took on the sins of the world, paying the greatest price, so that you can be restored into a peaceful relationship with God the Father. That is for all people, of all nations, ages, generations, statuses and gender. The cross is amazing love in action and is ignored at great peril. Let us go forward in hope and faith, choosing deliberately not to boast in anything else, save only of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The wisdom of God as exhibited on and in the Cross of Jesus Christ, is foolishness but only to those who don’t accept it.

Choice 1. Take up your own cross

In Luke 9:23-26 Jesus says,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Carry a cross? Is that what Jesus said? That must have been just about the most degrading thing you could possibly ask anyone to do in those days. And not only degrading, also incredibly painful as it would have followed a terrible scourging and been followed by the most terrible death. Did he really mean what he said? It seams so because the record suggests that Peter died just that way. The apostle James had it easy – he was just beheaded! (Acts 12:2)

What is our response to that to be? It must be just about the hardest, toughest, most difficult thing Jesus ever said to his followers. We are being commanded to count the cost of following Him. That is how we carry our own cross for the sake of Jesus Christ. Jesus wants to be number one in the life of all those who choose to follow him. Jesus wants supremacy over everything in our lives, including family, friends, and possessions. Alas, that’s a cost too high for some.

What have you given up as a result of your decision to follow Jesus? Making sacrifices to follow Jesus is all part of the WOW factor of Jesus. Jesus demands that He be number one and supreme over everything else in your life - yourself, family, others and material goods including money and possessions.

How is this to be done? By constantly ensuring that your works and words match your lifestyle and that no hypocrisy can be found, or will be found in your life. It means standing up for God in the face of adversity. It means loving others even though they hate you.

Just a couple of examples: In the UK, we aren’t systematically persecuted; we are marginalized, ridiculed and ignored. In some other parts of the world members of our Christian family daily face death simply because they chose to follow Jesus. They are carrying their cross for Jesus.

What about us in the UK? For example, if we as Christians were known by our self-sacrificial love of all others, then Jesus whom we claim to love, follow, worship, and adore would be seen. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote "When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. ... Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Jesus Christ, nor is it hero worship, but intimacy with Christ." (The Cost of Discipleship). Bonhoeffer knew that as a Christian, a person has to take up their own cross in following Jesus and count the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Dietrich was to die as a martyr for Christ at the hands of the Nazis.

Finally, let’s look at 1 John 3:16

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Jesus told us to take up our own cross if we are to follow Him as His Disciple. How is that possible? If we try to do that in our own strength and wisdom, we will fail. If we do it using the power and strength of the Holy Spirit within us, then we will succeed at following Jesus’ command. Are you as a Disciple of Jesus Christ, if you are one, willing to take up your cross and follow him? What a difference that would make to the community where you live.

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Friday – Jesus’ Last Breath

Isaiah 52:13-14: See, my servant will act wisely he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—

Isaiah 53:10-11: Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Those words were spoken of the coming Messiah, by the prophet Isaiah centuries before Jesus Christ. Together we have looked at during this Easter series, Jesus’ mission and identity and have placed Him as the Messiah spoken about throughout the Old Testament, including Isaiah. We have looked at Jesus’ last teaching, last prayers and the events of his last night. Following his betrayal he is now facing trial in a Roman court, being interrogated by Pontius Pilate. Now, as we look together briefly at John 19, let us see what happened to Jesus Christ – His condemnation, crucifixion, death and burial.

1. What of Jesus?

a. Jesus was Condemned: Pilate gave in and permitted the flogging and mockery in the hope of shaming Jesus’ accusers (John 19:1-3). Pilate affirmed Jesus’ innocence after the scourging (John 19:4). Jesus’ refusal to answer stung Pilate into reminding Jesus of his Roman authority (John 19:10). Jesus, however, corrected Pilate’s idea of authority and told him that although Pilate may have power on earth, his power did reach beyond earth (John 19:11). Jesus knew that his work of bring people back to God in a loving relationship did not rest on the actions of a mere Roman governor. Pilate was more concerned with his own position than he was for justice. In all this, we see Jesus as the true Passover lamb.

b. Jesus was Crucified: Jesus bearing his own cross, was killed as a common criminal (John 19:17). We read, that Pilate was responsible for fixing the sign “The King of the Jews” (John 19:21-22). The clothes of condemned prisoners were given to soldiers on duty (John 19:23). Even when he himself was in agony, Jesus showed concern for his mother, committing her to the Apostle John (John 19:s.26-27).

The crucifixion site “was purposely chosen to be outside the city walls because the Law forbade such within the city walls… for sanitary reasons… the crucified body was sometimes left to rot on the cross and serve as a disgrace, a convincing warning and deterrent to passers-by.” Sometimes, the subject was eaten while alive and still on the cross by wild beasts. Jesus face was beaten beyond recognition and the scourging reduced his flesh to something like raw hamburger mince. The whips used has pieces of glass and rocks stuck to the cord so as to inflict as much damage as possible. He had a crown of thorns pushed into his scalp.

In Jesus’ final moments he uttered “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28) and “It is finished.” (John 19:30). The desire of the Jews (John 19:32) to fulfil their rituals was important because the Sabbath fell within the Passover festival. The breaking of legs (John 19:s.32-33) sped up the process of death. The piercing of Jesus’ side, and the flow of blood and water proved Jesus was really dead (John 19:34).

c. Jesus was Buried: Joseph of Arimithea and Nicodemus buried Jesus. The significance of “in which no-one had ever been laid” (John 19:41) is to demonstrate that the body of Jesus at no point came into contact with the decay of a dead body. But his burial is not the end of the story. Tomorrow we will look at some of the other character & events that happened around the cross, and then on Sunday we will look at the end of the story. But before we leave today, lets investigate what Jesus’ death on a Roman cross two thousand years ago means for humanity today and why He had to die on a cross in the first place.

2. What Has Jesus’ Death Done For All Mankind?

All human beings, in their natural state, are born sinners and have rebelled against God (Romans 3:23). However, because of Jesus’ death on the cross God offers forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7), Peace (Romans 5:1) and reconciliation with God, so that we are no longer His enemies (2 Corinthians 5:19). Through the cross, and only through the cross, we are made just before God (Romans 3:24-26), it cleanses us from sin (1 John 1:7) and makes us right before Almighty God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of the Cross, we have direct access to God (Ephesians 2:18) and Jesus Christ intercedes for us (Hebrews 2:17-18). Because of Jesus Christ’s death on a Roman cross, all those who follow Him have freedom from the power of slavery to sin (Galatians 5:1) and freedom from the power of the devil (Hebrews 2: 14). None of the above things are true if we do not follow Jesus.

3. Why did Jesus go to the cross?

a.  The problem: Sin is what separates humans from God and as a consequence leads to both a spiritual and physical death (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Isaiah 59:2). In the Old Testament, sins were dealt with by blood sacrifices of atonement as coverings for sin (Leviticus 17:11), for without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). A blood sacrifice is God's way of dealing with sin. These blood sacrifices of the Old Testament signified several things:

  • It provided a covering for sin.
  • It showed the great cost of sin.
  • It was an exchange or substitution.
  • It was only always going to be a temporary measure as it pointed forward to Jesus' death

b. The Solution: The solution lies not in continual animal sacrifice of the Old Testament because Hebrews 10:4 reminds us that the blood of animals cannot take away sin but was only a veneer or covering. That was why it was necessary to repeat time and time again! It is only through the death of Jesus, that sin is taken away (Hebrews 9::11-15, 26-28), because Jesus is our permanent sacrificial substitute!

c. Substitution: Jesus died for our sin, the just for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18). That is how God is both just and the Justifier of sinners. That is why Jesus needed to be both fully God and fully human! If he lacked either, it would not be the full substitutionary sacrifice that was necessary to bear the permanent consequences of sin! When Jesus died on the cross, in our place, he bore the consequences of all sin – past, present and future. He therefore became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and it was His precious blood as a lamb without spot or blemish (1Peter 1:18-19) that fulfils God’s requirements permanently.

d. Propitiation: Towards sin and sinful behaviour, God has great fury, anger and wrath (Jeremiah 21:5). Yet as Micah 7:18 “He is slow to anger and quick to forgive”. Propitiation basically means the turning aside of God's anger by the offering of the sacrifice of Christ. God's anger and judgment of sin falls on Christ, instead of us. We need to approach God to appease His anger, in order to accept it (Romans 3:25; Isaiah 53:5; John 2:2, 5:6).

  • 1 John 2:2: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
  • 1 John 4:10: This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice (or propitiation) to take away our sins.

e. Redemption (Ransom) Mark 10:45 : Not only was it propitiation, but also an act of redemption! In the time of the New Testament, this word was used to refer to the buying back of a slave - the price paid to buy the slave’s freedom. God paid redemption so that humans can be freed from the slavery to sin (John 8:35 Romans 7:14). The price was paid (1 Peter 1:18-19) and so we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But it is our responsibility to choose that way! God does not coerce forcefully – He leaves it as a choice for humans to make as individuals.

What is our response to this to be? Sacrifice, substitution, propitiation and redemption can be summed up in one word: love. For 1 John 3:16 states: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Jesus told us to take up our cross if we are to follow Him as His Disciple (Luke 9:23). Are you as a Christian Disciple willing to take up your cross and do all you can do to love others?

Price to pay for true followers

  • We must surrender completely to Him
  • We must identify with Him in suffering and death
  • We must follow Him obediently, wherever He leads.

4. Victory over Satan, death and sin.

As we look back through the Gospel accounts, we see Jesus being tempted and taunted by satan. We see the temptations in the wilderness, satan using the Apostle Peter to try and deflect Jesus away from the cross and satan using Judas to betray him. If Jesus had ever succumbed to temptation, and sinned in thought, word, action or inaction, then He Himself would have needed a Saviour. That is why Jesus is the perfect sacrifice – because he never sinned and always did what He saw God the Father wanting Him to do. Jesus’ death on the cross is the centrepiece of all human history and the focal point of eternity. At the cross, Jesus’ mission is accomplished. At the cross, this God-man, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all sin of all time, so that people can have the opportunity to be restored into relationship with God.

Some people say that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, but rather somebody was made to be His substitute. But this is a lie of the devil. Nobody could have been a substitute or the Jewish leaders would have said so when the rumours of Jesus resurrection began to circulate. The Romans kept strict discipline and regimen and nobody would have been able to get in amongst the Roman soldiers and somehow substitute themselves for Jesus. Yes, somebody else carried the cross for Him, but nobody but Jesus was nailed to that cross. Jesus died on that cross and not some substitute.

The cross is not a symbol to be merely placed around the neck as an item of jewellery or fashion. The cross is not meant to portray Jesus as some form of sadomasochistic tragi-hero as some people would make it out to be. The cross is God’s solution to the problem of sin, suffering and pain.

The cross is a choice. You can choose to deny the cross and say it doesn’t matter, that it is an irrelevance, and that is your right. God will not force people to love him. If He did, He would have created Adam so that Adam would automatically love him and not given him free will to rebel. That way the cross would not have been needed.

But such is the enormity of the love of God, that each person has a choice to make – follow Jesus and take up your own cross and be an overcomer for Him. Or a person can deny the cross and its meaning and when Jesus Christ comes again in judgment, they will find that He denies them entrance into His glorious kingdom.

How a person thinks of the cross, ultimately has relevance to them and affects their reality. The cross, epitomises God’s glory, and if there was any other way that He could restore people into relationship with Himself, surely He would have done it that way.

But there was no other way – Jesus Christ, simultaneously fully God and fully man, died on a Roman cross. He took on the sins of the world, paying the greatest price, so that people can be restored into relationship with God the Father. That includes you and me.

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Thursday - Jesus’ Last Night

Heavenly Father, as we look into your written word the Bible, may we see your Living Word, Jesus Christ for who He was, is and always will be – our Saviour and Lord. As we look at the events written in history of His last night before being taken to die on a Roman cross, open our minds and hearts to learn more about this momentous event in history, which is His story. We pray this in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit through the majestic name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. He entered, as was his custom, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. The book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began to tell them, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All testified about him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth, and they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Luke 4:16-22

From that time till his last night, during His 3 years of ministry, Jesus has preached the good news of God’s salvation to reconcile people back into relationship with Almighty God. Through the cross, His mission will be fulfilled.

Passover, Pentecost and Feast of Tabernacles were the three most important feasts on the Jewish calendar (Leviticus 21). All Jewish men were expected to visit Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16). The Passover Feast was to commemorate the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and it was a time for remembering and rejoicing (Exodus 11-12). Of all the events that took place that night, we have only time to look at three of them – Jesus plans, Jesus prepares and Jesus serves.

1. Jesus Plans and is betrayed

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. and Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

Jews were expected to remove all yeast from their houses (Ex.12:15) as a reminder that their ancestors left Egypt in a hurry and had to eat bread without yeast. Jesus had warned his disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). In other words, the religious leaders had cleansed their houses but not their hearts. The last thing the religious leaders wanted was a messianic uprising during Passover (Luke 19:11). Judas was motivated and energized by satan (John 13:2, 27) and was never a true believer because his sins had never been cleansed by the Lord (John 13:10-11), therefore Judas had never believed or received eternal life (John 6:64-71). However, Judas had been given authority and had been preaching the same message. This proves how close a person can come to the kingdom of God and still be lost (Matthew 7:21-29)

2. Jesus Prepares

 

Disciples needed a room within Jerusalem itself, and also required food - a lamb, bread, bitter herbs and wine. The Passover meal contains historical and theological symbolism regarding the death of Jesus. This is why this meal is the model for the central act of Christian worship, which is Holy Communion. Here is an outline of a Passover meal at the time of Jesus:

  • Opening Prayer
  • First cup of wine and a dish of herbs and sauce.
  • Story of the Passover recited.
  • Psalm 113 was sung
  • Second cup of wine
  • Prayer of Grace
  • Main course of roast lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs
  • A further prayer
  • Third cup of wine.
  • Psalm 114 to 118 were then sung.
  • Fourth cup of wine.

Depending on your church, it can be called amongst other things, the Eucharist or The Lord’s Supper. Christian Disciples are commanded to participate, as Jesus said: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Some churches do it every service and others do it monthly. Whenever we participate in it, we do it regularly as a remembrance of Jesus until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26). The bread symbolizes His body broken on the cross and the wine symbolizes His blood which was shed on the cross. Therefore before we partake of the bread and wine, we are to examine ourselves and confess any unforgiven sin (1 Corinthians 11:28-29). This is done because it would be hypocritical to eat it while harbouring known sin in our hearts and having fellowship with Jesus and others in the church!

This Last Supper, the Holy Communion – what is its significance for us

  • It symbolizes fellowship with other believers in the universal church (1 Corinthians 10:17)
  • We receive the benefits of His once and for all sacrifice (1 Corinthians 10:16)
  • We spiritually feed upon Christ (1 Corinthians 11:24)
  • It symbolizes the death of Christ for our sin (Luke 22:19)
  • It symbolizes our acceptance of Christ’s death for us.
  • It symbolizes our dependence on Christ for spiritual life.

Finally when a person remembers, that makes it their own personal story. If something is only recalled as an historical event, then that is somebody else’s story being recalled. That is why Holy Communion is personal – it’s our story! Is it yours also?

All these symbolize the New Covenant made between God and Jesus’ Disciples – a Covenant guaranteeing salvation! The new covenant is a new meal, in order to remind his followers in every age about the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The new covenant (Luke 22:20), Jesus claims that His death, was spoken about by the prophets Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:33-34) and Ezekiel. It was a new covenant in which God’s people will be able to know Him intimately for their sins will be forgiven. Whenever a covenant was made between God and man in the Old Testament, blood was always shed. Jesus’ blood will be the seal on this New Covenant, which is why we remember it.

Two other main views insist that it is more than just symbolic! Firstly, there is transubstantiation, which believes that the bread and wine actually become the blood and body of Jesus Christ. Secondly there is, consubstantiation, which believes that the body and blood of Christ are present in the Communion meal. However both of these views would indicate that Jesus Christ is being re-sacrificed and Hebrews 7 refutes these views, in particular Hebrews 7:27 which talks about Jesus’ death on the cross “For he did this once for all, when he offered up himself.”. The bread we eat and wine we drink at Holy Communion are only symbolic of his sacrifice and can never be a re-enactment.

3. Jesus Serves

Jesus washes the disciples’ feet
As part of the custom of the day, a servant or slave usually undertook foot washing of guests. Since none of the disciples had done this, Jesus Himself undertakes the task (John 13:4-5). Peter is recalcitrant and resistant as always, objects (John 13:6, 8) . Peter learns that only those cleansed by Jesus and trusting in Him fully, can be a part of the kingdom (John 13:7, 9). As we look back at this episode, knowing what we do now of the Cross, we learn how this simple act of washing feet is symbolic of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross.

The Cross and washing feet are both displays of great love and service.
Just as Peter opposed Jesus going to the cross (Matthew 16:21-23), so he objected to having his feet washed here. Jesus’ getting up to serve symbolizes His coming to serve. As he took off his cloak, this symbolizes the taking off of His glory when He became man. Girding Himself with a towel, symbolizes his taking on human flesh in the incarnation at his birth. As the water cleansed the feet, so Jesus death and blood cleanse from sin. As He returned to where he was sitting and sat down after finishing this act of service, Jesus returned to the right hand of God after his work on the Cross.

When people become Christian, their sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the Cross. That is when they had our “bath” as it were. That is the very point when we, if we are Christians, were justified before God and we are declared His child. Having been justified already, we don’t need a bath anymore! But we do need the equivalent of a feet washing daily and or every time we take Holy Communion and a cleansing of our sin when we confess it before our God and repent.

Plans Compared!

Lets now compare and contrast the plan of Jesus and the plans of his enemies:

Plans of His enemies

 

  • Plot to kill Jesus (Luke 22:2)
  • Arranges for Judas to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3)
  • Satan’s purpose is to destroy Jesus (Luke 22:3, Luke 22:31)

Plans of Jesus

  • Jesus is in control
  • Plans the Passover meal (Luke 22:7-12)
  • The meal is part of His plan (Luke 22:16)
  • He knows Judas’ plan (Luke 22:21-22)
  • Replaces the old leaders of God with his men (Luke 22: 30)

 

All the elements in the plot conspiring against Jesus had been allowed for. The death of Jesus was no accident (1 Peter 1:18-21) “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”

After his last prayers in Gethsemane, Judas fulfils his betrayal of Jesus with a kiss to identify him and Jesus is arrested. Jesus is taken away to be rejected by those closest to him, to face trial, be whipped and crucified.

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Monday – Jesus’ Mission and Identity

As we know from a previous study, Luke 9:51 tells us that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem.  He knew that was where he was going to die.  He knew that is where his mission would be accomplished and that his true identity would finally be revealed.  But what was Jesus’ mission and what was his identity, apart from being the son of a carpenter from Nazareth.  So tonight, we start our Easter series by looking back and seeing together what his mission and identity are.

Mission

Luke writes in Luke 4:42-44: “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent." And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”

This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry on earth! These verses at the end of Luke 4 tell us that His mission is to preach God’s Kingdom. A reluctant John the Baptist baptized him and the crowds heard God the Father speaking to Him. He underwent temptations by the arch-seducer, satan and emerged victorious from that ordeal. Now Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, has returned home to Galilee (Luke 4:14).

 Jesus at home (Luke 4:14-30)

Jesus is back in home territory and because of the power of His teaching, He is becoming known as a great teacher (Luke 4:15). Jesus spent some time in Galilee, become known and is arousing the interest, curiosity and excitement of people.

Worshipping (Luke 4:14-18) – It was Jesus’ habit to attend public worship wherever he was. He would have worshipped as any Jewish man would have.

 A typical synagogue service

  • Opened with a prayer for God’s blessing
  • Traditional Hebrew confession of faith (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21)
  • Prayer and readings from the Law and the Prophets
  • Brief talk given by one of the men or a visiting rabbi (Acts 13:14-16)
  • Benediction or prayer

 

Because of His growing renown as a teacher, it is no surprise that he should be asked to read the Scripture and give a short teaching session regarding it. Here in Nazareth, Jesus declared that the day for demonstrating God’s salvation had arrived and the day the prophets looked forward to, was going to be fulfilled in Jesus Himself (Luke 4:20). He was the Servant Isaiah had talked about long ago (Isaiah 61:1-2). His ministry was divinely directed; it was a ministry of hope for all people and a ministry to free the spiritually oppressed (Luke 4:18).

Acceptable Year of the Lord (Luke 4:19)

When Jesus said in Luke 4:19 “to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour”, Jesus was referring to the “Year of Jubilee” (Leviticus 25). Every fiftieth year, this special year was the balancing of the economic system.

  • Slaves were set free and returned to their families
  • Property that was sold back to the original owners
  • All debts were cancelled
  • Lands lay bare to rest and rejoice in the Lord

 

The local reaction was at first one of astonishment (Luke 4:22) and telling each other he was the son of Joseph! But Jesus was not the son of Joseph, but rather the Son of God, the new Adam and the founder of a new humanity as he goes on to explain.

 Rejected (Luke 4:20-30)

They saw Him as the son of Joseph. Admiration turned to anger, because Jesus began to remind them of God’s goodness to the Gentiles.

  • The prophet Elijah bypassed all the Jewish widows and helped a Gentile widow in Sidon (1 Kings 17:8-16)
  • Elisha healed a Gentile leper from Syria (2 Kings 5:1-15)

 

Whilst those in Nazareth could only see Jesus in the local setting, He told them His mission was for all Israel! And if Israel rejected this message of Good News, then the Gentiles would be blessed by it (Luke 4:25-27). Upon hearing this, the astonished admiration turned to furious anger (Luke 4:28-30)! Salvation is no longer restricted to Israel but for every child of Adam – every human. Jesus’ mission was not to be Israel’s saviour but the world’s saviour.

When Jesus quoted the proverb “no prophet is accepted in his hometown”, he revealed his knowledge of Old Testament history. He knew that God’s messengers often were rejected, and even as God’s Son, he was rejected as well.

Jesus’ mission was to be the saviour of the world as God’s Son (John 3:16) and the Servant of the Lord. His mission was to give a message of hope for the spiritually poor and spiritually oppressed people. Not only people in his hometown, nor only in Israel, but rather for the whole world. People have two choices when faced with this fact: accept or reject. There is no other option.

 

Identity

 

And what of his identity? In Mark 8:27-33: Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do people say I am?"

This section of the Bible contains the verse, when Peter calls Jesus the Christ or Messiah or Saviour (Mark 8:29), this divulges Jesus’ true identity, In the preceding few verses Jesus and the disciples were in Bethsaida and there is the incident where Jesus healed the blind man.  When the man is healed, Jesus instructs the man not to tell anybody! Why did Jesus stipulate that?  Because Jesus didn’t want to be seen as only a healer and miracle worker.

Confess who Jesus is

Now we come back to that climactic part of the Gospels when Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say that I am?

 

Some say John the Baptist

  • Jesus and John had been seen together in public and they were different in personality and ministry
  • John came ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’ (Luke 1:17), in a ministry of judgement, whereas Jesus came in a spirit of meekness and service.
  • John performed no miracles (John 10:41), but Jesus was a miracle worker.
  • John even dressed like the Prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8; Mark 1:6)

Others say Jeremiah (Matthew 16:14)

  • Jeremiah was the ‘weeping prophet’, and Jesus was the ‘man of sorrows’
  • Jeremiah called the people to true repentance from the heart, and so did Jesus.
  • Both men were misunderstood and rejected by their own people.
  • Both men condemned the false religious leaders and the hypocritical worship in the temple.
  • Those in authority persecuted both men.

In both His works and words, Jesus gave evidence to the people that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, and yet they did not get the message.  The disciples had much to learn about Him and what it meant to follow Him.  The Jews were expecting a victorious Messiah (Isaiah 11:1-5). But they had forgotten that the Messiah must also suffer and die (Isaiah 53:1-12; Luke 24:26). The Jewish people thought that the Messiah would set up an earthly political kingdom, but Jesus came to set up a spiritual kingdom that would last forever (Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 1:33; Revelation 11:15)

 

What was the purpose of the Messiah? (Mark 10:45)

 

Jesus’ mission was to be the Servant of the Lord, and therefore, the saviour of the world as God’s Son (John 3:16). His purpose as the Messiah was neither that He be served nor that He will lead a political overthrow of the Roman government as some had hoped. Rather, His purpose as the Messiah was to be God’s servant and give a message of hope for the spiritually poor and spiritually oppressed people.

Follow who Jesus is

When Jesus rebuked Peter, he was also telling off the other disciples (Mark 8:33). Remember that they did not yet understand the relationship between suffering and glory. By the time Peter had written his epistle 1 Peter, he did (1 Peter1:6-8, 1 Peter 4:13-5:10).

Some Jewish leaders taught of 2 Messiahs – one to suffer and one who would reign (1Peter 1:10-12)

There is a price to pay for true followers:

  • Surrender completely to Him.
  • Identify with Him in His suffering and death.
  • Follow Him obediently, wherever He leads.

What is the reward for the true disciple of Jesus?

  • Satan promises glory now, but in the end suffering comes.
  • God promises suffering now, but the suffering turns to glory.

Spiritually, at this time, the disciples were still blind to who Jesus was, just as the man who was physically blind.  Our confession of Jesus is a matter of life and death (John 8:21;1 John 4:1-3). Confession of Jesus as Lord is necessary for salvation (1 Corinthians 12:1-3), when that confession is from the heart (Romans 10:9-10). Christians are called to follow Jesus, to take up their cross and this could mean nothing less than being ready to suffer and die for Jesus. If we are ashamed of Him on earth, He will be ashamed of us when the end of the world has come. He will reward those deserving the reward, and deny those who deny Him.

Finally, who do you say this Jesus is? What have you done with this Jesus – accepted or rejected Him? 

 

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