He Is Risen! He is risen indeed! And for centuries the empty tomb has stood as the landmark event in human history. No greater day had there ever been and will there ever be until the King of King and Lord of Lord returns to bring His Kingdom to ultimate fruition. Today I have a picture of the resurrection of Jesus as the great exclamation point over the heavens. God raising His Son from the grave put the definitive mark on all of His promises made from the beginning that He is who He said He was – THE I AM! Alive in the present, not a past tense ‘once was’ or a future tense ‘will be’ but Jesus is alive and victorious over the world’s system, Satan’s schemes, and my sin. Jesus is the great AMEN to the work of God throughout human history. In recognizing the redemption work of Jesus we all say YES and AMEN to all that God said to mankind because He has put the grand exclamation point out there for all to see (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). It is finished and victory has been won. The empty tomb leaves us with anything but emptiness for those who believe. It guarantees for us the ultimate victory, our glory, His return! I run to the tomb this morning and I behold that ‘He is not here, He has risen just as He said!’
“What are we doing here? How did we draw the assignment to guard a dead body? What do they think is going to happen anyway? Then again, that stuff that happened yesterday as Jesus died was pretty crazy. Did you see Jacob and Salome? They had died a few years back and came strolling into the market alive. You have to admit there was something rather unique about that guy. I feel a strange sense of guilt over the stuff I said about him as we all threw insults at him hanging up there … and at the same time like I’m not a hopeless cause. I was amazed at the composure Jesus had in forgiving the other guy who was being executed next to him. He had such grace and tenderness in his voice that made me want him to speak to me with such mercy. Weird, he’s the one that needed mercy … or so it seemed. It’s funny that now as we stand outside his tomb I’m wishing I could have asked him some questions to really understand a bit more about his message. Oh well, too late now. Or is it? Maybe there’s a chance that what he said about rising up on the third day might be true. Maybe he really was from heaven. Maybe he really did offer something that no one else ever has? Maybe he is the answer to life I’ve been looking for. If he does come to life I know I’m going to make sure I get my questions answered this time … or maybe that will be all the answer I need.”
“The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble. If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble. Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we of ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instills it.” –Martin Luther
The earth shook, do you tremble? Have the words “It is Finished” become a trite phrase to you rather than a call to awe? The veil of the Temple torn in two, supernatural darkness covering the whole land for three daytime hours (Luke 23:44-45), rocks split in half, tombs opened and dead saints raised to life (Matthew 27:52) … just another day in history for you? Please say it isn’t so! If you don’t have a visceral response to these events, check for a pulse. If you still wonder what was really happening here and who this man really was, cry out for open eyes and an open heart. God had just crushed His own Son so that you might become the righteousness of God in Him. A gift never to be equaled or repeated … done for you! Tremble, express thanks … and vow once again to a life consumed with the worship of a glorious God!
Well our days get quite full now. Thursday was a long day for our Lord as it went way into the night and right into the dreadful Friday. So much to reflect on and consider from His movements and the choices of those around Him … but let me take one – Peter. This was a rough day for our friend Peter. In the garden as Judas leads the cohort of people from the chief priests and elders to arrest Jesus, he pulls out his smuggled little dagger and takes a swipe at Malchus, missing his head and slicing off his ear (Matthew 26:47-56). Then only hours later across the Kidron valley back at Caiphus, the high priests house, he is keeping a safe distance from the mock trials that have begun inside as he wanders the courtyard. You know how it goes, he gets called out by those who see him as one identified with Jesus, and he dismisses their claims and denies his Master (Matthew 26:69-75). So what to make of Peter? He is passionate. He is protective. He is confused and still doesn’t know how to fit together the words of Jesus with his own plans and passions. Hmmm … sounds like us doesn’t it? We know what Jesus has said, know what His teaching is about, and yet we have plans and we can be super passionate about them, so much so that we can act in ways that go contrary to the way of Jesus. We’re well meaning, as was Peter. We’re fervent for God, as was Peter. But we’re dead wrong, as was Peter. Oh, that we submit, submit, submit to the way of Jesus over the passions of our own plans.
Since we know Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath (Friday) also known as the preparation day (Mark 15:42; John 19:31), Wednesday in our chronology is known as a silent day. Huh? Interesting? You mean on the most important week of Jesus’ life He sat around and did nothing? Well, yes … and no. Of course we don’t know what this day looked like for Jesus because it was … well, silent. But I’d surmise that He spent time with his friends and before His Father. Remember they had headed to the garden to spend the night on Tuesday – the first night they stayed in Jerusalem. The nights previous they had returned to Bethany to bed down presumably at the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But now, the time has come to stay in Jerusalem and prepare for the coming events. Perhaps Jesus spent the morning interacting with the disciples – teaching, praying for them, counseling them on individual strengths and weaknesses they needed to be aware of for the future — Enjoying relationship with His friends. Perhaps He took a prayer retreat and wandered the hillside reflecting on the mission the Father had sent Him on, praying for those who would scatter after the mock trials began, interceding for those He had meet who were yet to believe in His message — Enjoying relationship with His Father. I know I’m arguing from silence, but how powerful is this – a day of strenuous teaching ministry (Tuesday) followed by a day of rest (Wednesday). Not sleep in, lazy rest … but active prayerful, relational rest. If our Lord took the time in the midst of a busy week and burden-filled week to make prayer and relationship a priority, why in the world do we think what we do won’t survive if we don’t work so hard to keep it going? A pattern of rest was set by God the Father in creation and a pattern of rest set by Jesus the Son during the passion. Find your Sabbath rest in Jesus and practice it by slowing down enough to take a walk thanking God for the beauty of creation and the beauty of His Son. Don’t blow by people at a frenetic pace, slow down enough to offer them love and encouragement … this is the way of Christ.
Big Day! This is Jesus’ last day of public ministry and He teaches and teaches. Lots could be drawn out here, but I’ve always found it puzzling why Jesus curses the fig tree on Monday morning because it doesn’t have any fruit on it when He goes over to it (Mark 11:12-14) and then the next day they all pass by it and the disciples are amazed that the tree withered away (Mark 11:20-25). Of course it wasn’t because Jesus got mad at the tree, but it was a picture, a metaphor to be used later to teach His disciples about faith and prayer. And that’s where I’ll camp this day – Faith and Prayer. Jesus has taught on prayer, modeled prayer, but we really don’t see the disciples praying during Jesus’ earthly ministry. I suppose that makes sense to a degree … why pray when you can talk to Jesus right there with you? They don’t really understand its power in battle to speak directly to the General of the troops, but there again, I don’t think we understand this power much either. The Garden is coming, where Jesus invites them into battle with Him, but they fall asleep, but I get ahead of myself. Here they see the withered fig tree and Jesus calls their attention to “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22). I am soon to leave, and you must keep talking to Us, you must believe that We are with you (of course they still didn’t yet understand how the coming of the Spirit would be even better for them than Jesus being there with them). The passion week is a call to prayer for us. It reminds us that these events are not natural, they are supernatural, and so is the battle we are in. Don’t fight supernatural battles with natural weapons – have faith, believe, pray! I still haven’t tossed any mountains into the sea (Mark 11:23), but I do believe in the power of God to do greater than that – He changes hardened sinners into worshipping saints … and He never stops that supernatural process of making us new. Will you pray hard? Pray expecting? Pray believing the God who has the authority to do all things will do all things for your good?
He had cleansed the Temple of money-grubbing businessmen before. Early on in His ministry He was motivated by zeal for His Father’s house and flipped tables, made whips, and drove out those who had anything but prayer on their mind as they went to the Temple (John 2:13-17). Now He shows up at the beginning of the end, headed to the cross, and still filled with zeal for the glory of His Father (Mark 11:15-19). He has Scripture on His lips as He directs people to a focus on prayer and the nations. He’s not wickedly angry, blowing people away with a glory-seeking vengeance. No, His is a passion for the Father, a seeking after true worshippers, and a love for holiness that is no mere form or show of spirituality. Others should have fought for the purity of the Temple courts. The leaders should have sought to preserve and pursue genuine worship. And yet no one did. Do you pursue purity, genuine worship, and holy obedience? Or do you wait for someone else to do it first? Wait until your sin catches up with you? Wait until you are sure to be caught? Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple calls us to a cleansing of our hearts from all the money-grubbing businesses we set up to promote ourselves and possess what we think will bring us satisfaction. Flip the tables, drive them out!
I get how they didn’t get it, I’m not sure I would have either. A monarchy fallen, a divided kingdom in disarray, deported by enemies, years of captivity, and prophecies of a King who will have a rule from sea to sea (Zechariah 9:10) … then Jesus shows up on the scene. Could it be? Will he deliver us from our oppressors, finally? Let’s get out the palm branches and welcome our rescuer. He sure appears to fit the bill of qualifications for Messiah. They rightly understood his identity, but wrongly understood his timing. The cross, then the crown … suffering, then glory. Sure, Jesus had tried to explain these things to His disciples, but they didn’t quite get it. He told them of His suffering, and that He must die (Luke 9:22), but when the Hosannas were raised, perhaps they thought Jesus had underestimated the power of the crowd to usher in His reign … perhaps death wouldn’t be necessary after all, let’s just skip to the part were you overthrow the enemies and bring that “sea-to-sea rule”. Well, He had set His face like flint toward Jerusalem, but not to rule just yet, but certainly to conquer. And this would be the week where He would conquer sin and death, making real peace possible between God and man. This was a foretaste of the ultimate rule when the palm branches will come out again and people from all nations will herald Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 7:9-10). Let us not move past the cross in our “hunger” for glory … the way of Jesus is indeed the way of taking up our cross and following Him in discipleship until He returns.