HOLY WEEK DEVOTIONAL #6: Ignorance Unveiled (Matthew 27:33-56)

And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land[b] until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Have you ever had the experience of learning something new about something you never really thought about, but live with daily on a close, comfortable basis? For example, I (Jason Alexander) love Coca-Cola. I can scarcely imagine a more delicious soft drink; especially when consumed with pizza! I used to think that it couldn’t be bad for you. After all, Michael Jordan drinks it. Well, it turns out that Coke is not the healthiest choice. It’s delicious, but it’s not necessarily good for the human body. At least, not on a regular basis.

I remember a few years ago seeing display that showed how much sugar was in a single bottle of Coca-Cola. I was horrified. I had no idea that with each bottle I was taking in that much sugar! Needless to say, I cut back my Coke-drinking considerably. At this point in my life I don’t even drink soda. Or, if I do, it is a rare occasion.

A more sobering example might be the comfort we enjoy in the modern West. Here in the United States of America we live daily with a level of stability that most of the world has never known. You may have heard of the gas attacks in Syria last week. Some of you may have even seen the footage. It is utterly appalling to witness what some people in our world go through. And that is happening simultaneous to our comfort. We live in the same world at the same time, yet we rarely even notice it.

My point here is that we can, and often do, live in ignorance. It is so easy to not think about the truth. Reality is not always pleasant, and since that is the case, if we can, we are eager to have to not think about it. We’d rather not know how bad Coke is for us. We’d rather not think about the suffering in our world.

Never is this ignorance more dangerous than when it comes to the cross. We live daily with the cross. Many of us wear them on around our necks, some of us even have tattoos of the cross. And because we are so used to seeing the cross everywhere in our society, it is easy to live with a sanitized, comfortable view of this horrifying symbol. Now, because of Christ’s resurrection, the cross is for us as Christians an image of comfort, but this can only be true comfort if we’ve understood what the cross meant in Jesus’s day.

Rome almost made an art form of crucifixion. Those who had been found guilty of disobeying Rome were hung on a cross. And, yes, crucifixion was designed to inflict a slow, painful death, but its real power was in its ability to inflict shame. The cross humiliated its victims. To die on a cross was to become undignified beyond a point of return. The word “cross” was a word of terror in the Greco-Roman world. It kept people afraid. Afraid of stepping out line. Afraid of rebelling against the Empire. It created a general climate of fear. No one wanted to be crucified.

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N.T. Wright describes crucifixion in helpful terms:

“The point is often made but it bears repetition: we in the modern West, who wear jeweled crosses around our necks, stamp them on Bibles and prayer books, and carry them in cheerful processions, need regularly to be reminded that the very word ‘cross’ was word you would most likely not utter in polite society. The thought of it would not only put you off your dinner; it could give you sleepless nights. And if you had actually seen a crucifixion or two, as many in the Roman world would have, your sleep itself would have been invaded by nightmares as the memories came flooding back unbidden, memories of humans half alive and half dead, lingering on perhaps for days on end, covered in blood and flies, nibbled by rats, pecked at by crows, with weeping but helpless relatives still keeping watch, and with hostile or mocking crowds adding their insults to the terrible injuries.”[1]

There is not a lot of literature about crucifixion from the ancient world. Martin Hengel says that this is because “[n]o ancient writer wanted to dwell too long on this cruel procedure.”[2] The Gospels in the New Testament are the most detailed descriptions of crucifixion available. So it is difficult to say exactly what crucifixion involved. Hengel says:

“The form of execution could vary considerably: crucifixion was a form of punishment in which the caprice and sadism of the executioners were given full rein. All attempts to give a perfect description of the crucifixion in archaeological terms are therefore in vain; there were too many different possibilities for the executioner.”[3]

In other words, what a victim went through depended somewhat on the cruelty of the executioner’s heart at that moment. Tell me this isn’t unpleasant to imagine. Quite honestly, it disgusts me. But yet, we see crosses everyday. We talk about it every Sunday. But have we considered what it meant for our Lord to be crucified?

Finally, let me say a few words about our text for the day. In Matthew 27:33-56 we read of Jesus’s crucifixion. Matthew has told this story from the perspective of the 22nd Psalm (which, if you have the time, I encourage you to read). And he describes Jesus in royal terms. This is the King! And we should all be thinking: Wait, the King was crucified?! Surely, you can’t be serious!

In his letter to the church(es) in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:17-24), the Apostle Paul says that the is cross offensive to all. No one knowing anything about crucifixion can accept that God would die on a cross. Yet this is precisely the message we preach. Jesus died on a Roman cross! However, because of the resurrection, the cross lost a great battle that day!

Obviously, there is much more to say here. This passage is loaded with meaning, but for now let’s just try to take in what it meant to be crucified in Jesus’s day. Sit with this for a moment.

Jesus was crucified! What does that mean to you? Does it affect you?

 Prayer for Today
The world is evil, Lord. We live in a world with crosses, wars, hatred, racism, and all other kinds of evil, but You, Lord, have given Yourself over to the powers of the world, and You have triumphed over them. We are in awe. You were crucified, yet you live! Every knee shall bend before you, Lord. Strengthen our resolve in the face of trial and temptation. You faced the worst sort of death, and won. So surely our struggles are as nothing before you. Clear a path for us to share the message of the cross. Help us to share from the heart with joy. Help us to not be ashamed of Your death. 

[1] N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (San Francisco: Harper One, 2016), 54.

[2] Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 25.

[3] Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 25.

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THE WEEKLY: AT LAST! HYC information is finally available!

Hope you’ve been enjoying the Holy Week devotional series so far! Click here part 5 of this series.

Need to get caught up? Here are the links to the others:

Been wondering about HYC? Great news, we finally have information to share!

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Heartland Youth Camp (HYC) will take place June 4th thru 10th at Eagle Rock Retreat. This is the same venue that HKK was in last year and then again this year. Registration is scheduled to open on Easter Sunday at the Kansas City Church website: http://www.kcchurchofchrist.info Most likely, it’ll be posted under the “Events” tab. Cost will be $400 per camper, but no word yet on whether there will be a discount for siblings or if the price will go up after a certain date.

As a reminder Heartland Kids Kamp registration is open now. All information is listed here: hkk.gatewaycitychurch.info Cost is just $285 until May 15th, and camp dates are June 20th-24th.

Easter Eggs for Sunday: Family, your generosity has blown us away. We have filled one box to the brim and a second box is now half-filled with eggs for this Sunday’s hunt! Several of you have mentioned that you are planning to bring eggs on Friday, which is GREAT. We added a third box to the kiosk to ensure we have enough space. If we fill all three boxes, we’ll be in fantastic shape for this Sunday. Please do bring your eggs on Friday to our devotional, or you can also bring them by during the day, between 9:30am and 4pm on Thursday and Friday.

Please do continue to invite your friends out for Good Friday and Easter! Links to the E-invites:

Prayer Request: Lyman Price passed away this past Monday. Lyman was the uncle of Bud Price and great-uncle to Nathan Price. Prayers of comfort for the Price family are appreciated. Funeral is at 12:30 Friday at Archway Mortuary Taylor Avenue Hazelwood MO 63042.

See you on Friday night at 7pm, at our Good Friday Devotional!

HOLY WEEK DEVOTIONAL #5: Deep Convictions (Matthew 27:11-31)

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged[c] Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

We are now coming to the part of the story that is hard to read. Jesus hasn’t even gone through his flogging and crucifixion and yet, and already things are going downhill quickly for him here.

Whenever I (Tyler Moser) read this chapter I am always asking myself the question “Would I behave the same as Jesus here?”. To me, this is the last chance Jesus had to publicly turn things around and use his superior intellect and righteousness to walk through the crowds, go home and continue as if nothing has happened. But he doesn’t. He has already decided to obey God and continue this path, this path of pain and suffering.

Why is Jesus so resolute? Why did he have this conviction that is so strong that no one can dissuade him from this course of actions? His disciples had abandoned him, and everyone wanted to kill him, except for maybe Pilate and his wife.  This makes me think about my convictions every time. How hard could I be pushed until I gave in? How far was I willing to go for my beliefs?

I remember when I was a junior in college and working at the great establishment of Applebee’s. I had just moved to Nashville and had no real connections or relationships yet. At that point I had been a Christian for about 4 years. One day, I was asked by this co-worker if I would like to go to her house after work and…well, you can put the pieces together. Her proposal stunned me; this was the first time in my life where temptation was thrown in my face like that. I tried to avoid her the rest of the shift, but she would just not let it go. I finally got to a point where enough was enough. She made her final pass at me in the manager’s office, with our manager there.

So, with as much conviction and seriousness that I could muster I rebuked this girl in front of my manager and stated why I wasn’t going to do what was proposed and why. My direct words and tone took everyone by surprise, including myself. But I had taken a stand, and there was no going back. Needless to say she never put me in that situation again, and it gave me encouragement to know that I responded in that way. It was a moment of growth for me, because a choice was made, and I never looked back.

I am a Christian. And so therefore I must imitate Christ in every way possible, even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. When faced with something dramatic or even life threatening, I would like to think I would not flinch. I would pick Jesus and his way over my own, or anyone else’s. However, this fight comes up more and more in my normal, every day scenarios than I would like to admit; in purity, finances, selfishness, commitment to God.

We look back to Jesus praying in the garden and seeing him lay his will down, and wrestle with what is about to happen. He got his conviction from God. He had a firmly-held belief that he chose God over himself, even with himself being in the very nature God (Philippians 4).

It is obvious to say that we get our convictions from reading our Bibles and hence we get them from God and from Jesus’ teachings. But what I have noticed about people is that we have all different convictions that we get from the world, and from our upbringing too, which is not good or bad, it just is.

We are taught from an early age to value certain things and to not value other things. By the time we get to adulthood, sometimes we don’t even know what our convictions are until we are fighting with our roommate or spouse whether to recycle, or how late or how often to have people over, or what to spend money on.

The point is, convictions are learned and engrained in us and almost absorbed subconsciously into our psyche from the time we are very young. Why would it be different with God?

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It takes time and effort to get Godly convictions through hours and hours, weeks and weeks, years and years of learning, chewing, and absorbing to come to some of the convictions that God wants us to have. This is why learning how to read your Bible well is so important. We need those times where we struggle to understand, so that we can build our convictions.

As we grow in the Lord, some of our convictions and beliefs become automatic. We train ourselves to think Godly in some areas of our lives. But there will always be others where we have ungodly thoughts or reactions to things, and we repent of that behavior.

My point being is this: Jesus shared God’s convictions, and it provided the drive and strength he needed to get to the cross. Everyone had abandoned him on earth, but he still had God, and all the years he had been learning what his Father wanted.

The convictions that we attain will give us the strength and the willpower to overcome the next obstacle that comes before us. We aren’t relying on other people, our church family, spiritual leader, or even ourselves to overcome; we are relying on God to win the battle.

So as you read this story, appreciate the poise that Jesus has, and the confidence that he exudes from years and years of praying “…not my will, but yours be done.”

A Prayer For Today
Lord, grant us conviction through submission. Help us to know what to say when faced with temptation and make our limits apparent so that we may rely on You more and more. Show us how to be more like your Son in his last hours on earth.

HOLY WEEK DEVOTIONAL #4: Judged (Matthew 26:47-75)

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.

Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed.

And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Have you ever misjudged someone? Have you ever been misjudged? No one wants to be judged. When someone makes judgments about you based on their own misunderstanding, it hurts. What’s worse is when that person shares those judgments about you with others. It is so easy to influence the way others think about someone else.
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When I (Jason Alexander) was a kid I had a friend, a good friend, one of my best friends, whose mother did not like me. Now, I wasn’t the most well-behaved kid, but I had done nothing to deserve the contempt she felt for me. In her eyes I wasn’t good enough to hang out with her son. When I would call my friend on the phone she would answer, tell me to stay away from her son, and then hang up on me. And not only did she dislike me, she wanted others to feel the same.

On my sixteenth birthday, my mom threw me a surprise party, and that friend was in attendance. Shortly after the surprise, the phone rang; it was my friend’s mom. I thought, “Wow! She is gonna wish me happy birthday! Have I slipped through the looking glass?!” But I was sorely mistaken. She had called to tell me, yet again, to stay away from her son. I remember feeling so hurt. I hadn’t even invited him. My mom invited him. I felt like the scum of the earth. Years later I became a Christian, and soon after, so did her son. Eventually, she began to warm up to me. But it took Jesus’ visible work in my life to convince her! Whatever she had against me began to fade away when she found out that God was at work in my life. She began to see that, because of God, I was in fact a good influence on her son.

When someone judges you, it makes you feel like a second-class citizen. It makes you feel not good enough. And it is even more difficult when you are misjudged. When you’ve done nothing to deserve being labeled.

In Matthew 26:47-56 Jesus and His disciples are still in the garden. Jesus had surrendered Himself to the Father’s will, and just as He was expressing His discouragement with His friends’ inability to be there for Him in His darkest hour, one of His disciples—Judas Iscariot, here called “the betrayer”—arrives with a mob.

One of His disciples tried to defend Him, but Jesus would have none of it. He had prayed, and was ready to face His opponents. Jesus assured His disciples right then and there that He didn’t need their protection (v 53), and that God’s kingdom would not come with war, but with His own sacrificial death. And all this was according to a plan set in motion generations beforehand (v 54).

We are reaching a climax here. A climax, not only to this night, or to Matthew’s Gospel, but a climax to the biblical story. All the scriptures when taken together have been streaming toward this moment. This is the pinnacle in God’s covenant with Israel for the world. We might even say that is the climax of all history!

God was about act decisively in the world through the death of His Son. After which nothing would be the same.

Jesus was brought to Caiaphas’s home. Caiaphas was the high priest, which, in Jesus’s day, was not only a religious role, but a political one. Upon arriving there, there was already assembled a group of Jewish religious/political leaders. They were there to entrap Jesus. The lies began to flow. Misunderstanding after misunderstanding. Nothing seemed to stick, though. And Jesus remained silent in the face of all the lies and accusations (cf. Isaiah 53:7).

Finally, Caiaphas orders Jesus to respond: “And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God’” (v 63). Jesus’s answer is blow away! Jesus had already by this point done plenty to get Himself in hot water with the Jewish authorities. Namely, He publicly critiqued the Temple. Something only the Messiah could do. But this, as we used to say, “tears it.” He’s gone too far.

Jesus’ response here requires that we know something about the book of Daniel. “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (v 64). Jesus in effect says, “Yes, I am the Messiah, the Son of God, but probably not in the same way that you mean.” The term “Messiah” likely had some nationalistic connotations in Jesus’s day. Jesus did not mean to say that He was planning to run for office.

Further, and more shocking, is His reference to “the Son of Man.” This is an allusion to the book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, Daniel has a vision wherein He sees the Most High God sitting on a throne in heaven, and “one like a son of man” approaches the throne (Daniel 7:13-14), and  the Most High God gives this “son of man” all authority. In other words, this “son of man” is equal to God.

In quoting this passage it was clear how Jesus thought about Himself: He was the Son of Man, and He had all authority (Matthew 28:18). From there the meeting devolved into beating, spitting, and mocking. Jesus was judged to be a blasphemer (v 65). They beat Him and condemned Him to death. Yet He remained surrendered to God’s will.

Being misjudged is difficult, but our God endured the misjudgments of sinful human beings. What do you learn about God from these verses? What does surrender look like? How do you respond when you are misjudged?

A Prayer for Today

Lord, You have shown us what surrender looks like. Teach us to trust. Help us to become like You in our willingness to suffer for the sake of the world.

HOLY WEEK DEVOTIONAL #3: Unfiltered Prayers (Matthew 26:36-46)

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. 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.”

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Have you ever tried to hide the fact that you are scared? I (Jason Alexander) have. It is hard work. Social media has made it so easy to mask our deep-seated fears. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat provide us with an opportunity to create a whole new self. An airbrushed, struggle-free version of ourselves. If we believed everything we saw on Facebook, we’d think that none of our friends have a worry in the world.

It may be easy to look perpetually at ease on Facebook and Instagram, but it is much more difficult to do so in real life. Even if we were able to deceive everyone, including ourselves, into thinking that life is without agony, our fears would manifest themselves in unexpected ways. It might show up as an anxiety disorder, an inability to connect with others, depression, detachment, or an incessant need to control everything.

We can’t fake our way through life. There will come a time when must confront our fears and doubts. How we do this means everything. It will require surrender. I don’t mean acceptance. As in a “come what may” attitude. It is not enough to just embrace the reality that life is difficult. We need to push beyond acceptance. We need to arrive at a place of trust. Not trust in ourselves, but in God. We need to surrender ourselves to our heavenly Father.

I can’t think of a better picture of surrender than Jesus’ time in Gethsemane the night before His arrest. Jesus in no way tried to hide the fact that He was afraid.

This is a dark moment in the biblical story, and it is only going to get darker before the light dawns. What does Jesus do in His moment of anguish? He goes to a tranquil place with His friends to pray. Sometimes we just need our friends, and a quiet place to pray.

We are told that Jesus went to a place called Gethsemane (which likely means “oil-press”). We are told in John’s Gospel that there was a garden there (John 18:2). It may have been a walled garden. Jesus went to Gethsemane often (John 18:2). We learn in Mark’s Gospel that Gethsemane was located on the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26, 32), which is just outside the eastern wall of the city of Jerusalem. It is about a ten-minute walk from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. Luke tells us that Jesus celebrated the Passover meal somewhere in Jerusalem (Luke 22:10), which means that after dinner Jesus walked from Jerusalem to Gethsemane. To get to Gethsemane from Jerusalem one needs to pass through the Kidron valley.

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The Kidron valley was at that time, and is to this day, covered with tombs. I have been there, and it is haunting. It is likely that Jesus would have had to walk through these tombs to get to His place of prayer. Can you imagine?! Jesus knew that Judas had already betrayed Him (Matthew 26:25), and that within twenty four, or so, hours His body would be placed in a tomb.

When Jesus gets to Gethsemane He pulls away from His disciples to pray, but brings His three closest friends with Him (v 37). We are told that He was overcome with distress (v 37). Matthew uses two Greek words here (lupeō and adēmoneō) which are pretty much synonyms. These two words are used together here to communicate the intense emotional turmoil that our Lord experienced in that moment.

But Jesus doesn’t go to Gethsemane to cower and cry; He goes there to pray. Prayer is first and foremost an address. In Jesus’ case, it was an address to His Father. Jesus knew that His Father had the ability to save Him. Jesus prayed just as He taught his disciples to pray earlier in Matthew’s Gospel (6:5-13). He desperately wanted “this cup” to pass from Him. The cup is a metaphor in the Bible for both good times, and suffering. In this case it obviously means suffering. Yet Jesus wants whatever God wants. Even if that means a slow, shameful death on a Roman cross.

He prays like this three times, and His friends are too tired to be there for Him. He wanted them to watch out for Him, and for themselves, but they couldn’t be there for Him. They were just too weak. Can you envision being smack-dab in the middle of your darkest hour and your friends are too tired to be there for you? Jesus must have felt so alone.

To make matters worse, God does not answer Him favorably. In fact, there seems to be no answer at all. Jesus is crying out to the Father, and the Father heard His cries, but He didn’t intervene. From a new father’s perspective, I can’t imagine this. When my daughter cries I rush in to hold her and comfort her. Her cries make me so sad! But Jesus’ Father allowed Him to suffer. And, as we learned yesterday, this was for us.

Gethsemane-night1
Now I have been to the traditional site of Gethsemane, and I was overcome with emotion as I sat there where He prayed that night (or, at least near where He prayed). I imagined Jesus’ agony that night. He fought. He got gut-level real with God. He got surrendered. I am so glad He did. I could not have done what Jesus did that night. I am scared just going to the doctor. Just the thought of having to face my own execution frightens me. On the other side of the Mount of Olives (to the east) was desert. It would have been easy for Jesus to just keep walking and slip into the darkness never to be seen again. But Jesus stayed there in the garden and prayed through His fears.

Our Lord had incredible courage. And the pain was just beginning for Him. His deepest fears were about to unfold upon Him, and there was no one to stop it. Not even the Father would stop what was about to happen. But by trust in His Father Jesus faced His deepest fears: His accusers, the Romans, the cross, and the grave.

Have you thought about that night? What do you see here? Why do you suppose Matthew included this moment in His Gospel?

A Prayer/Song for Today[1]

King of my life, I crown Thee now,
Thine shall the glory be:
Lest I forget Thy thorn crowned brow,
Lead me to Calvary.

Lest I forget Gethsemane;
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

Show me the tomb where Thou wast laid,
Tenderly mourned and wept;
Angels in robes of light arrayed
Guarded Thee whilst Thou slept.

Lest I forget Gethsemane;
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

Let me like Mary, through the gloom,
Come with a gift to Thee;
Show to me now the empty tomb,
Lead me to Calvary.

Lest I forget Gethsemane;
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

May I be willing, Lord, to bear
Daily my cross for Thee;
Even Thy cup of grief to share,
Thou hast borne all for me.

Lest I forget Gethsemane;
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

[1] “Lead Me to Calvary” by Jennie Evelyn Hussey, 1924.

HOLY WEEK DEVOTIONAL #2: Passover Remixed (Matthew 26:14-35)

Matthew 26:14-35: Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity it betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 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.”

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

Everyone that knows me (Jason Alexander) well, knows that I love hip hop. Most of us think of hip hop as a genre of music, and it is, but it is so much more. Hip hop is a culture. And as a culture, its roots are deep and wide, but the official birth place of hip hop is the inner city; Bronx, NY, to be specific. It originated as an expression of life and creativity. Imagination is the spirit of hip hop.

One of the reasons why I love hip hop is that it introduced me to so many great musicians from a variety of genres–jazz, blues, reggae, funk, soul, rock, gospel, and more. Most of these artists were from a time before I was born, and were “off the radar” even in their day. Hip hop put me on to super good—and often times, super obscure—music that I would have otherwise never encountered.

“How?” you might ask. Well, in the mid to late 80’s, and early 90’s, hip hop producers made records by sampling other artists. First discovered by hip hop deejay Marley Marl, sampling was the art of taking a very small snippet from a song–a guitar riff, or a snare hit, or a bass line–and from it creating a whole new song. Most of the time, they didn’t just take a sample of a song and leave it as is; usually, they manipulated in a way that allowed one to detect the old song, but also hear a brand new song borne out of the old.

di-dzhey-vertushki-plastinka
At first glance this may seem like these hip hop producers were stealing music from hard-working musicians, and getting paid for music they never created (not true, by the way), but something else was going on beneath the surface: they were giving life to old records that no one—or at least, very few people—would have cared about.

These hip hop producers are some of the most imaginative, hard-working, skilled musicians of our day, precisely because they were able to identify an old sound that no one cared about, and turn it into a new sound that resonated with the contemporary listener. This idea captivated me. When I was kid, I would go buy a hip hop record. Yes, you heard me correctly; a record! Still the best way to listen to music, in my humble opinion. I would read the liner notes, and go listen to those records that were sampled by the hip hop artist. Stay with me, I am going somewhere with all of this.

In these verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives new life to an already important meal. As we learned yesterday, the backdrop for Jesus’s crucifixion is the Passover meal. This meal was identity-shaping. Every year it commemorated God’s salvific (saving) work on Israel’s behalf. It remembered the time when the king of Egypt killed and oppressed Israel, and the LORD delivered them by destroying the oppressor (see Exodus 1-15).

By participating in the meal one was saying in effect, “I, and my people, were slaves in Egypt, but God brought us out so that we could be His servants, and because of God’s work I have a unique purpose in the world.”

In today’s reading, Matthew tells about the Passover Jesus celebrated right before His death. Again, we see that Jesus was prepared (vv 17-19). Jesus took the opportunity, not only to eat the Passover meal, but prepare His disciples for what was to come. This Passover meal was different, however. Passover remembers God’s saving, identity-shaping, work, but this Passover meal would take on an even deeper meaning. It wasn’t just the release from Egypt that was needed; it was release from our sin (v 28).

Jesus was giving new and deeper meaning to an ancient meal. And just like the Passover meal provided the Israelite with a self-understanding, so this meal Jesus shared with His disciples provides those in the Church a self-understanding. We are those who have been delivered from the bondage of sin. Without Jesus, we would remain in bondage.

How meaningful would the Passover meal be if God had never delivered Israel from her oppressor? Not very. Likewise, being a disciple of Jesus Christ would mean nothing if Jesus had not been killed and raised. It is the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection that gives meaning to this meal, and to our lives.

The death and the resurrection are a package deal. Two sides of the same coin. Without them, there is no release from bondage, or substance to who we are as disciples of Jesus.

communion
If you didn’t pick up on this already, these verses form the basis for our weekly Communion meal. And we participate in Communion every week because it remembers the true Passover. Passover remixed! It gives meaning and shape to our lives. Take Jesus’ death and resurrection away, and we are just a group of religious people who still live in bondage to sin.

So, where are you? Is Jesus’ death and resurrection a big deal to you? How do you know? Does it have an impact on the way you live your life? What impact will it have on you today?

A Prayer for Today

Lord, our lives are shapeless and empty without Your saving work. We are lost in the world without Your grace. Thank You for giving Your body and blood for the world. It has forever changed who we are. Our lives had no meaning, but now our lives are full of meaning and goodness. Teach us to live as those who have been redeemed. We long for the coming of Your kingdom. Bring it, Lord. Allow us to see it.

HOLY WEEK DEVOTIONAL #1: Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11)

Palm

In chapter 19 of the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus began His journey to Jerusalem from Galilee (vv. 1-2). He arrived in the capital city about a week before the Passover festival (26:2). Jesus acted in and around Jerusalem from the time of His arrival there in chapter 21 to the time of His departure, after His resurrection, in chapter 28 (v. 16).

In Jesus’s day, Jerusalem hosted thousands of pilgrims during Passover. Three times a year all adult Jewish males were to “appear before the LORD” in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:1-17) for the three major annual festivals: Passover, Weeks (Pentecost), and Booths.

Up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been rather secretive about the fact that He is the Messiah (9:27-31), but in chapter 21 He will begin to act in a much more public fashion. His actions in Jerusalem during Passover were unmistakably Messianic. It would be very difficult for His audience to misunderstand the claims He was making. More on this in a moment.

Jesus had, on three separate occasions in Matthew’s Gospel, told His disciples that He would both suffer and die at the hands of the religious elite, and be raised from the dead thereafter (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). And on two of those occasions Jesus told them that all this would happen in Jerusalem (16:21; 20:17-19). In 20:17-19 He spoke to His disciples about His impending death in Jerusalem while He was on the way to Jerusalem!

Jesus was fully aware of what a trip to Jerusalem would mean for Him. He knew that speaking the truth about God’s will to the religious folk there would earn Him a shameful death, but He also knew that that was God’s plan. He knew that His suffering would not end in death and loss, but in resurrection and renewal.

Let’s read Matthew 21:1-11:
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”

          This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.

The huge crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”

And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Jesus’ actions in Matthew 21:1-11 are unambiguous, but having read these verses, if you are like me, you may be saying to yourself, “What’s so obvious about Jesus’ actions here?” To understand the point Jesus was making we need to understand that His actions were highly symbolic. Jesus did not call for a donkey because He was tired of walking. And it wasn’t His disciples’ idea to bring Him a donkey so that He could have a more comfortable journey. This was Jesus’ idea! He was the One Who arranged to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was a charged image. It was an action that communicated a royal procession. In verse 5 Matthew quotes the prophet Zechariah:

“Say to the daughter Zion:

‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

This verse envisions a King like David riding into Jerusalem after having been delivered from the enemy (cf. 2 Samuel 15:30; 16:1-2). The King is victorious because God delivered him, and he returns to the city not on a war horse, but on a donkey. A donkey was an appropriate means of transportation for a king, but only in a time of peace. Jesus was making a statement: The King has returned!

But the King had not come to overthrow the dominant foreign power like many had hoped. Rome was in charge during those days. The Romans even built a fortress right next to the Temple so that they could oversee all religious activity and ensure order among the people. Rather, Jesus was implementing a different sort of Kingdom (20:25-28). A kingdom of peace. Instead of overthrowing Rome, Jesus allowed Rome to do its worst to Him.

If we keep reading, Jesus’ highly symbolic–and highly subversive–actions do not stop there. After riding into town like the long-awaited king, He marches straight up to the Temple (the epicenter of religious, social, and political life in Israel), and he publicly teaches that God intended for the Temple to be place of prayer for the nations, but it had become a “den of bandits” (21:12-17). He even overturned the tables of the money changers there, not because He was against buying sacrifices, but because people had begun to trust in the wrong thing. The Temple was not enough. Something else was needed.

To understand this action, imagine someone burning an American flag in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. That is the kind of impact it would have had. It was a critique of national–and religious–pride. It was a dangerous thing to do.

People were so sure that just because they had the Temple nothing could hurt them. Many would say to themselves, “Surely we are safe from foreigners because God lives in the Temple. For we are God’s chosen people in God’s chosen place. God will defend His house!” But Jesus warns them that the Temple was not magic.

Moreover, it was not producing the kind of fruit that God desired (21:18-21; cf Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 7:1-29), and because of that fact, instead of protecting it, God would allow it to be destroyed (24:1-2). And that is precisely what happened. In AD 70 (less than forty years after Jesus’ death), after a civil war in Jerusalem, the Romans destroyed the Temple.

The Temple was a place to worship God, not a license to sin. People had begun to assume that it didn’t matter if they trusted God, or served Him, as long as they kept going to the Temple. Jesus challenged this way of thinking, and He did so because He loved the people. He loved Jerusalem, God’s holy city (23:33-37). He warned them that their way of thinking about God’s kingdom would only serve to harm them, not protect them.

As you can imagine, and as we can read in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was not well-received by many in Jerusalem. His words and actions were a critique of a corrupt system of religion that based its confidence not on God, but on human effort. Jesus was announcing a new kind of kingdom. One wherein the Temple wouldn’t stand at the center.

This kingdom would feature a King who was crucified. God was sending the King, not to overthrow Rome, but to exhaust all evil by letting it do its worst to Him. And by His resurrection, Jesus would overcome evil.

Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He knew that His actions would get Him crucified. Jesus came not to fix “the system” but to warn people that “the system” was doomed to destruction. He urged people to flee from false hopes, and to put their hope in what God was doing through His own death.

As we shall see when we read the crucifixion narrative, Jesus’ enthronement scene is His death on a Roman cross. He looked like another failed Messiah, but in fact His death was the way that God would set up His kingdom.

We are now in a position to begin to examine Jesus’ final days. This week we will devote ourselves to prayer and Scripture reading as we approach Good Friday and Easter. As much as is possible, we want to try to enter the story. After all, it is our story. It is the story of God’s love for the world. Are you ready to enter the story?

A Prayer for Today

Lord, teach us to see the beauty of Your plan as it unfolded in Your death and resurrection. Help us for we are easily distracted. Be pleased to show us the glory of Your cross. Let it’s message grip us, and cause to live as Your people in a dying world. Teach us to hope in You. The world around us has lost its hope. It lives in darkness. Before we saw the light of the gospel, we too were in darkness, but You saved us. Teach us to live in Your light. We are ever grateful for what you’ve done for the world. Allow our gratitude to deepen today.