Wednesday, April 26, 2017


On Sunday, our church unofficially announced a giving to help renovate the sanctuary. This message is meant to encourage us to consider our giving to this project when the campaign becomes official in the next few months. The passage for review is 2 Corinthians 8.1-14. Paul’s words about the attitude for giving were meant for the Corinthians then, but should still speak volumes to us today.

We are to be a people overflowing with generosity. (1-4)

Paul begins by writing to Corinth about the people in Macedonia. The Macedonian churches would include those in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea (basically the churches in Acts 16 and 17). He writes about the grace of God which, in this case, is about human purpose. God’s grace allowed the humans to give despite being afflicted. The Macedonian believers were able to find an abundance of joy despite poverty, and generously gave until their offerings were overflowing.

You may ask how this could be. Notice Paul does not provide details of how much was given (in fact, he doesn’t even use the word money in this passage, although it is obvious that he is referring to financial contributions). The reason Paul doesn’t focus on money is because the people of Macedonia were not driven by material matters, but by attitudes. Joy and generosity do not come from a factual reality, rather they represent attitudes about their reality. The same is true of poverty. Of course, poverty has been given a standard, but an understanding of poverty is partially dependent on what your experiences and expectations are and that can vary from culture to culture.

So the churches Paul mentions gave. But they didn’t just give from their leftovers, they actually gave according to their means – and beyond. And they did so not because they were forced, but because they wanted to do so. Paul uses the word “begging” here – not to get money, but to give it. The idea is that the Paul made known a particular need and the people responded in a way that was well beyond what Paul expected. We get the impression that he was trying to talk them out of it, but they “begged” him for the privilege to give. They wanted to bless others. Consider their attitude against their reality. The reality was that they did not have much, but their attitude was to bless others with what they had.

Principle: It is the attitude that counts, not the amount.

Why could they do this?  Because they gave themselves first to God.

2. We are to be a people overflowing with excellence. (5-7)

Paul says that the response of the Macedonian churches was unexpected. Here is the truth, when people are doing things for God, they will exceed expectations. In verse 5, Paul says these churches gave themselves to God which, in turn, allowed them to be a blessing to Paul and others with him (e.g. Titus, v.6).

Having spoken of the great help these other churches provided, Paul now turns his attention to addressing how Corinth can help. First, he appeals to their excellence. It is important to know that Corinth was the capital city of Achaia. As such, they city was not only prominent, but many of its citizens were prominent. Furthermore, as a Greek city, they would take pride in themselves and thus Paul uses words that are true, but are also meant to gain their attention. If I were to paraphrase, it might sound something like this: “You, Corinthians, you are excellent in what you do – whether in faith, or in your great oratory skills, or in your understanding of philosophical matters, and even in your desires, you are excellent. So, be excellent in your attitude about giving for this is what God requires of you because He is working within you.”

It is at this point, Paul expands on their earnestness, or as we would say desire.

3. We are to be a people overflowing with desire. (8-11)

Many people consider desire a bad thing as if desire itself is sin. But that is not the case. Desire is God given and can be used to fulfill God’s plans. The key is what we desire. Let me provide two examples from both the Old and New Testaments to show that desire itself is amoral – that is, it can be used for good or bad.

Mark 3.13 – And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.

Psalm 37.4 – Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

On the other hand, we have the negative aspects of desire found in the following two passages.

James 1.14-15 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Genesis 1.6-7 – The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

When we look at Paul’s words in verses 8-11 of 2 Corinthians, we see him appeal to what was started in the people of Corinth. Verse 10 says that one year prior they had a desire to do what was necessary. Now, apparently they do not. Like many of us, they had good intentions, and according to verse 11 may have begun the work of sharing, but soon backed out. Thus, Paul reminds them of their previous desire and says that their intentions were not enough. It is now time to complete what you started! For desire without completion will lead to a great deal of wasted time and energy.

4. We are to be a people overflowing with abundance. (12-14)

In the conclusion of our passage today, Paul uses the phrase that each should give “according to what you have.” This instance of you is singular, meaning each person should give according to what s/he has. The language is similar to the words in verse 3, except in that case it was plural because Paul grouped the churches together. Here, Paul is referring to each individual of the church in Corinth. His point is this: The tithe is not enough for some. The example of tithing was established hundreds of years before Moses and the Law came into place, so it is a worthwhile standard even today. But the New Testament talks about giving of ourselves – not just what is expected, but whatever is required. The truth is that some must still rise to the level of tithe, while others can give more than a tithe. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is about our attitude, not the formula or dollar amount.

Remember, Corinth was the capital of Achaia and, thus, the city had a great deal more wealth than the Macedonian cities. But when we have an abundance, it is not for us to hoard, rather, some of the extra should be given to God for the benefit of others. You might recall the story Jesus told of the farmer who tore down his barns to build bigger storage houses (Luke 12.13-21). It is not that we should not save or that we must give everything away (unless God tells us to do so), but rather that what we have is not ultimately ours. As Jesus said in concluding the parable, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12.21).

What we receive in abundance is not for us, but for God. Our abundance is for the need of others – including others who may sit in this building in the future. Just like we have been blessed by having this building for the past 62 ½ years, we can now do our part to make sure it is ready for another 30+ years, at least.

Principle: Abundant receiving requires abundant giving.


I have mentioned attitude a couple of time. As we prepare to close, let me go back to verse 8. Paul says he does not command the people to give. If anyone had a case to do so, it would have been Paul. But like Paul, I cannot command you to give. But I can urge you to do so. As Paul says, our giving shows we think beyond ourselves.

I know we all only have a certain amount of money. And besides our regular tithing, we take up collections for Annie Armstrong, Reuben L South, Lottie Moon, Operation Christmas Child, and for gas money for two Kenyan pastors. Today, we are talking about another collection to help renovate the sanctuary. I am not asking us to give everything, but I am asking you to consider what you might give to help. People in the past, including some of you, have given so this building would be here, this carpet could be laid, these pews could be in place. The question for us now is: What will we give so it will continue to be a good place for worship?

This campaign which will start in a few months will need our commitment. We will need to be a people who are overflowing with our money because we are overflowing with God’s love. We will all need to make a sacrifice, but the benefits could bless this church’s ministry for years to come. And the truth is that the more we raise up front, the less money we will have to borrow later.

So, what can you do in the mean-time? At this time, all that the Finance Team, the Propery & Space Team, and myself ask is to pray over what you will give. Again, this will be over and above what you may be currently giving and for some the extra may not be much. For others, it may be considerably more. But we must all consider what we might sacrifice for the future of this church just as others had to sacrifice for us to be here today.

So, ask God what He would have you do. Then, when the time comes, be ready to do it because He is overflowing within you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

“Follow Me”...Because I Live For You

Many will recognize the name Joni Eareckson Tada, affectionately known as Joni. When Joni was 17, she dove into Chesapeake Bay and became paralyzed having broken her back because the water was too shallow. This accident caused her all sorts of physical and emotional pain, as one might imagine. It also brought her to question her faith.

However, by the grace of God, Joni did not abandon her faith. Rather, she has inspired millions over the past fifty years because she learned to overcome her physical limitations to the best of her ability. She played herself in a film about her accident and recorded music albums. However, she might be better known for learning to paint and to write with a brush between her teeth. Yet, despite these aspects of her life, she is likely best known for her organization Joni and Friends. This organization helps those who are disabled throughout the world. Thousands of lives each year are touched by this ministry. For all of her determination and perseverance, Joni and Friends will almost certainly be her legacy.

Why is this important? Because what Joni cannot do has not stopped her from what she can do. I am sure Joni still has days when she is envious of those who can walk to the refrigerator to get a drink. Or to open a cabinet to get a snack. All of us have abilities and all of us have limitations, but for Joni the fact she cannot walk or feed herself or do most anything else has not prevented her from helping others. Why? Because she knows this life is not all there is, but she knows that we are to make the most of what we can in this life. Why? Because she knows the Savior who has given us life.

In fact, Joni has said one of the things she wants to do is to kneel. She has been to countless conferences and churches where everyone is asked to kneel and she can’t. But she knows one day, she will be given a new body and she will be able to kneel before Jesus. And not only will she kneel, but she can dance and walk and move around in all the ways that she has been unable to do for the past fifty years. And she can do so knowing that although this life has been difficult, she has lived as best she could on this earth because of what, and more importantly Who, awaits her in eternity.

As we move into the meat of the message today, we may know that Jesus is risen, but the question for us today is what will we do with that message? Do we believe and leave it at that, or like Joni, do we let it transform who we are?

Jesus lives for us that we may serve Him. (Mark 16.1-3)

The women were on their way to anoint Jesus with spices. They did not have time to do this before the Sabbath, and in the heat in that region, a body would stink shortly after it was buried. So these women were set to perform a sacred duty. Their devotion did not lead to good decision-making, however, because they were prepared to anoint Jesus body but had not considered how they would get into the tomb (v. 3).

What we must consider here is that they were prepared to serve Jesus. They did not think through all that was necessary, and they actually didn’t get to serve Him in the way they expected, but they bought what was necessary, brought what they had, and then got what was needed (the rock over the tomb had been removed).

I am a planner and do not like to leave much to chance. But even with the best plans, all of us often overlook something. This happened to me last Wednesday night at a Seder Meal. I forgot the salt water. It was a simple something, but it was an important part of the service. But despite my oversight, a quick adaptation allowed us to proceed with minimal delay.

Likewise, the women set out with good intentions, but realized at some point that they would not be able to move the stone. But their intentions were more than merely intentions, they were ready to act. They were prepared to serve and thus God honored them – in a very unexpected way. What they soon learned was that Jesus was alive. They would still be able to serve Him...not in His death, but through His resurrection.

PRINCIPLE: When we are prepared to serve God with our hearts, we will find Him working on our behalf.

QUESTION: What good intentions do you need to turn into action for the risen Lord today?

Jesus lives for us that we may know Him. (vv. 4-6)

We must not overlook that God wants to be known. But to know Him requires knowing about Him. And that is what is truly amazing about the resurrection. Imagine if Jesus was like any other person who has ever lived and already died. Here is a conversation that could have taken place in Jerusalem in the week after His crucifixion.

Person 1: “Did you hear about Jesus?”
Person 2: “Yes, I thought maybe, just maybe, He might be messiah. But if the Romans could kill him, some good that does us. Another false hope.”
Person 1: “I know what you mean. Another false hope.”

But then Person 3 shows up.

Person 3: “Hey, I heard Jesus rose from the dead.”
Person 1: “Yeah, right. I am not going to be fooled by that hoax.”
Person 2: “I remember he did say something about that. We have to walk that direction. Let’s go check.”
They walk to the tomb.
Person 2: “Well that confirms it. The rock is still there. Nothing happened.”
Person 1: “See. I told you. Well, at least we are closer to our destination.”

OK, this is a very simple story. And please remember, I prefaced this story with the words “If Jesus was like any other person.” That is, if He had not raised from the dead. The focus for us is on the resurrection of Jesus, but consider the importance of the rock (stone) being removed for the women that day and for the men who would soon follow.

Notice in these three verses, they “saw” the stone removed, they “entered” the tomb, they “saw” a young man dressed in white, and they “heard” that Jesus was risen. It wasn’t just that they saw or heard, it was that they also went in. They investigated and God gave them an answer – even if it was unexpected. Jesus lives for those who seek Him, and wish to know Him (better). But none of this would have been possible if the rock had not been removed. That one important piece allowed them to know and understand so much more.

PRINCIPLE: Jesus did not need the rock moved to be resurrected. We needed the rock moved to prove the tomb was empty!

QUESTION: Is something preventing you from having or deepening your faith in God? If so, ask Him to provide the evidence you need.

Jesus lives for us that we may tell others of Him. (v. 7)

The women were told to tell others what they saw and what they heard. As we will see in a second, they did not start out so well in following this command. But we must note that three times in just eight verses, Mark lists the names of these women. Why? I believe it is because Mark wants His readers to believe this message. It almost certainly means these women are still alive because basically Mark is saying, “If you don’t believe what I am writing, go ask these women. Here are their names. Go ask them yourselves.”

We have all heard a joke similar to if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to witness it, did it make a sound? Well, consider this un-joke. If Jesus rose from the dead and nobody ever told anybody else, would it have mattered? In one sense, “Yes” because it proves He was who He said He was. On the other hand, “No” because after the first witnesses, no one else would know – including us!

Take a few seconds to consider what your life would be like if you didn’t know Jesus.

Let me suggest just a couple of thoughts.
  • You might have an entirely different set of friends. This church is far from perfect, but the people here love God and are caring. You could have friends who are much, much worse.
  • You would have far less hope. What gets you through the toughest of days? Friends, yes. But, really, isn’t it God?

I could add more, but instead let me say that billions of people living at this very moment do not know Jesus because no one has ever told them about Him. Worldwide, over 100 people die every second! The most generous statistics of Christianity say that 70 of those are destined for hell. And in the time it took you to read that last sentence 350 more people just died without Christ.

PRINCIPLE: When we are excited about some piece of news we tell others what is on our minds.

QUESTION: Do you believe Jesus is risen? Do you know someone who doesn’t know this good news? Will you tell them?

Jesus lives for us that we may live for Him. (v. 8, 9-20)

Most of your bibles have a break after v. 8. A great deal of debate exists about how Mark’s writing ends. Did he end after verse 8? Did he include verses 9-20 later? Did someone else add it on later? Etc. The truth is that no one knows, and good arguments can be made for the book ending at verse 8 or verse 20. What is almost certainly true is that the verses we have as 9-20 were not written at the time the rest of this gospel was written.

But what is also true is that everything, except one small statement about drinking poison, is found either in Matthew (Chapter 28) or Luke (Chapter 24) or has an example in the book of Acts. Furthermore, the addendum is largely the Great Commission. So, whatever the truth is regarding verses 9-20, it fits the essence of the Bible because of the content.

That primary content is a charge by Jesus for us to go and tell. Verse 8 tells us that the women responded to the empty tomb and command by keeping quiet – because of fear. Let’s face it, we would probably respond the same way. But as I mentioned in the last point, their job was to tell, and eventually they did or we would not be here. Telling is a part of the process, but truly Jesus wants us to serve Him – to live for Him because He lives for us. If we do that, then whatever verses were lost or added or whatever happened to the original ending of Mark, it doesn’t matter because we will be proving our love for God over just the words, but in deeds as well.

PRINCIPLE: We must be doers of the Word, not just hearers only. Otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves (James 1.22)

QUESTION: What greater works can you begin doing as you live for Jesus (see John 14.12)?

Jesus lives for us that we may live with Him. (John 14.1)

This is a great truth. We need to be active in our life here because of what Jesus had done for us. But the reality is that we may leave a small legacy, but most of us will be forgotten within just a few years or maybe decades.

Tim Keller shares a story of an old preacher telling younger preachers that they would die. The preacher said “They will put you in a box, and put the box in the ground, throw dirt on your face, and then go back to the church and eat potato salad.”

That may seem a bit harsh, but it has some truth to it. But whatever people may forget, the Lord will not. Whatever people may not appreciate, work done in faith to the Lord will be rewarded. And whomever people forget, those who are God’s children will never be forgotten. Because they will be with Him forever.

PRINCIPLE: Living our lives for Jesus is training for our serving Him in eternity.

QUESTION: Jesus left a legacy for us, what will you do to pass on His message to others?


This post has focused less on the resurrection story itself, and more on what it means. What are the implications for me if it is true? We must each determine what the resurrection means to us as we dive deeper into understanding what the resurrection truly means. What it means is Jesus is alive. What it means to each of us is revealed in our response to the truth that He is living.

Jesus was made to pay for a crime even though He did not commit it. His sentence was death and then to be imprisoned in a tomb – presumably forever. However, when the prisoner has met the demands of the sentence as declared by the judge, the prisoner is set free. In the case of Pilate, the judge, Jesus was able to be freed from the cross when He died. In the case of God, the Judge, Jesus rose again, proving that He fulfilled all the demands and that all sins were truly paid.

If Jesus was freed after taking our sins upon Him, then we are free as well. Jesus rose as the firstfruits of the dead, which means that by placing our trust in Him we can not only follow Him in this life, but will follow Him out of death to be with Him eternally. This truth is possible because of our Savior’s blood, through His death, and proven by His resurrection.

JOURNEY: That is why our JOURNEY letter is once again: YYou.

Jesus did His part. But His command today is the same as it was a year ago, when we started this series, which was the same command that He first gave to Andrew and Peter as He walked along the shores of Galilee. The command: “Follow Me.” What is your choice?

OPPORTUNITY: Follow Jesus – wherever He may lead you and in whatever He may ask.

REMEMBRANCE Jesus bled for you. Jesus died for you. But now Jesus lives for you.

NEXT STEP(S): Live:  Live for Jesus because He lives for you.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

“Follow Me”...Because I Died for You

This week, the passage before us covers what many consider the most important aspect of the Christian faith. Without a doubt, the death of Jesus is crucial to our faith, but I would put forth that without the resurrection, we would not know that His claim to be God was real. So, while we must not overlook the cross, we also must not ignore the empty tomb.

We must also remember that it is the blood sacrifice which saves us, not the cross itself. Thus, we must not worship the cross, but the One who died upon it. However, the cross is an accepted symbol for the blood that Jesus spilled on our behalf. The story is well-known. The facts are what they are. But I want to focus on the people in this story, like I did last week. Last week we saw that Jesus bled for each of four types of people – those who falsely charge Him, those that show a false concern, those that are falsely compared to Him, and those that falsely celebrate Him. In one way or another, I think that fits most of us at some point in our lives.

Today, I want to focus on the people for whom Jesus died. He died for those who do His will unknowingly, who mock Him, who misunderstand Him, who follow in secret, who follow from a distance, and most importantly who are responsible for His death. And concluding each group, I want to give a principle for us to remember and a question to consider.

Jesus died for those who do His will unknowingly. (Mark 15.21-22)

Our passage today begins with a man called Simon who is from Cyrene which was in northern Africa. Here is a man who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or so it seemed). The Romans had a rule that they could force any person or animal to carry a burden. Usually this meant soldiers who were travelling along a road, but here Simon was pressed into service because Jesus was unable to carry the beam. Remember, He had been badly beaten and likely had very little strength or energy.

What is interesting is that Mark does not use a lot of names in his writing. But here, he not only mentioned Simon, but also his sons – Rufus and Alexander. We know nothing more about Alexander, but the Rufus mentioned here is likely the Rufus in Romans 16.13, so this son became a Christian and was known to the early church – especially in Rome.

PRINCIPLE:  When we serve God, even unknowingly, we shape the future, not just for ourselves but our families.

We do not know if Simon chose to follow Jesus. But the early church did recognize the significance of Simon’s action and the words of Jesus to “take up your cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16.24). But we must firmly consider that the impact of watching their father pressed into service. For Rufus, at least, that impact led Him to follow Jesus – and to be able to give an eyewitness account of what happened – something the Twelve could not do.

QUESTION:  What are you doing for Jesus that will impact the next generation of believers?

Jesus died for those who mock and misunderstand Him. (Mark 15.23-36)

This part of the passage contains several groups – Roman soldiers, an implicit reference to Pilate (regarding the signage), two robbers, bystanders and passersby, chief priests and scribes. They all have one thing in common – they treat Jesus with contempt.

The soldiers have a job to do, but once the crosses are in place, they play games while waiting for these three to die. The two hanging were known criminals and we know from other accounts that one of them harassed Jesus while he hung on his own cross. By the way, a likely reason for Jesus being in the middle is because His “crime” was the most offensive of the three. I should also point out that the Greek word used for robber or thief was one used for insurrectionist.

Some of the religious leaders were there taunting Jesus. Many who passed by wagged their heads at Him – similar to our shaking our head and finger at someone. Then after Jesus cries out loudly to the Father, the people are eager to see if Elijah responds. Let me expand on this briefly.
  1. The people may have misunderstood the phrase Eloi to mean Elijah. While Jesus did muster the energy to cry out loudly here, a dry mouth might have distorted the words enough to allow some confusion from those nearby.
  2. Because Elijah did not die (remember he was taken to heaven in a chariot – 2 Kings 2.11), many believed he came to help those who were suffering in a time of need. Thus, it makes sense for people to think he could be calling for Elijah to come. The problem was that Elijah had already come – in the person of John the Baptizer as Jesus made plain in Matthew 11.14).
  3. A person ran to get a sponge filled with sour wine to give it to Jesus. The hope was that if Jesus took it, it would prolong his life which would give Elijah time to get there. This gesture was not to aid Jesus, it was for the people there to be able to witness Elijah firsthand.

PRINCIPLE:  God’s ways are not our ways.

The people near the cross mocked Jesus because He did not meet their expectations. Jesus did what He came to do which was everything the Father asked Him to do (John 17.4). But the people misunderstood His ultimate purpose was to die and thus their mocking that He couldn’t save Himself was actually true if, indeed, His purpose was to save them. And it was!

Likewise, the misunderstanding included those who waited to see Elijah. The Son of God was in their midst. But they wanted a prophet. Elijah was a great prophet, but He was not God. Yet, the people wanted to see the lesser and, therefore, ignored the greater.

QUESTION:  What misunderstandings cause you to seek God after you fulfill your own wishes?

Jesus died for those who follow Him from a distance or in secret. (Mark 15.40-47)

In Luke’s account of the Gospel women play a fairly prominent role. Mark does not provide much of anything about women until just a few verses before his version of the story ends. But when he does mention women, we discover quite a bit.
  • Women followed Jesus since His time in Galilee (early in His ministry).
  • These women ministered to Jesus throughout His ministry. This word ministered is the same word used in Mark 1 when the angels ministered to Jesus after His forty days in the wildnerness, and is also the same word used of Jesus in Mark 10.45. Thus, we can surmise that they women did not just care for Jesus, but provided greatly for Jesus and His ministry.
  • Many women were a part of His following. These women did not start following Him when He got to Jersusalem, they followed Him on the way to Jerusalem.

But verse 40 gives us important information. Although these women followed Jesus, they were observing what happened on Golgotha from a distance. It was risky to be associated with Jesus, and Rome was known to crucify women as well, so they kept a bit of distance. But, unlike most of the others who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, these women were with Him in His final hours.

Also, nearby was a man named Joseph from Arimathea. He was a member of the Sanhedrin – and verse 43 says he was a respected member. Matthew tells us he was wealthy as we can deduce from the fact he had a grave dug into the rocky hillside just beyond the walls of Jerusalem. But the most important detail we know about this Joseph is that he was “looking for the Kingdom of God” (Mark 15.43). This detail tells us that although he was a member of the Sanhedrin, he considered Jesus to be something special (as did Nicodemus, whom John says helped Joseph bury Jesus). Knowing Joseph and Nicodemus considered Jesus more than a rebel-rouser is important because of Mark 14.64 which says that “all” of the Sanhedrin voted to condemn Jesus to death. This means these two (and perhaps others):
  • were not present for the vote (quite probable).
  • were present but did not vote (possible).
  • changed their minds after the vote (not likely).

Whatever was true of their thought about Jesus before, their thoughts were largely kept to themselves. But now Joseph musters the courage to go to Pilate to ask for the body. This does not mean that he necessarily believes in Jesus (a possibility which must wait for another time), but it likely indicates that he is prepared to forgo his position within the religious elite to be a part of God’s elect.

PRINCIPLE:  Our faith may begin in private and be hidden for a while, but true faith must be expressed openly – at least at times – because faith requires community.

Imagine for a moment if the women mentioned here and Joseph did not move beyond the shadows and secrecy in this moment. What would have happened? Jesus would have been left on the cross. Mike will share the horrors of the cross in a few moments, but many bodies were left to be eaten by wild animals. If the Romans took Jesus off the cross, they would have thrown His bones in the valley where many other skeletal remains rotted. If that had happened, the tomb would not be empty, because He would never have been in one – so how would we know He rose from the dead?

Jesus tells us to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. So, times may exist when we keep our faith quiet. But that is not the norm for we are commanded to make disciples which means we must not only share our faith with others, but live our faith before others so they might learn to do so as well.

QUESTION:  Does anything prevent you from making your faith in Jesus known to others?

Jesus died for those who caused Him to die. (Mark 15.39)

Briefly, let me just say this is for all of us. You and I are why Jesus was crucified. Your parents, your children, your family are all part of the reason. The greatest person you might know, the worst person you wish you didn’t know. From the guards who beat Jesus to Paul who proclaimed Him widely, we are all responsible.

PRINCIPLE:  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).

Many people say that they are not worthy of God. Anyone who says this is correct – because none of us are. But consider this centurion in Mark 15.39. This was a man’s man in the Roman army. This man was as hardened as one could be. He was a centurion which means he was in command of 100 people. But not just any people. He was in charge of the group of soldiers who crucified people. You did not attain this position by being good at paperwork. This man knew how to kill, killed a lot, and led others who did the same.

But in one moment, this hardened man saw another man die with dignity. Jesus died with dignity amidst all the ridicule and torture He endured. And this centurion was changed – in a heartbeat and did something no human had done before – truly understood that Jesus was the Son of God. Peter had said the words, but this man believed it. As hard as He was, this man, a Roman soldier – a Gentile – saw what no Jew could see. Jesus was God’s own Son.

QUESTION:  How do you respond to what Jesus did for you?

As you consider the answer to that question, I would encourage you to take a few moments and review what a crucifixion entailed. Like last week, the post is not to sensationalize the process, but to help us understand so that we might better respond in faith. You can find the details here.


(NOTE: The closing of our service included the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, the ending of this post may seem abbreviated compared to most.)

JOURNEY: Our JOURNEY letter this week is the full word:  JOURNEY.

Today is about Jesus dying and about our believing. We must include the J and we must include the Y and the connect between the two is the blood He spilled which is why we must Observe, Unite, Revere, Nurture, and Engage with Him and with each other. We can never fully appreciate all Jesus did for us, but that is why I say we are on a JOURNEY.

OPPORTUNITY: Trust the story because of the witnesses. Trust the Lord because of His sacrifice. Share the message so that others may know.

REMEMBRANCE: Jesus bled for you. Jesus died for you.

NEXT STEP(S): Live:  When we truly understand what Christ did for us, we cannot keep our faith to ourselves. We must live our faith out for the benefit of others and the glory of God.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“The Crucifixion”, A Closer Look by Mike Lewis

Crucifixion was invented by the Persians between 300-400 B.C. It was “perfected” by the Romans in the first century B.C. Crucifixion is arguably the most painful death ever invented by man and is where we get the term, “excruciating.” It was reserved primarily for the most vicious of criminals.

After His beating, Jesus walked to Golgotha on a path now known as the Via Dolorosa, or the “way of suffering.” The total distance has been estimated at 650 yards. It is a narrow street of stone, probably surrounded by markets in Jesus’ time. He was led through the crowded street, carrying the cross His shoulders. The crossbar alone probably weighed between 80 to 110 pounds. Jesus was surrounded by Roman soldiers. One of them carried a titulus, a sign which announced His crime of being “the King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. On the way, Jesus was unable to carry the cross. Some theorize that He may have fallen while going down the steps of the Antonio Fortress. His pain from the fall would be immeasurable because of the previous wounds He sustained from the scourging. Simon of Cyrene (North Africa), who was apparently affected by these events, was summoned to help.

Jesus followed Simon to Golgotha, the highest point in Jerusalem, where the crucifixion took place. Once there, as a gesture of “Roman kindness,” the prisoner was offered a mixture of vinegar (gall) and wine as a mild anesthetic. This anesthetic was refused by Jesus so He bore it all for us.

The procedure of crucifixion may be summarized as follows. The cross was put on the ground and the victim laid upon it. Now, I’m assuming that Jesus was not laid gently on the cross but thrown down on the cross.  Nails about 7 inches long and with a diameter of 3/8” were driven into His wrists. The points would go into the vicinity of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain to radiate through the arms. It was possible to place the nails between the bones so that no fractures (or broken bones) occurred. Studies have shown that nails were probably driven through the small bones of the wrist, since nails in the palms of the hand would not support the weight of a body. In ancient terminology, the wrist was considered to be part of the hand.

The cross was then lifted into place and the nails were driven into His feet.  The positioning of the feet is probably the most critical part of the mechanics of crucifixion. First the knees were flexed about 45 degrees and the feet were flexed bent downward an additional 45 degrees until they were parallel the vertical pole. An iron nail about 7-9 inches long was driven through the feet between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsal bones. In this position the nail would sever the dorsal pedal artery of the foot, but the resultant bleeding would be insufficient to cause death.

The resulting position on the cross sets up a horrific sequence of events which results in a slow, painful death. Having been pinned to the cross, the victim now has an impossible position to maintain.  With His knees flexed at about 45 degrees, Jesus must bear his weight with the muscles of the thighs. However, this is an almost impossible task (try to stand with your knees flexed at 45 degrees for 5 minutes). As the strength of His legs gave out, the weight of His body was transferred to His arms and shoulders. The result is that within a few minutes of being placed on the cross, His shoulders became dislocated. Minutes later His elbows and wrists became dislocated. The result of these dislocations is that His arms were likely 6-9 inches longer than normal.

With His arms dislocated at all joints, considerable body weight is transferred to the chest, causing the rib cage to be pulled out and upward in a state of perpetual inhalation.  In order to exhale, Jesus must push down on his feet to allow the rib muscles to relax. The problem was that He cannot push very long because His legs were cramping and He was in extreme pain. As time went on, Jesus was less and less able to bear weight on his legs, causing further dislocation of the arms and further raising of the chest wall, making breathing more and more difficult. As you can imagine, every time He pushed up His back scraped along the cross, causing further damage to His wounds from the scourging. This went on for hours.

The result of this process was a series of catastrophic events to Jesus’ body. Because He could not maintain adequate ventilation of the lungs, the blood oxygen level began to decline and the blood CO2 level began to rise. Rising CO2 levels stimulate the heart to beat faster in order to increase the delivery of oxygen.

However, due to the way He was attached to the cross and the physical things that it caused, Jesus could not physically deliver more oxygen and His rising heart rate only increased oxygen demand. This process causes a vicious cycle of increasing oxygen demand (which cannot be met) followed by an ever-increasing heart rate. After several hours, His heart began to fail and His lungs collapsed and filled up with fluid, which further decreased oxygen delivery to the tissues. The blood loss and hyperventilation combined to cause severe dehydration. That’s why Jesus said, “I thirst.”

Over a period of several hours the combination of collapsing lungs, a failing heart, dehydration, and the inability to get adequate oxygen supplies caused His death. Jesus couldn’t breathe properly and slowly suffocated to death. At three o’clock in the afternoon Jesus said, “It is finished.” And then He died…for us.

Philippians 2:5-11
“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. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

“Follow Me”...Because I Bled for You

Over this past week, how many times have you thought or said, “I am so busy.” Or “How can I get all of this done.” Or “There just isn’t enough time.” Or any other phrase that has a similar connotation. Well, today’s message is not going to help you manage your time, but it may help your attitude towards how you use it.

See one of the reasons we find ourselves too busy is that we think we are in control. We have a good idea or someone asks us to help and we say, “Yes” before we consider the implications. Now, I am not saying that we should not help others. But I am saying that before we jump at helping others, we should pause a few seconds or even minutes to ensure we not only understand the request, but what the impact is for us. Most of us continually add things to our schedule without removing anything. Eventually, that will lead to disaster. And the disaster comes because we haven’t stopped to consider the bigger picture. Why? Because we think we are in control.

But the truth is that we are not in control. In fact, we have little control other than that which God has given to us. In a parallel text to the passage we are reviewing today, Jesus said as much, when He told Pilate the only authority Pilate had was because God had given it to him. Pilate’s issue may not have been related to time, but it was related to the control he perceived he had. The same was true for the Sanhedrin, and the crowd, and the soldiers. But through it all, one man stood silent. One man stood poised. But this same man was beaten. And mocked. And humiliated. And yet, through it all, this man, Jesus, knew He was in the Father’s will, so He endured all that was happening to Him – because of His love for you and me. And it was Jesus who was in control. It was Jesus who bled for those whose actions were false because they falsely thought they were in control. Let’s take a look at four different falsehoods that are evident in this passage realizing the blood of Jesus covered them all.

Jesus bled for those who bring false charges against Him. (Mark 15.1-5)

The text for this week begins at dawn. The Sanhedrin have had their trial and have cast their verdict. But they are powerless to have Jesus killed because the Romans have taken that right from them. Thus, they deliver Jesus over to Pilate to be put on trial for treason at daybreak. The Roman officials conducted their business in the morning. Typically, they would seek to be done by noon in order to have the rest of the day free for recreation and leisure.

We see the charge has already been presented because Pilate mentions it in chapter 15. Pilate opens the dialogue by asking Jesus if He is the King of the Jews? Thus, he has already been informed of why Jesus has been brought to him. But this is not the only charge. Verse 3 says the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of many things. These “things” likely included disrupting the activities in the temple, teaching falsely to gather a crowd, and perhaps a fabrication that Jesus said not to pay taxes (although Mark 12.17 shows Jesus did not say that). But the key charge was the one which could get Jesus killed was one which would threaten the reign of Caesar.

Pilate again asks Jesus to respond to the charges. His only response in this entire pericope is “You have said so.” The words here are a difficult translation. Some translations say, “Yes, it is as you say.” Other, like the ESV here, say, “You have said so.” The challenge is that either translation could be correct. One is in the affirmative, while the other just acknowledges what has been said. The difference is not inconsequential. Did Jesus not tell Pilate who He was? If not, why not?

In researching this, one commentary suggested that Jesus primary mission was to the Jews. We saw this in Mark 7 where the mother came to have her daughter healed. So, the thinking goes that Jesus did answer Caiaphas in Mark 14.62 because Caiaphas was a Jew whereas the mission of the disciples was to go to the Gentile nations, including Rome, so Jesus did not respond here. This is a possibility, but I think it is the nature of the question. Caiaphas’ question was more specific – “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” The answer to that is Yes. On the other hand, Jesus did not claim to be the King of the Jews (although that is an implication of Messiah). Rather, as we know, Jesus came for all people.

We can be certain that Jesus silence was not because of His guilt, but because anything He said would be twisted against Him by those who thought they were in control. But despite their apparent power, Jesus presence always caused others to be amazed and Pilate now had his turn to be dumbfounded by Jesus. We must realize that we can be amazed at what Jesus does, but not have faith in who Jesus is. Pilate was in awe that Jesus would allow others to make malicious charges against Him without speaking up for Himself. But Jesus’ purpose was greater. And despite the hatred they had for Him, Jesus shed His blood for them as well.

Jesus bled for those who show false concern for Him. (Mark 15.6-15)

We now turn to Pilate. You may have heard a good deal about Pilate’s character. In the Bible, he is seen as kind of wishy-washy. He looks like he might care for Jesus a bit. Or perhaps, he is concerned with the dream his wife had (Matthew 27.19). But there is more to this story. Pilate despised the Jews and they despised him as well.

Pilate usually lived in Caesarea Maritima, but for Jewish festivals (especially Passover) he traveled to Jerusalem to help keep the peace. The soldiers he took with him were not of the official Roman guard, but were citizens of the surrounding lands (including Samaria, for instance) which had been trained by Rome. Thus, these soldiers were despised by Israel as well. Pilate intentionally did a few things which caused him a great deal of trouble with Israel. One was that he built aqueducts to bring water into Jerusalem (a good act), but used money from the temple treasury, and in the ensuing protests many Jews were killed. At another time, he ordered soldiers to set up an area within Jerusalem with the bust of the emperor on it. Jews marched to Pilate’s home seventy miles away to stage a non-violent protest. A third instance is actually recorded in Luke 13. Pilate had ordered the killing of some in Galilee and their blood had been brought to Jerusalem and mixed with the blood of the sacrifices. Again, the Jews hated Pilate. And Pilate hated the Jews. So what does this mean for Jesus?

Well, Pilate did want to release Jesus, but primarily because if he did so, he would be showing his authority over the Jews. It would be a slap in the face of the Jews (and particularly the religious leaders) if Pilate could let Jesus go. Moreover, he realized that their entire purpose for this trial was due to envy (v. 10). Pilate didn’t find any reason to condemn Jesus, but this was as much out of his spite for Israel than anything. So, due to an apparent custom, he offers to release Jesus. But the people say no. He offers again, but the people say no.

The people didn’t want the king of the Jews. They wanted Barabbas. Pilate didn’t want Jesus, but was about to be stuck with Him. But no matter Pilate’s attitude or intent, Jesus bled for Pilate and for all people no matter the truth or the level of concern for Him.

Jesus bled for those who are falsely compared to Him. (Mark 15.6-15)

I now want to move the spotlight of verses 6-15 towards Barabbas.

The certainty of the situation with Barnabas is that Pilate thought he could get out of the mess he was in by offering to release a prisoner. Technically, Jesus was not yet a prisoner, but his fate was in Pilate’s hands. So, Pilate offers to release either Barabbas or the “King of the Jews.” In this moment a comparison was made between a hostile leader looking to overthrow Rome and a loving leader looking to inaugurate God’s Kingdom.

Pilate thought the people would choose “the king of the Jews” but he was very wrong.

The offer to release a prisoner may have been a custom, but the fact that “the king of the Jews” is offered is because Pilate believes Jesus is not a threat. If Jesus had been a threat, He would have been punished and crucified for claiming superiority to Caesar. Although Jesus is crucified, Pilate never gives a verdict. Instead the gospels repeatedly say that Pilate did not find guilt in Jesus. Yet, Luke tells us that Pilate agreed with the crowd and decided to have Jesus crucified.

What Pilate is doing is taking the punishment of the leader of an insurrection (Barabbas) and giving Jesus in exchange for that punishment. Don’t overlook this. Jesus literally paid the penalty that was due Barabbas. And Jesus literally paid the penalty for each and every sin we commit as well. Today, we have many people who think they can be the savior of something or someone. Perhaps, some people can help for a while, but only one person ever qualified to be the Savior of the world. And that Savior bled for every pretender and would be savior (people like Barabbas) who has ever lived.

Now, before we move to the final point, let me share two facts you might not realize about Barabbas.

1) His name was Jesus Barabbas. Matthew 27.16-17 will have this fact in some footnotes. Many bibles do not include this, but the Greek New Testament does include the name Jesus. Now, your first thought might be, “If this is true, why do the gospel writers not use this name?” Let me tell you. Imagine that both names were simply Jesus. Imagine Pilate’s words for instance: “Do you want me to release Jesus or Jesus?” Of course the crowd that was there would have seen Pilate pointing, but no one reading this story would have a clue which Jesus was being mentioned. The crowd cried out for Jesus. Ok, which one? So, the gospels use Jesus for Jesus, the Christ, and Barabbas for Jesus Barabbas.

Jesus Barabbas – Matthew 27.16-17

2) Secondly, using a name such as Barabbas has been used by Mark before. We saw this at the end of chapter 10, when Mark recorded the story of Bartimaeus. Some of you will recognize “bar” as the word son. Remember what Jesus says to Peter after the Great Confession in Matthew 16.16. The next verse begins with Jesus saying, “Simon Bar Jonah” or Simon, son of Jonah. So, Bartimaeus means Son of Timaeus (Mark 10.46), and therefore Barabbas means “son of the father.”

Simon Bar Jonah – Matthew 16.16
Bar Timaeus – Mark 10.46
Jesus Bar Abbas – Mark 15.7

Jesus, Bar Abbas – Jesus, son of the father OR Jesus, the Son of the Father

Don’t miss this. Remember, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden was to Abba (Father). So what you have in this moment before Pilate is that a murderous criminal named Jesus “son of the Father” will be set free so that the Savior of the world, who is Jesus, the Son of the Father, can be crucified for us. As one commentary mentioned, the comparison is between one leader who tried to solve Israel’s problems through violence and revolt and the other who called for a nation and its leaders to repent. (Kernaghan, R. J. (2007). Mark (pp. 325). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.) Only one could be the true Son of the true Father.

But although, the comparison was false, Jesus bled for Barabbas and all like him as well.

Jesus bled for those who falsely celebrate Him. (Mark 15.16-20)

Verse 15 ends with the scourging of Jesus. I am going to have Mike come in a minute and share about the physical nature of what Christ endured. First, let me just comment generally on the symbolism of what happens here.

First, Jesus is taken inside the governor’s headquarters. The traditional site is the Antonio Fortress, a fortress  named after Marc Antony. The name was given, ironically, as tribute to Antony by Herod the Great because Antony had bestowed the title of “King of the Jews” to Herod.

The place where Jesus may have stood before Pilate

The King' Game - Played by the Romans when
torturing the prisoners - here, at the Antonio Fortress

The actual place is in question now as archaeologists now believe that Herod’s palace on the western side of the city is more likely the place Pilate would have stayed. If true, then consider what happened to Jesus here – in the palace.
  • He is robed in royalty.
  • He is given a crown (of thorns).
  • They salute Him as king.
  • They give Him a sceptor (a reed, with which they would then strike Him).
  • They knelt before Him.
  • The only thing missing was His throne – which was to be the cross.
This was a mock coronation, but they did indeed celebrate Jesus as King. In fact, it serves as a bit of a reminder of Philippians 2 when Paul says that one day, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is King. These soldiers may have done it in a mocking manner then, but they will do it begging for mercy later, unless they repented and truly hailed Jesus as King (see v. 39).

While we need to be careful not to sensationalize what happened to Jesus, the fact is most do not really know how badly He was beaten. The Gospel writers do not include this information because their audience understood what scourging and crucifixion meant for the victim. Over 2000 years, we have lost the understanding. A couple of years ago, my friend Mike research this on his own, and he shares the information here.

I began this message talking about feeling as if we are in control. In this story, the Sanhedrin thought they were, then Pilate, then the crowd, then the soldiers, and perhaps even Barabbas did as well after he was released. But the truth is that all of them needed one thing – the blood of Jesus. It was Jesus who was in control, even when he was battered, beaten, and bloodied. God had established a system long before that required a blood sacrifice to cover sin. The process was formalized in the Mosaic Law, but the system began when God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden covering them with skin (presumably of an animal), so they could be covered and not be ashamed (Genesis 3.21). It is because of that initial sin that Jesus had to shed His blood.
  • The blood of Jesus – shed for you, shed for me. Shed for everyone whether they acknowledge Him or not.
  • Jesus bled for all those who come to Him. And for those who don’t as well.
  • Jesus bled for all those who call to Him. And for those who don’t as well.
  • Jesus bled for God’s wrath to be satisfied.
  • Jesus bled so we might spend eternity with Him.
  • Jesus bled so we would have the choice to spend eternity with Him. The question is, “What do you choose?”

JOURNEY:  Our JOURNEY letter this week is: YYou.

The letter could be J – Jesus once again because the reality is He bled for each one of us. But we have a choice and the question is what do we choose? Like Pilate, it is not enough for us to be amazed at all Jesus did (or even didn’t do). We must choose Jesus and we must give Him control of our lives. That is what true faith is – trusting in Him, and living for Him. Will you choose to follow Jesus today?

OPPORTUNITY:  When life gets chaotic and everything seems against you, take the time to stop, be still (and silent) and know that God is God.

REMEMBRANCE:  Jesus bled for you.

NEXT STEP(S):  Learn:  The New Testament did not go into a great deal of detail about the agony Jesus suffered. The writers did not need to elaborate – their audience knew the horrors of scourgings and crucifixions. But because the writers did not include the details, we are largely unaware. Take some time to do what Mike did and research how Jesus suffered physically that you might appreciate His sacrifice for you even more.