FREEDOM is my One Word for 2023, and 2 Corinthians 3:17 is the verse the Lord gave me concerning how to walk in freedom. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. As Christians, the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, lives within us – our bodies are His temple “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV)
But experiencing His freedom is not something that automatically happens. We experience freedom when we allow the Holy Spirit to be in control. He is in our lives to guide us, to teach us God’s truth, to comfort us during times of sorrow, to convict us when we sin, to intercede for us when we don’t even know how to pray, and so much more.
As I was reading in the book of Matthew this morning, this verse stood out to me. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:8-9 ESV; citing Isaiah 29:13)
Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees and scribes for honoring their human traditions above the Word of God. “He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matthew 15:3-6 ESV)
The meaning of this passage is clear. The human traditions the Jewish leaders called the “oral traditions,” were detailed instructions on how to live out the Torah (the 5 books of Moses). By the time Jesus was ministering to the Jewish people, the leaders of the Temple were honoring these detailed instructions on how to live out the Torah. In fact, in this example they were considered as of equal or even of greater significance than the actual Word of God. Jesus was rebuking them for teaching their traditions as doctrines they we required to follow.
This morning, the Lord reminded me that He is not pleased when I simply honor Him with my lips. Yes, our lips should honor Him. But God is primarily looking at our hearts. If we want to walk in FREEDOM, we must allow the Word of God to move from our head to our heart. Jeremiah understood this important truth, when he wrote these words. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV)
Have any of you chosen One Word to focus on during 2023? If so, feel free to share your One Word and any lessons that the Lord is teaching you concerning it in the comments.
In the evening, when all of my responsibilities for the day are done, one of my favorite ways to relax is to read a Christian novel, especially a mystery story. Since these stories usually center around solving a puzzling crime, they keep my interest until the end.
In the Bible, the word mystery isn’t quite the same as the world’s idea of a mystery. It refers to truths that are undiscoverable by human understanding. Only by revelation from God do these truths become learnable. The focus of this week’s Advent devotions from God Is In The Manger, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, center around the biblical theme of mystery.
To live without these mysteries is to live limited to human reason, seeing only what is visible on the surface. Mystery is used over 45 times in the Bible, most in the New Testament. A few of these are the mysteryoflawlessnessandiniquity, the mysteryofthe will of God, the mystery of Christ and the church, and the mystery of the kingdom of God (kingdom of heaven in Mathew).
But there is one mystery that stands out above all the others. To live without God’s mysteries being revealed is to live without Christ Jesus, because we cannot come to the a knowledge of Christ Jesus or accept Him without the Father drawing us.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:44 NIV
In Colossians 2:2-3, Paul speaks of Christ as “the mystery of God.“
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2-3 NIV
Bonhoeffer calls God’s willingness to become human “The Wonder of All Wonders.” That God loved the people of this fallen world so much that He gave His only Son, Christ Jesus, that those who believe in Him will not perish but would have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Jesus Christ is the unrecognized mystery of this world:
He became lowly and weak, out of love for mankind.
He shows that God loves the world, not an ideal world but the real, fallen one.
He is God revealed in flesh, the God-human Jesus Christ.
He was born as a human baby, placed in a lowly manger where animals had been fed.
Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, was also the Lord of glory.
He lived a sinless life, then took upon Himself all of our sin.
Because of His sacrificial death on the Cross, we can all be forgiven.
He is coming back soon for those who eagerly await His return.
During this Advent Season, I’m reading “God In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas,” a book of daily devotionals by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written in 1943 while he was in Tegel prison camp in Germany. I will be sharing some of the most important points from this book, points that really stood out to me. This week, I’ll be dividing the material into two posts, since it would be difficult to share all of the important points in one post.
GOD IN THE MANGER: REFLECTIONS ON ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS, WEEK 1, PART 1
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German pastor, theologian, and peace activist. He wrote without compromise about the Christian faith, as he stood against atrocities of the Nazi Regime. He was imprisoned shortly after Hitler’s cruel reign began in 1943, and was executed just weeks before the end of the war. God In the Manger was originally in German, and the version I’ve reading was translated by O. C. Dean Jr. and compiled and edited by Jana Riess.
Week 1 in this devotional focuses on the truth that Advent is A SEASON OF WAITING. The word “advent” comes from a Latin word, “adventus”, that means “arrival or appearance.” For Christians, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and is a period of preparing our hearts for the celebration of Christ Jesus’ first coming as an infant, God in human flesh, also known as the Incarnation. It is also a reminder that He has promised to come again, this time as Conquering King.
In a letter to his best friend Eberhard Bethge, as the holiday season was approaching in 1943, Bonhoeffer wrote:
“Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent. One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.”
Since I have personally been in a season of waiting on God for several months for an answer to prayer, this week of devotions was encouraging to me. One quote from Day 2 especially stood out to me.
“Celebrating Advent means being able to wait… Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.”
Waiting on the Lord to answer our prayers is in essence “hopefully doing without.” This was one of the most helpful quotes I’ve even read about waiting on God. God seldom moves in our timing, so waiting with hope and expectation is the key to not giving up.
In Week One, Day Three, Bonhoeffer explains that not everyone can successfully wait on the Lord. It takes a special kind of people, those who understand that they are poor and incomplete in themselves, waiting on the Holy One, the only Complete One, “God in the Child in the manger.” He is our source of strength and power to live in a way that is pleasing to the Father.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
When Jesus came in Bethlehem, He came as the LAMB OF GOD who would take away the sins of all who placed their faith in Him. John 3:16, the best known Bible verse by most people, makes it clear that God gave His Son because of His love for those He created. All men and women, boys and girls, are offered this gift, but to receive it we must believe in Jesus as the sacrificial lamb. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)
Jesus, a descendant of the tribe of Judah, will soon be coming a second time, as the LION OF JUDAH. Lions symbolize power, fierceness, and majesty. Lions have been called the king of the beasts. When Jesus returns, He will come as the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” (Revelation 1:5) Hebrews 9:28 says this time He will be coming for “those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Does that include you?
As we prepare for Thanksgiving Day, I was reminded this morning of the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving festival, as they gathered with their Indian neighbors who had helped them learn how to have a bountiful harvest their first summer in The New Land. They gathered for a three-day celebration to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends. During this first year, nearly half of those who had arrived at Plymouth Rock had died of illness and starvation, yet they gathered to thank God for His faithfulness and goodness to them during this first year in The New Land.
Our family is also nearing the end of our first year in our new home in rural East Texas. Our first harvest wasn’t as bountiful as the Pilgrims experienced – we had no Indians (or local farmers) to help us – and we knew very little about gardening. Then in July, our whole family caught the dreaded COVID-19. Since all three of us have chronic illnesses, each of us could have ended up in the hospital. But by God’s grace we all made it through the illness with no complications. Thank You, Lord!
For me, this was the beginning of five months of dealing with one health problem after another. I come to this Thanksgiving feeling weary and yet thankful for God’s faithfulness and goodness to us during this first year in our new home. He has given us a home that is fully paid for and abundantly meets our needs. Thank You, Lord Jesus.
And I especially thank the Lord that my wrist tendonitis is now healed. It began before COVID, in late June, and on Monday my hand orthopedic doctor said it is now healed. The treatment with a wrist brace with thumb splint was successful, so I don’t need the injection my PCP thought might be needed or any surgery. No more wearing the brace needed either. That’s definitely worth a big THANK YOU to the Lord Jesus Christ for healing me.
I hope all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving Day with family and friends. Be sure to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness to you and your family during this year, that will soon be coming to an end.
My New Testament Bible reading this morning was Philippians 2. This is a chapter I’ve studied many times, but as I was reading it this morning, verses 12-13 stood out to me. What exactly does it mean to “work out your own salvation?” So I did some studying to make sure I understood the true meaning of these verses.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13 ESV
First, I looked up the Greek word for “work out” using the Blue Letter Bible, and I learned it means “to do that from which something results.” Further research gave me this meaning: “to carry out to its full perfection.” This obviously does not refer to earning our salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that we were saved by grace through faith, no works on our part are involved.
So what exactly does it mean work out your own salvation? To answer this question, we need to look at the tenses of salvation. Salvation has three tenses: past, present, and future.
PAST SALVATION is also known as JUSTIFICATION. If you are a Christians, this means that all of your sins have been forgiven by faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This past tense of salvation applies to everyone who has come to Jesus for forgiveness of sins and is “by grace through faith“. No matter how many good works we do, we cannot earn this stage of salvation. It is a free gift of grace. We have been delivered from both slavery to sin and its PENALTY.
PRESENT SALVATION is the tense of salvation described in Philippians 2:12-13. Basically, it is DELIVERANCE from the POWER of sin, in which we have a part. This stage is also known as SANCTIFICATION. I’ll go into more detail about this in a minute.
FUTURE SALVATION is also known as GLORIFICATION. It happens when we see Jesus face-to-face, and we receive our new bodies that will be FREE FROM ALL OF SIN’S CORRUPTION. In Romans 8:23 Paul calls this the “redemption of the body.”
Philippians 2:12-13 is about the stage of salvation in which you are currently living, if you are a genuine Christian. And these verses give us an essential key to how we are changed into the image of Christ. PRESENT SALVATION or SANCTIFICATION includes more than a mere moral change of character, brought about by learning the truth of God’s Word. The words “work out” are important. We can only “workout” what Christ has already put within. We have a part in this second stage of salvation, but Scripture says it is primarily a work of the Holy Spirit.
“And such were some of you (referring to the unrighteous, see verses 10-11). But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV
SANCTIFICATION is the stage of salvation in which we have HUMANRESPONSIBILITY, combined with DIVINE RESOURCES. The Holy Spirit Who lives within us works in our will, to bring each of us to a place of surrender to the will of God. Then He gives us the capability to do what He has called us to do; i.e., to “work out” what He has “workedin.”
There was two main areas included in this stage of salvation: (1) Being conformed to the image of Christ (see Romans 8:29), and (2) Completing the good work that God planned for us even before we were born (see Ephesians 2:10).
I want to close with a unique illustration on which makes it clear that this process of sanctification is Spirit-empowered and also requires our obedience to the teaching and leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is from one of my favorite resources for quotes or in-depth study of Scripture verses or passages, https://www.preceptaustin.org/observation
“There are some Christians whose lives are like a parked (or stalled) car – if God wants them to move down the road of life, He will have to push them Himself.
“Others live the Christian life by keeping their car washed and polished—looking good on the outside—but they fail to give proper attention to the engine that supplies the power.
“Still others live the Christian life by holding the steering wheel and patiently waiting for instructions on where and when to go. Their car has been gassed up by the presence of the Holy Spirit (Php 2:13) Who freely gives His power and counsel for the journey ahead: a lifetime of adventure in the Spirit!
“Are you like that parked car? Are you stalled on the highway to holiness? Are you waiting for a push (a “Let go and let God” mindset)? Even worse, are you trying to push your car down the road of life in your own natural energy?
“Or is your life one that looks good on the outside but lacks the Spirit’s power on the inside? Your most successful life journey will be to begin to sit prayerfully in the presence of His Word and to daily learn to use His Spirit’s energizing supernatural power and counsel to work out your salvation.
“The only thing the Lord will not provide is the decision to sit behind the wheel, turn on the ignition and drive. This is a choice of the will that each one of us must make, but God even gives us that desire. But we still have the choice to act on His desire or to act on our won desire. The choice is yours.”
Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” Genesis 12:1 (ESV)
The above verse has had special meaning to my husband and me recently. We sensed the Lord’s call for us to sell our Houston home and move to a new town. We knew a little about our new home: that it was to be a rural property in Texas, and we were not to go into debt to purchase it.
Texas is a big state with a lot of rural property! We began our search for a house that met these qualities and had a sale price within our budget. We saw several homes that we liked, but since we didn’t have clear understanding of where we were to live, we looked at property in many parts of Texas. Just recently, the Lord has shown us where our new home is to be and directed us to a specific piece of property.
Genesis 12:1 is more than a verse we’ve remembered many times over the last several months. It is the first time the Hebrew word Adonai was used in the Bible as a name of God. Adonai is plural of Adon, which is mostly used to refer to men who are Master over their servants. The plural form of Adonai refers to God’s greatness as Master. The plural form could also refer to the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all are God our Master and Lord.
So what does it mean when we call God Lord or Master? Adonai speaks of relationship, but not just any relationship. It is used to describe our relationship with God as our Lord and Master. As Master, God is the one with the right of possession. As Master, He provides for us and protects us. He gives directions that we are to follow. He is our Supreme Lord, Owner of all, and we areHis servants. We are stewards who have been declared worthy to serve Him.
In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as Lord over 700 times. The Greek equivalent to Adonai is Kurios. It signifies sovereign power, supreme authority, and absolute ownership. He is Lord and Master, we are servants and stewards of Christ.
1 Corinthians 4:1-2 says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”
I want to close with one of my favorite passages that uses Adonai, Psalm 8. The Complete Jewish Bible uses the Hebrew word for Lord, so it’s easy to see when it is used. Also note that the heading of the Psalm is included as a part of the text, verse 1, of the Psalm in this and other Jewish versions of the Bible.
“For the leader. On the gittit. A psalm of David: Adonai! Our Lord! How glorious is your name throughout the earth! The fame of your majesty spreads even above the heavens! From the mouths of babies and infants at the breast you established strength because of your foes, in order that you might silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place — what are mere mortals, that you concern yourself with them; humans, that you watch over them with such care? You made him but little lower than the angels, you crowned him with glory and honor, you had him rule what your hands made, you put everything under his feet — sheep and oxen, all of them, also the animals in the wilds, the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Adonai! Our Lord! How glorious is your name throughout the earth!” Tehillim (Psa) 8:1-10
“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Mark 4:35-41 ESV
On Tuesday, a Facebook group I’m in began a new study entitled “Jesus Calms the Storm,” based on the above Scripture. It’s a familiar story to those of us who have been Christians for very long, and when passages from the Bible are well-known it’s easy to just skim over the verses. But this morning, I saw these verses in a different way – from the viewpoint of the ones who were there with Jesus, His disciples.
After a busy day of ministry, it was around sundown and they were physically weary. So when Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side,” they were ready to follow. They weren’t anxious about the trip, it was just one of many they had taken across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was still with them and they were at peace.
This was a routine trip, a short eight miles across to the other side. Mark 5:1 tells us they were headed to the country of the Gerasenes, and there were other boats in sight. Among the disciples were several men who had fished these waters for many years, before they left their nets and responded to Jesus’ call to follow Him. They were skilled at handling the boat, so when Jesus said He wanted to lie down and rest awhile, they weren’t concerned.
Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be the routine trip the disciples were expecting. Storms were not unusual on this area. The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level, and is surrounded by hills. When the winds from the Mediterranean come across the hills, the air is cool and dry. When this air comes in contact with the warm, moist air around the sea, it causes large temperature changes and strong winds dropping to the sea. The disciples were familiar with this, but what they saw this evening was frightening even to these experienced fishermen.
Suddenly, they found themselves in a very dangerous situation, when the high winds and huge waves began breaking over the boat one after another. The boat was quickly filling with water, and the experienced fishermen aboard knew they were in a life-threatening situation.
So where was Jesus in the midst of this? He was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion. But His nap didn’t last very long. The frightened disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus awoke from his sleep and rebuked the wind, speaking to it “Peace, be still.” And just that quick the storm was over and the water was calm.
Didn’t Jesus care about these men who were handpicked by Him and closest to Him? Weren’t they obeying Jesus who told them to “go over to the other side”? Why, then, were they going through such a turbulent time?
How sad the disciples must have felt when Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” After this experience, they were amazed and said, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
No one is exempt from the storms of life. Remember, the boat Jesus and the disciples were on wasn’t the only one around. Mark told us that other boats were around them, so the men on these boats who may have been unbeliever’s also faced the storm. The Gospel does not tell us anymore about them, but they faced the frightening situation without Jesus. When we go through storms, we have an advantage over those who do not know the Lord. We are never alone in the storm; the One Who has power over the wind and the sea is with us.
Peter, one of the disciples who went through this storm with Jesus, later wrote of us experiencing storms in life that cause us great grief. When they come, he encouraged us to rejoice, because trials test the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold. As we go through the storms, we can know we are being guarded by God’s power as we place our faith in Him.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV
Another thing we know is that the disciples had a promise that they were going across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. When we face a storm in our lives, one thing that I’ve found helpful is spending time in God’s Word, asking Him to give me a promise to hold onto.
In a recent article, Pastor Greg Laurie compared the Coronavirus pandemic we have been going through this year to one of the powerful storms on the Sea of Galilee.
“This terrible COVID-19 pandemic is like a massive storm. We are afraid and worried about our futures.
“Although we might feel forsaken, we are not. I am comforted by this beautiful story, as it reminds me that I can trust God in the storms of my life. Jesus watches us in our storms.”
The Mark account of Jesus calming the sea ends with the disciples asking each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.” As we trust Jesus during the storms we face, the storm may not stop immediately. God is sovereign, and His will will prevail. But we can be assured that we will come out of our storms with more understanding of the greatness of our God.
Easter is the most important event in the Christian faith. Normally Easter Sunday sees church buildings filled, often with the largest attendance of the year, as believers gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.
The word “Easter” does not appear in the Bible, but what it commemorates is clearly Scriptural. Easter week is a time when Christians celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It begins with what we know as Palm Sunday, and event described in all four gospels.
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
John 12:12-15 has one of the accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’”
THE LAST SUPPER
The last supper that Jesus had with His disciples was His celebration with them of the Passover Feast. After partaking together of the Passover meal, Jesus initiated what we now know was the Lord’s Supper or Communion.
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” Matthew 26:26-29
Passover is the Jewish commemoration of God’s liberating the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, as described in Exodus 11 and 12. When Moses went to Pharaoh asking him to let the people go and Pharaoh did not agree to do so, God sent ten plagues against Egypt designed to make Pharaoh change his mind. The first nine did not change Pharaoh’s mind.
The final plague was the destruction of the firstborn of all the people and animals. The Israelites were commanded by God to take the blood of a one year old lamb without blemish and smear it on the doorposts of their houses. When God saw the blood, He would “pass over” that house.
The first Passover is described in Exodus 12:8. “They shall eat the flesh (of the Passover lamb) that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” This was the night before the exodus from Egypt, and from the first anniversary of their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt the Jewish people have celebrated Passover in remembrance of God’s faithfulness to them.
1 Corinthians 5:7 identifies Christ as our Passover Lamb. He is the spotless Lamb of God, whose blood covers the sin of those who believe in Him, causing God’s judgment to pass over them.
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”
THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
After celebrating Passover with His disciples, Jesus left to go to Mount of Olives, to an area known as the Garden of Gethsemane. As was His custom, Jesus went to pray and His disciples followed him. This event is found in all four gospels, but Matthew gives the most detailed account.
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” (Matthew 26:36-44)
In this passage, we see the humanness of Jesus showing through. In His flesh, He did not want to go to the cross. But He was willing to do the will of the Father. Before He and the disciples were able to leave the garden, the story takes a major shift. It is now time to face the suffering ahead of Him. Matthew’s account closes with these words.
“Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:45-46)
Matthew closes his account with some of the saddest words of Scripture, “Then allthe disciples left him andfled.” (Matthew 26:56b)
What we know as Good Friday commemorates the day of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. On that day, the wrath of God against sin was poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, making a way for us to be forgiven and receive salvation. He became the final sacrifice for sins. The writer of the book of Hebrews summarizes it in these words, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” (Hebrews 10:12).
Through Christ’s offering of Himself, the penalty of sin has been paid. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is available as a gift of grace to all who believe and receive forgiveness. And that’s why we can call this day GOOD!
In this time of “Social distancing” and “stay at home orders” due to the coronavirus, our Easter celebrations will be different this year. Most of us will not able to gather in our church buildings, but Easter will still be celebrated. Churches around the globe will be unable to meet in their buildings, but the church is more than buildings. The true church is made up of people, and as Sunday morning comes instead of being gathered in a few buildings we will be gathering in our homes.
While we may grieve that we are unable to celebrate the resurrection together this year, what will not be stripped away is the truth that we have a risen Savior. While we may not be able to gather in our church buildings, this year we will be the church scattered on digital platforms around the world.
When Sunday morning comes, I hope to be sitting beside my husband in our living room, watching the live broadcast of our church’s Easter service on my iPad. Then we will tune into a Zoom broadcast so we can spend Easter with some of our dearest friends, our small group from our church, separate for safety but together in Spirit.
No, this Easter won’t be like those in past years. But it will still be a time of celebrating our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And as we move forward into the next week of this season of social distancing and staying at home, I want to remember an important truth. If Christ conquered the grave, surely He has the power to conquer this tiny virus that has caused drastic changes in our lives for the last few weeks.
I also want to remember that neither locked doors nor overwhelming fear are an obstacle for our risen Lord. On the evening of the very first Easter, Jesus’ disciples were paralyzed by fear, hiding away in self-preservation so that the religious and government leaders who crucified Jesus wouldn’t be able to do the same thing to them. But Jesus came to them, through the locked doors and in spite of their fear.
John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Our risen Savior Jesus Christ is our source of hope and peace in a world filled with fear and anxiety, one that is groping in the darkness for peace! Let’s put our trust in the One who conquered death and rose again. And then let’s look around us where people are desperate for the peace and hope we have in Christ. We have the answer so many are looking for, and there is no better time than Easter to share it.
Jesus’ resurrection is our living hope. See this pandemic as an opportunity to move beyond the closed doors of our churches and share the Good News with those who have no where to turn for hope or peace in this pandemic. Let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus and share the hope and peace we have in our resurrected Lord.
Have you been feeling restless because of the current circumstances we are walking through? Are you longing for the lifestyle changes due to the coronavirus outbreak to be behind us so we can get back to life as usual? These thoughts have definitely crossed my mind several times recently.
Unfortunately, it looks like the “new normal” we’ve been living with the past few weeks will not be going away anytime soon. So how do we overcome the feelings of restlessness that only steal our peace and joy and live a God-pleasing life during the coming weeks or months? How do we walk in peace and contentment as we move forward in this season?
This is what was on my mind as I sat down to spend some time this morning being quiet before the Lord. I was asking God to show me His purposes during this time unlike anything any of us have faced before. His answer was not one I was expecting.
The following words came to my mind, “You are loved with an everlasting love. And underneath are the everlasting arms.” I recognized this as the signature line for Elisabeth Elliot’s daily radio program, something I hadn’t heard since she passed away in 2015.
In Jeremiah 31:3, we learn that the Lord loved Israel with an everlasting love, a love that was constant and unconditional. That love was seen in His continued faithfulness to His rebellious and idolatrous people. God used the imagery of a green and fruitful olive tree as a symbol of the covenant relationship He has with Israel. (Jeremiah 11:16)
God’s heart toward His chosen people hasn’t changed. But one thing has changed. God’s chosen people still includes the offspring of Abraham, the Jewish people, but as Christians we also are included among His chosen, in those upon whom He pours out His everlasting love. Galatians 3:29 says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” We have been grafted in and we “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:17)
HELD IN HIS EVERLASTING ARMS
Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms…”
The Bible in Basic English says it this way, “The God of your fathers is your safe resting-place, and under you are his eternal arms…”
The message I heard from the Lord this morning is simple. Though we are in a season of “social distancing” we are not alone. God is holding us in His everlasting arms, which have the strength to hold us safely even in the strongest storm.
Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.”
Today, I want to encourage you to draw close to the Prince of Peace, to our Savior Jesus Christ. Rest quietly in the presence and everlasting love of the Lord, and to wait trustfully in the truth that we are safe in His hands. He truly is our resting place in this storm.
“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” Matthew 8:23-27 NIV
SUDDENLY! One minute the lake was calm. The next angry waves were battering the boat, and the disciples were filled with fear. Yes, Jesus was with them, but why was He sleeping? Didn’t He care if they perished? These may have been some of the thoughts going through the minds of Jesus’ disciples as they went to wake up their Teacher and Friend.
As I look back over the last couple weeks, life feels like being in a boat tossed around in a storm. Coronavirus – COVID-19 – has now been declared a pandemic, rapidly spreading around the world. This tiny virus of only 125 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter) has literally changed our daily lives. A comment from an email from one of my nieces says it well: “Life as we know it is changing dramatically.”
Each of us probably have our own list of the changes this pandemic has already caused, so I’m not going to share my list. What I’ve been holding onto during this time is the truth that our God has power over every storm.
We can be like the disciples and turn our focus on the waves sweeping over our “boat.” Or we can choose to fix our eyes on the One who is Lord over the storms that touch our lives. We can give place to fear and panic like those who don’t know Jesus are doing during this time of uncertainty, or we can remind ourselves that our God is bigger than any storm and choose to keep our eyes on Jesus and walk in faith.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV
The peace that will carry us through the uncertainties of life, what we are facing now and anything that may lie ahead, is a supernatural peace. It is the peace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. But a small 3-letter word in the above verse is important. Will we LET our hearts be troubled? Or will we choose to turn our eyes on the Lord and walk in His peace?
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3
We normally live with an illusion of certainty, and that has been removed by the unknowns that lie ahead. We don’t know what lies ahead, even our leaders and experts aren’t sure what to expect during the coming months. And this makes us feel vulnerable.
But there is One who does know the future, and He lives within us if we have surrendered to Jesus as Savior and Lord. He is still in control, and His perfect love has the power to cast out fear. By the strength He gives, we can walk in His peace and have victory over fear and panic.
Remember, Jesus still has power over the storms that we go through. Fix your eyes on Him. Remember you are not alone. Walk in wisdom and take every precaution advised by health authorities. But remember God has not given us a spirit of fear. He has given us power to overcome fear, assurance of His love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
Remember to wash your hands well. And every time you do, remember Whose hands you are in. Today and each day until this difficult season is behind us, CHOOSE FAITH OVER FEAR!