Verses 59-60: “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb.”
As evening approaches Joseph of Arimathea gains permission to bury Jesus’ body. Normally the crucified would be buried in a slowly growing mass grave alongside the road. The Romans believed that was all a crucified criminal deserved. But Joseph thought differently. We read, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb.” He cared for the body of the one he must’ve believed in. Joseph is not just some guy doing a random good deed.
In verse 61 we read that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” were present while Joseph prepared and laid Jesus’ body in the tomb. Joseph was a ‘secret’ follower of Jesus. Being a member of the Jewish ruling council, he has to keep this quiet. So Mary and Mary were the only two of Jesus’ regular followers to stick around through the whole gruesome event. No disciples came to care for Jesus’ body. No family members came.
On this solemn and sad Sabbath day, the followers and disciples of Jesus were surely overwhelmed with emotions: grief, shock, sadness, disbelief, doubt… Joseph cared for the body. Mary and Mary stayed present and grieved. They would prepare spices and perfumes to go early the next morning to finish caring for the body. No one expected the resurrection. Hope was lost. Love had died.
Prayer: Lord, help me to imagine what this day was like long ago. Let me feel the emptiness and loneliness and despair of the saddest of days. Temper the joy of the resurrection just this day so that I too can remain close to the one who died for me. Amen.
Verse 1: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Hebrews 12 calls us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” We are pointed to Jesus’ example not so that we can be perfect but so that we can draw strength and encouragement from him. The author of Hebrews has just walked through the stories of the ‘heroes of the faith’ – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham… This is the “great cloud of witness” that he or she refers to in our passage today. It culminates with Jesus in Hebrews 13. Since this writing there have been many others who stand in this line. We are encouraged to strive to stand in that line. To that end the author writes, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And then again, in verse 3, we are drawn back to Jesus Christ.
Jesus was the one who “endured” much from sinful men. One of these was Judas, the betrayer. Maybe you’re not like me, but I struggle with those who betray me. Anger and thoughts of revenge can creep in pretty quickly. That is not the example that Jesus sets for us in John 13. He lays it out there that one of the disciples will betray him, he identifies Judas, and he says to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Jesus understands the frailty of humanity. He knows how easily we can get entangled in sin. There is no anger or animosity or thoughts of revenge.
And there’s one more thing. It is not something that happens in the Bible but it is something that I am sure would’ve given the opportunity. I say this based on the whole example set by Jesus in the gospels. Had Judas come and sought forgiveness, Jesus would’ve gladly extended it. He might’ve even offered it before Judas said a word. That’s the Jesus I love and seek to follow. May it be so for us all.
Prayer: Lord God, you endured so much. Yet you willingly went to the cross, for these men and for me. You continue to endure much from sinners like me. And in love, I know you’d go to the cross again and again if that was what it took to save us. Lord, lead and guide me each day to model and share that love and grace for and with others. Amen.
Verse 6: “I will stand there before you… Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.”
Continuing in Exodus 17 today, the people are thirsty – parched. They grumble at Moses who grumbles to God. At this point, God demonstrates patience, love, and mercy. I imagine God first drawing a deep breath and then counting to 10. As God exhales slowly, I imagine God looking down in love upon this quarrelsome, doubting lot. As God looks upon these children panicking in the desert, God’s heart is once again moved to mercy. We don’t have to imagine this part. In verses 6 God tells Moses, “I will stand there before you… Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” God goes before Moses, leading the way to water, to life, to joy.
First, a lesson from Moses: lead using the example you want others to follow. After receiving the peoples’ complaint, Moses should’ve gone to God in prayer. Moses should’ve first sought God’s direction, strength, guidance – and patience, love, and mercy. This is how God led. That’s our second lesson, this one from God. When seeking to help or care for someone in distress, practice patience, love, and mercy. See the person as they are, try to understand where they are, feel what it is like to be in their shoes. Then allow first love and then mercy to guide your efforts and your response.
We are now in our own season in the wilderness. We are journeying towards the cross during Lent. This season of introspection invites us to look within, to honestly see ourselves as we are. Maybe we’ll find some grumbling and a bit of quarreling. Maybe we’ll find anger or lust or pride or doubt or something else that needs to go. As we seek to root out these sinful behaviors as we prepare ourselves to stand at the foot of the cross in the presence of the one who surrendered all for us, may we too practice patience, love, and mercy with ourselves. The roots of our sin are deep and the journey is long and difficult. May God be with us.
Prayer: Lord God, today I ask that you pour out your patience, love, and mercy. Fill me with these so that I too can be generous with them – both with myself and with others. Lead me to look deeply within this day; guide me to that which I need to surrender to your will and way. Amen.
Continuing today in John 3 we again enter the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Because of Nicodemus’ confusion, Jesus draws upon an example that Nicodemus would know well. Jesus was a good teacher. He reminds Nicodemus of an event early in Israel’s time in the wilderness experience. Sin had brought death once again. The people grumbled and tested God and Moses. God sent poisonous snakes into camp. Many died. Lesson learned. Yet some snakes remained. God directed that a golden snake be made and placed upon a pole. Looking at this image would save those who were bitten.
In verse 16 Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God came in the flesh to be that which would save us from sin and death. To look to Jesus as Savior will lead to life – and not just to life here but also to eternal life. Further connecting to the Old Testament story, Jesus tells Nicodemus that God sent his son to save the world, not to condemn it. No poisonous snakes this time. The price for our sin will be paid by Jesus on the cross.
Funny thing about the snake. Eventually it became an idol and had to be destroyed. In our churches and in our faith we too can have idols. And we can try and shape Jesus into the image that we prefer. Unwritten rules and expectations that people be and act like us can make people feel unwelcome. As an example of how these two ideas can combine, ever since the first artwork of Jesus was created we’ve known that Jesus was from the Middle East. We still know it today. Yet Jesus was made into the dominant group’s image. Today I am wrestling with the images of Jesus in our church. I don’t want them to be a stumbling block to anyone. Here’s the question I’m wrestling with: What would a person of color think and feel as they walk in and see blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus?
Prayer: Lord, Lent is a season of wrestling. Today you’ve brought the wrestle to my heart. Lead me and guide me, O Great Jehovah, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it’s unpopular. Amen.
Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:11-17 NIV https://bible.com/bible/111/jhn.3.11-17.NIV
Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
In the first half of this week’s Epistle reading Paul both encourages the Corinthian church and he reminds them of the challenges they face. For example, in verse 18, he encourages them with the tangible power of the cross to save and he reminds them that much of the world still sees this as foolishness. To the worldly, the story of the cross was one of weakness and defeat.
Paul writes about Jews demanding “miraculous signs” and Greeks demanding “wisdom”. The Jews wanted the power of Christ demonstrated in amazing ways – a new version of the parting of the sea, if you will. The Greeks wanted to be argued into believing. Both groups were really saying, ‘Prove to me that Jesus is real, that he still has power.’ This remains the sticky point for many today. People still want proof. Today many think, ‘Yes, nice stories and some good examples to follow, but what will it do for my life today?’ So to many people today the cross remains a “stumbling block” and to others it appears as “foolishness.”
But, as Paul points out, the cross is also “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To those who believe, the cross brings new life. In the cross we see God wisely recognizing what needed done for our transformation to be possible. In God’s wisdom it was identified and through God’s power the sacrifice was offered. It is because the price was paid that we can be made new again. Freed from the chains of this world we are able to live as new creations in Christ. Filled with joy and hope and peace and love and grace and mercy and forgiveness we live as examples of the power and wisdom of the cross. And this, my friends, is the proof that the world needs. Day by day, may the transformation wrought in us be the evidence that leads others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Lord God, through your power I am made again and again, each time a little more into who you created me to be. May this power at work in me be the story that others see, drawing them towards the Savior. Amen.
Verse 17: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”
Yesterday we considered Paul’s call to unity in the church. We recognized the costs of bickering and infighting. These behaviors diminish the witness of the church and its members. Paul resisted the temptation to enter the fray, to claim his place. He certainly could have. He had that Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. He had a deep knowledge of the Jewish faith – he was a Pharisee. Paul had built the church in Corinth from the ground up. His name was known and his letters were read throughout the Christian world. Paul could’ve claimed a place of power and authority for himself.
Many in Paul’s day and many in our day enjoy the limelight. In Paul’s day both rabbis and philosophers sought to gain large groups of followers. Today we ask one another how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter… In Paul’s day the powerful attached their names to building projects and social actions. Today we plaster names on everything from buildings to bowl games. These are but two examples of ways people seek recognition and to build popularity and status.
Stepping outside of the popularity contest, Paul states, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Yes, baptism was important. It was an outward sign of an inward change. But the inward change came through knowing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s life and example, magnified on the cross, that has the power to change and transform lives. Paul knew this with all of his heart. He had experienced it himself and poured all of himself into helping others to experience the power of Jesus Christ. May we do the same.
Prayer: Lord God, Christ, through the cross, changed everything. In one radical act of obedience Jesus reset the power imbalance. No longer would darkness reign. Light and love came into the world and gave all for our sake. Use me this day and every day to help people know the one who changed my life. Amen.
Verse 26: “Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.”
While this parable is partly about eternity, it is really more concerned with how we live this life. The rich man enjoyed the things of this world and had no time for the things of God. Lazarus had little in this world, suffering much. Yet he knew God. He was content with God’s presence. In eternity there is a “great chasm” that cannot be crossed.
The life of the rich man was filled – with success, with wealth, with fine clothes and food. There was no need or place for God. He had no time for God. Therefore he did not have eyes to see Lazarus or ears to hear the dogs coming around or a heart to feel compassion for this poor beggar. The transformation that God offers was nowhere to be found in the rich man. Therefore he never crossed the gulf between himself and Lazarus.
We, like the rich man, can become consumed with the things of this world. We can strive for all the had plus power, popularity, beauty, status, and more. We can find ourselves feeling as if we had no time or need for God. The voices of this world and the voices inside our heads can lead us away from God and the transformation God offers.
May we instead heed the warnings today from Jesus. May we not just enjoy and consume our blessings. May we share them generously and abundantly. May we not simply focus on self and our narrow place in life. May we see and hear and feel those that God has given us to love, bridging the chasm between us, creating one humanity. Doing so all will live and love abundantly here and now. May it be so.
Prayer: Lord God, open my heart to your love for all of creation. With a heart filled with love may I see and hear and feel as you do, with empathy and compassion for all, as I seek to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.
Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate… his [or her] own life cannot be my disciple.”
When was the last time you tried to wheel and deal to get your way or to get something you wanted? When have you tried to negotiate for more time on a project or payment? When have you use a “little white lie” to sway someone or to avoid hardship or trial? When have you fully committed to something only to let it slide, and in short order to boot?! In this life we’ve all been guilty of at least some of these things. This tendency is part of what leads Jesus to speak the words in today’s passage.
In verses 26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father… mother… wife… children…” These are hard words to read. How can one be a Christian and hate those closest to him or her? That sounds so contradictory to almost all else that Jesus says. The list does not end here though. Jesus calls us to hate “his [or her] own life.” To me this call brings the first part of verse 26 into a clearer perspective.
To hate our own life is to hate the fleshy and sinful parts of ourselves. To hate the pride and ego, to hate the jealousy and envy, to hate lust and other evil desires – this is something I can understand. It is not easy, but I can get behind this call from Jesus. When I allow these and other sinful behaviors to rule in my life, then I am less than God created me to be. In a similar way, we can hate these parts of father, mother… Speaking the word of truth we can help one another to recognize and deal with these parts of us that lessen the image of God in all of us.
In verse 27 Jesus says, “And anyone who does not carry [her or] his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” To carry the cross of faith is not always easy. To follow in the footsteps and example of Jesus isn’t easy either. We must hate that parts of ourselves (and of those we love) if we are to carry and follow. This is the way that leads to true life. May we willingly and faithfully choose to carry our cross, following in the way, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Lord God, help me to keep you as #1 in my life – over self, over family, over all else. Lead and guide me to walk in your ways. Amen.
Verse 8: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”
In the first half of this week’s passage from Luke 13, Jesus is presented with two scenarios, both with the same theme. In these scenarios people suffer a great tragedy. Those present ask Jesus if those who died suffered because they were “worse sinners”. In other words, did God single them out because of their sin? Jesus’ short and emphatic answer is “No!” Turning the conversation back to those present, Jesus twice says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Yes, we’ll all die one day. God does not go out of God’s way to punish us here for our sins. But ultimately, we will perish and spend eternity outside of God’s glory if we choose to live in sin.
These concepts of suffering and living faithfully are continues in our 1st Peter 3 passage. Our passage begins with these words: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Living faithfully involves getting along, being understanding and loving and caring, practicing humility. Jesus modeled this way of living. Peter also encourages us to not repay evil with evil but instead to be a blessing even to those who cause suffering in our lives. Jesus also modeled this way of living. Going further, Peter invites us to be willing to suffer for our faith at times. This idea of being willing to suffer is incongruent with our “feel good”, selfish culture. To do or say something that might bring some actual suffering is greatly avoided.
Yet this is the way of the cross. Jesus asks us to have a willingness to do what he did: to carry a cross, to walk a difficult road. For us, the first step is offered by Peter in verse 15: “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.” This decision leads us to always choose Jesus’ way over the way of the world. Jesus’ way is primarily the way of love. Loving enough will lead us to times of suffering and sacrifice. This includes having less so that others can have some. This includes standing with those who are experiencing injustice, being a voice for equality, engaging oppressive systems. Each of these difficult roads invite suffering and require sacrifice. When we are willing to repent from the sinful ways of the world, when we are willing to practice compassion and empathy and understanding, when we are willing to carry a cross for the other, then we are our world will be changed. May it be so.
Prayer: Lord God, give me a willingness and a courage to walk the difficult road. With a heart to suffer for others, send me out into the brokenness of the world. With a holy courage, lead me to those who need voice, to those who need one willing to stand beside them. Amen.
Verse 19: “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.”
We are in the midst of Advent – the season in which we remember and celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a season of waiting and expectation. In each consecutive week we focus in on peace, hope, joy, and love. It is appropriate that Christmas comes during the week of love. On this sacred day we rejoice that love came to us.
In the Old Testament story of Samuel, Hannah experiences love being poured out in her life. For many years, though, she waited with pain and sorrow. She was barren for many years. Yearly she went up to the temple and one year she poured out her heart and her tears to God. Eli the priest blessed her and God heard her prayer. Nine months of waiting and expectation ended in the celebration and joy of birth – a baby boy! Keeping her promise to God, as soon as Samuel was weaned she took him and dedicated him to serve in God’s temple. Remembering what it was like to drop our children off at college, I cannot imagine what Hannah’s first walk home was like.
Year after year Elkanah and Hannah continue to go up to the temple to offer the annual sacrifice. In today’s passage we read, “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Although it must have been painful to see each other for such a short time, there was greater joy in the encounter. Not just in the moments actually together but also in each second that Hannah spent making the robe and each time that Samuel put it on as he served daily in the temple. The robe was a sign of their love, of their connection.
I wear a cross each day. It is hand carved and was given to me by a dear friend. Each morning when I put it on I am reminded of my friend. The cross also reminds me of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It too is a tangible sign of love and connection. In four days our waiting and expectation will peak as we gather for Christmas Eve worship. We will celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. We will rejoice that God took on flesh to walk among us. The life and ministry of Jesus will provide us with the model for living in love and connection with God and with one another. This is part of the Christmas story.
There is also a tinge of sadness to Christmas Eve. Even though it is a day or night of praise centered on peace, hope, joy, and love, it is also the beginning of a life’s journey that ends on a cross. As with Hannah each time left Samuel to return home, there is a sadness to the cross, to the pain and sorrow found there. And yet there is great joy too. Returning home I bet Hannah began to plan and then to work on next year’s robe. In this way she began anew the love and connection with Samuel. Each day as I place that cross around my neck, I am reminded of the love and connection I have with Jesus Christ and of the sacrifice that will be made for you and for me. There is joy in this gift too. Thanks be to God.
Prayer: Lord God, your story is one of pain and sorrow, of joy and life. As I draw closer to the night on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, keep me connected to all parts of his story and to your love for me. Amen.