Easter, the Pagan Holiday-NOT!

Christian believers around the world will gather this weekend or next, depending on which calendar they use, to commemorate Easter.  The story surrounding the historic events of the unjust trial of Jesus, his crucifixion and eventual glorious resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith and the hope of our eternity.  And yet every year we are subjected to those religious zealots who come out of hiding to allege that our Easter celebration is leftover from former pagan holidays, and that “True” Christians would never take part if they only knew.  What’s more sad is that their readers blindly adopt their misinformation as the Gospel, pun intended.  So today I’d like to counter and preempt their arguments with some factual truth.

The most common allegation is that Easter is a derived name from the Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar.  In the early  nineteenth century there was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland named Alexander Hilsop.  Hilsop was vehemently opposed to the Catholic Church and created and propagated a notion that the Roman Catholic Church was in fact a secret pagan society dating back to Constantine. Hilsop claims since Constantine was never really Christian, he brought pagan words into the Christian vernacular, making Ishtar in essence, Easter.  In the English language we don’t substitute two words simply because they sound similar.  His writings, specifically his book titled A Tale of Two Babylons, and teachings have been soundly rejected by scholars due to their unsubstantiated factual evidence.  You can read much more of his life and the fallacy of his teahings online.

This brings us to the second alleged notion that Easter is named after an Anglo-Saxon goddes named Eostre.  First, we now know that Anglo-Saxons did not name their months after gods or goddesses but rather after seasons of agriculture.  In addition, there is no evidence that a goddess named Eostre ever existed.  The only reference to that name in all history is found in a line of a writing by Venerable Bede, an old historian. There are simply no other listings of that name, no left behind carvings or statues, no lisitng among known gods or goddesses, NOTHING!  The existence of Eostre is simply unproven and thereefore, can not be the source of any known pagan ritual.

So then, where do we get the term Easter?  In the original Greek, the word Pascha was used for both Easter and Passover.  That carried over as well into the Latin translation. However, in the 1500s William Tyndale did not want to use the same word for both the Jewish observance and a Christian observance. He chose Pask, a dervitive of Pascha, for the Jewish holiday, leaving by default, Easter for the Christian observance.  King James followed suit in his translation as he recorded the passover in the book of Acts as Easter.  In the Orthodox tradition, the original term Pascha is still used in it’s original beauty and significance.

So why address such a misinformed allegation at all, if it has no merit?  Simply because there will be many people who believe that if something is posted on any social media platform, especially if it comes from a shared post by one of their friends, then it must be true.  We have become so virtually programmed that we absorb all we read on social media like a dry sponge dropped into a swimming pool.  There are few fact checkers that will investigate before blindly passing it along or even worse, condemn us who celebrate Easter as being brainwashed by pagan historians, when in fact quite the opposite is more true.  To discount the magnificance of Easter to a mere handed down pagan ritual by a discredited Scottish minister is to deny the events on which our entire faith is solely built, and a huge disservice to those foolish enough to believe it rather than the truth of the Gospels.

The historic recording of the Bible manuscripts still in existence, along with other notable historic non-Biblical writings such as those by Josephus, are universally accepted and measured under the criteria of historical accuracy as proof enough that Jesus existed and that the stories left for us are accurate and confirmed by other writings.  However, Jesus and his teachings will remain a mystery for those who can’t or won’t accepth him through faith alone.  It’s sad, and yet understandable.  Jesus’ own disciples, who lived with him and shared in his ministry as witnesses to his miracles and teachings, had a hard time accepting that he was who he claimed to be, even up to his death on the cross.  They scattered and hid-only John was recorded to be at the scene of the crucifixion.  And even when Jesus miraculously reappears before them, Thomas demands to see his hands as proof, so our doubts are understandable.  And yet the truth remains absolute and infallible.

I choose to believe in a God who set forth a plan of reconciliation for all mankind by becoming one of us, fully man and yet at all times retaining all power, who yielded himself and his body to the most horrific suffering imaginable to atone for all sin, was placed in a borrowed tomb and rose from the state of being dead so that we too may share in his resurrection.  Don’t be led astray by those who find folly in our faith.  Put on your Easter best-commemorate his death on good Friday, and rejoice in his victory over the grave on Easter Sunday with no shame or guilt of pagan worship, and pray for those who miss out on this blessed event because of their own inability to verify false allegations.  Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus will come again to receive all who have received him!  Happy Easter!

 

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The Fallacy of a Defenseless Jesus

Each year as I prepare for Easter I seek to explore some nuance in the story that perhaps I have previously overlooked, so that both the significance and the magnificence of God’s plan remains fresh and renewed for my optimal appreciation.  I’m convinced that when you ask for enlightenment, you always find something in scriptures you glossed over before without little thought.  This week in our study on the Gospel of John, I saw it.  It was simply stated, and yet profound.  In fact the whole of the Easter Passion hinges on this often overlooked recording left for us by John.

When you study the Book of John you will see that he strives to portray the importance of the Divinity of Christ.  From the very first verse John makes clear that Jesus was in the beginning, that He is the Word, and continues to point out through Jesus’ own quotes that Jesus and God His Father are one.  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, he says. Throughout his ministry he drops constant signs and hints that he is indeed sent by the Father with all power to heal, deliver, and even raise the dead to life.  Even his critics among the Pharisees could not deny his miracles.  They simply overlooked them because they valued their position as religious leaders above reverence and aknowledgment for what was going on right before their eyes.  All this leads to this profound nugget recorded in John chapter 13.  We are all aware of the story.  It happens at the Last Supper as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in an act of true exempalry servantude.  Just before this act, John records for us what Jesus was thinking, thus my previously overlooked passage too profound to ignore, in verse 3:

          “Jesus knew that the Father had put ALL Things under His Power…”

We know and are taught that Jesus was a willing servant.  Isaiah describes him as a lamb being led away for slaughter, yet without protest.  We sing songs about how he could have called down Heaven, but I for one, failed to entirely grasp the internal struggle taking place betwen God of the universe and God the flesh.  It is indeed dificult for us to reconcile that the creator of all things could be so easily taken captive for a cruel punishment and crucifixion.  But throughout the whole process, Jesus, God incarnate, retained ALL his power, and at any time could have simply stopped the process, the abuse, the humiliation, with a single word or thought. In his sovereignty Jesus knew the planned hour had come.  Jesus knew Judas was about to betray him.  Jesus knew the disciples would scatter in fear.  Jesus knew Peter would deny him on three occasions.  Jesus never stopped being all-knowing, all-powerful God.

Would you like further proof?  Back in Exodus when Moses appears before God to learn that he has been chosen to rescue the children of Israel from the hands of Pharoh, Moses asks God, “Whom shall I say has sent me (that they will believe me)?”.  God responds, “tell them I Am sends you”, the I Am of the burning bush, the I Am off the Red Sea, the I Am of the Ten Commandments.  Observe what happens when the temple guard comes to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemanie-John, in attempting to point our the divinity of Christ, is the only Gospel writer who records this event, found in chapter 18.  When the arresting officers ask if he is the Jesus of Nazareth they are seeking, Jesus replies, “I Am“. At those two uttered words, I Am, the Old Testament name of the most high God, all who were present fell to the ground! In that moment, it is God reminding us that He is in complete control of everything going on, that he is not defensseless, that at any time he could have slain them all.  We know this in part because they ask him again, once they regain their senses, if he is Jesus, and Jesus replies again, I Am, but as Jesus the Lamb, and no one is knocked off their feet after the second revelation.

Earlier in John 10, Jesus, referring to his life and sacrifice, says, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have the authority (all power) to lay it down and take it back up again”.  Again, in his sovereignty, in his knowledge of human anatomy which he designed along with all pain and neurological receptors, he knew what he was about to endure on our behalf, and still he willingly went to the cross, not as a defenseless servant with no recourse, but as the omnipotent God of the Universe, with all power and authority.  That, for me, is the Easter story in a nutshell.

 

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The High Price Paid for our Worthlessness

We have entered Holy Week, those days approaching our Easter or Pascha remembrance and celebration of the events that have become the foundation of our faith and belief in Christ.  It is a somber time of reflection as we recall the written words depicting as best as mere words can the horror and excruciating pain suffered by our Lord on our behalf for the remediation of a sinful world. Even Hollywood with its special effects could never accurately capture in film the physical brutality of a suffering Christ.

It is so easy in this life with its trials and disappointments to lose sight of not only the heavy price paid, but the reason Christ endured our just punishment. Life sometimes is simply not fair, at least as we view fairness.  We work hard but are still laid off or our position eliminated, we take care of our bodies but still receive the negative medical report, we give it our best but our relationships still end.  The normal human response is to measure the obvious against the given standards of success and feel a sense of worthlessness as we recall a trail of failures. I know because I do this constantly.  Do I measure up?  Am I leaving anything of worth behind in my wake? Are people who come in contact with me left better or worse for the encounter?  While self-examination can be a motivating tool, it can also cause great harm if our measurements aren’t true because of corrupt criteria.  And to continue in our false sense of worthlessness is to completely diminish the work done by Christ on the cross on our behalf.  And therein lies the error of this line of thought process.

It is in these times that we are compelled to recall those verses we have all heard and grown up with but failed to apply on personal levels. This is what Holy Scripture has to say about our worth and value in God’s eyes:

Matthew 10:29; Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them fall to the ground without the Father seeing it? But even the hairs of your head are numbered! You are of more value than many sparrows.

Isaiah 49:15; Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she would have no compassion for him? Yet these may forget but I will not forget you. See, I have engraved your name on the palms of my hands-you are continually on my mind.

We are a people of emotional responses and triggers; we love passionately; we grieve over painful losses; we fear uncertain situations. But the journey of faith can be easily hijacked by our emotions.  In times of despair when all seems hopeless we have to hold fast to our knowledge of the written Word as our plumb line and not the false indicators of human response. We may or may not be moved by the verses above and others like them when we are at our lowest, but we have to hold them to be irrevocable truths that emotions can’t alter.

Our Lord would not have endured the cross for losers, failures, those deemed worthless.  In fact the opposite is true.  It was us who need hope, who need forgiveness and restoration that He is most compassionate toward and He proved it on that Good Friday as the world and all creation went dark while He took His last breath and temporarily surrendered to death. And it was all for love, a love we could never comprehend, and certainly never merit. Again, reflect of these undeniable truths:

Romans 8:35; Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness or danger or sword?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 4:9; In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Ephesians 2:44; But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ.

The death of Christ once and forever tore and removed the veil that separated sinful man from a Holy perfect God in that we are now made perfect having our sin removed from us as far as the East is from the West, and we are encouraged to boldly approach a God as His children and siblings of his Holy Son.  There is nothing we could ever achieve on earth, no title given, no award of prestige we could ever claim that has more value than being referred to as Children of God. While this designation should be grasped with humility and reverence, it should never be tarnished by the deceit of human feelings during trying times. He Who knew us before we were born died a horrible death so that we could be forever united with Him in a kingdom yet to come. He would not have done so had he shared the same appraisal of us that we accept as true.

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my soul cries out

The Diminished Cross

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Each year about this time I lament my disappointment as I once again embark on a futile search for a place to observe Good Friday among my protestant based churches.  Mind you not all have done away with such observances, but with each passing year the offerings become fewer and fewer.  In a feel-good age of cheap grace and victorious living, the message of suffering, forbearance and surrender of self, becomes increasingly diluted if mentioned at all.  The challenge of taking up one’s own cross and submitting to the unpredictable and uncomfortable life of following our Savior in His suffering and death is being largely replaced with the more popular theology of living your best life, tapping into God’s treasure trove and living a free-style life where all is covered by grace and a high five is preferable to a lowly stature of humble prayer and reflective remorse.  The cross is only relevant as a piece of jewelry or a favored tattoo and not a reminder of our sinful roots.

The cheap form of grace that some brandish about like an infinite well we didn’t have to dig was provided to us at a high cost.  In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dierich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the cost of this grace:

“such grace is costly because it calls us to follow. It is costly because it costs a man his life and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son; “ye were bought with a price”, and what cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

That cost was paid on a cross.  There would be no Resurrection Sunday without the horrendous events surrounding Good Friday.  In fact there would be little value at all in an empty tomb except that given it by the verified death just three days earlier.  It is the cross that empowers the message of the resurrection-it is the bloodshed and the suffering and the ultimate show of sacrificial love by means of the cross that gives life and hope to the message of redemption and eternal life revealed by the empty tomb.  But somewhere in our attempt to make more palatable the message of hope and forgiveness many have left out the call to obedience, suffering, discipline and selflessness that the cross represents. A 30 second Sinners Prayer void of a call to total submission under the weight of a daily cross would be to hard to receive and would turn many away, so it is left off the buffet of inspirational anecdotes and dessert blessings lest the people may not come.

While I enjoy the freedom of our worship styles I am never drawn away from the integrity of the old hymns.  One of my favorites was written by Isaac Watts over three hundred years ago, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  The descriptives held within the lyrics paint for us an undiluted picture of the price paid on the cross and the eternal value that lies within the solemn observance of that first Good Friday;

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count as loss and pour contempt on all my pride. 2. Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to his blood. 3. See, from his head, his hands, his feeet-sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e;er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown. 4. Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, deserves my soul, my life, my all.
I am the least of those to point out how we overlook the cost of the cross as we pass Go and head right to the empty tomb and collect our $200. My life is not one of submissive discipline and I fall short of understanding and living out the combined message of the tomb and the cross. But I am deeply grieved and concerned at how through the generations the high cost paid for the grace we boast has been diminished to a nearly unmentioned detail having little significance compared to Living our Best Life Now. It is the blood shed up to and on the cross that provides our healing.  It is the lashes and the nails on the cross that provide our forgiveness. It is the carrying of the cross by our King that provides us the best example of meekness and humility. And most importantly, it is only the death on the cross that made possible the glorious resurrection we celebrate at Easter.  One can not be separated from the other; one can not be observed properly as a single event without knowledge of the other. And one can not glory in the risen Savior and the empty tomb with giving glory to the crucified Lamb and the price of death paid for our redemption.
There is no shortage of scriptural texts to instill in us the ever relevant importance of observing the work accomplished on the cross.
1 Peter 2:24; He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”
Hebrews 12:2; For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the Father.
Galatians 6:14; May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
1 Corinthians 1:17; Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom or eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Although they gave it their best effort, not even Hollywood with all their special effects could adequately capture the horror, the level of pain, the sense of abandonment nor the depth of so great a love that was displayed that Good Friday on the cross we so reluctantly acknowledge. Christ took upon his body the eternal punishment for all evil, for all hatred, for all martyrdom in his name, all terrorism, all extremism, for every lie, indiscretion, theft, for every person who has walked the face of the planet he created. The source of all life became death; the embodiment of all that is good became all that is evil so that even his own father could not look upon him in his deepest and most agonizing hour on the cross. How can we so easily brush aside the infinite sacrifice in favor of the glorious outcome? Is it because the cross reminds us of our worthlessness and our own sinfulness but for the high price paid for our grace? With all that is left of my shattered life I will attempt to find glory and worth in the cross and pray that its significance is never lost on me.

I boast not or works or tell of good deeds for naught have I done to merit his grace

All glory and praise shall rest upon him so willing to die in my place

I will glory in the cross, in the cross, lest his suffering all be in vain

I will weep no more for the cross that he bore-I will glory in the cross.

May you have a blessed, reflective and completely cognizant Easter celebration as we acknowledge the whole Easter story from the incarnation to the passion, from the death to the resurrection and from his ascention to his eventual return, all made possible by his obedience to the cross.

 

 

The Twice a Year Husband

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I must say I’ve been blessed with a pretty amazing, forgiving, gracious and still attractive wife. Ours may not be the perfect relationship. We have weathered some storms that few know of and can only boast that we survived. But I can’t imagine sharing my earthly life with anyone else.  She keeps me grounded, motivated, inspired and loved, and I strive to do the same for her.  To quote an old song, Me and Mrs. Hill got a Thing Going On.

As important a role she plays in my life, I’ve tried to imagine what our relationship would look like if I only acknowledged her two or three times per year, maybe on her birthday or our anniversary or Valentines Day. What kind of a marriage would we have if I only spoke to her, wrapped my arms around her, acknowledged her or in any other way interacted with her only on certain annual occasions? What would the state of our marital bliss be if she waited for me to come home from work so we could be together but I completely ignored her as I headed for the dinner table or to my room to relax?  And heaven forbid, what if she tried talking to me each day but I only responded to her communication attempts twice each year?  I think I can say with all certainty that we would be just another divorce statistic.

Last week most of us celebrated Easter. Churches cleaned up and put their best foot forward in anticipating the larger than normal attendance of biannual visitors.  Facebook and social media was lit up with memes and images and the traditional posts that go along with the Easter reflections. Retailers offered sale prices for those who would buy that once a year dress or suit for church.  Television offered up the usual King of Kings, Ten Commandments, The Robe, The Passion and other Easter themed programming. Even CNN got in on the act with their series on Jesus.  And oh the goodies and specials given at Easter at the local eateries, knowing there would be long lines waiting to dine after the Easter services. Don’t get me wrong-I am grateful anytime Christ is glorified and acknowledged-He is surely worthy of our accolades and so much more.

Revelation 5:12-  And they sang in a mighty chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered–to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

In considering the implied ramifications of being a twice per year husband as it relates to the marital relationship, how can we defend biannual reflections on our faith or expect any different results if we choose to be twice per year believers?  Are we just as guilty of acknowledging the divine work of redemption and the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior at Christmas and Easter?  Are we too engrossed in our lives to take a few minutes to converse with God each day?  Do we forego the opportunity to unite with our brothers and sisters in corporate worship each week? Do we boast of the various Bible translations we have on our shelves but rarely spend time in devotion of scripture?  If we tended to our wives or husbands the way we tend to church would our relationships be stronger, or much weaker?  And if we tended to our faith in the same manner we do our mates, would we be weaker or much stronger?

Being engaged in your faith and in the universal and local church is critical to the health of your spiritual walk. The Bible is not shy about church attendance and involvement:

Hebrews 10:25-Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near

Matthew 18:20-For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them

Colossians 3:16-Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

Psalm 92:12-The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I can’t imagine how I would get by if I only interacted with my beautiful wife twice each year. I am so grateful for the knowledge that even on less than perfect days, she is there and I can approach her, speak to her, spend time alone with her and enjoy the fruits of the relationship we have with each other. There is no greater joy in my earthly life than pleasing her and being in her company.  How much more, given the world we live in and the continuing martyrdom that we hear of daily, am I grateful in knowing that I can commune with God daily, and that He cherishes the time I devote to Him.  My faith, though still weak at times is strengthened through engagement and my soul is nourished in corporate worship.  What a mess I would be if I only met with God at Christmas and Easter.

I AM HE-The Proven Submission of Jesus

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Most of us have seen various depictions through movies of the events leading up to and including the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Some may have even felt a tinge of hostility toward the religious leaders and Roman rule who so viciously had Jesus beaten, tortured and put to death, as if they were actually in control of the events. The accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and trial are similarly recorded in the four gospels.  But the account John gives us has one added observation, one that leaves us with no doubt that the only person who had total control of the events that night was in fact Jesus.

This account aligns perfectly with the intent and theme of each of the four gospels, not to be viewed as inconsistent, but as different perspectives of the same story.  Matthew writes to Jews familiar with the Old Testament presenting the genealogy of Jesus and proof of Old Testament prophecy that Jesus in the expected Messiah. Mark’s audience is more to the Romans not familiar with the Old Testament prophecies.  Mark provides more stories of the miracles of Jesus as proof through action of His deity. Luke’s objective was to point out the human element of Jesus through various and detailed physical descriptions, including the anatomical aspects of the death of Jesus-fully God in the form of human man.  John on the other hand wrote in a way to show us from the very first verse that Jesus was the human expression of the eternal God-“In the beginning was the Word-the Word was with God and the Word  WAS GOD!”  So it’s only natural that John would remind us that even in death, Jesus God was present. This is how John reveals this to us in his gospel:

John 18:1-5;   18 After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove. Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked. “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied. I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground!

Jesus God invoked the very name He had given in response to Moses when asked “who should I tell them has sent me?”  God said “tell them I Am has sent you”. At the very verbalizing of the name ‘I Am” all who came to arrest Jesus were given full disclosure if they had any doubt of who Jesus really was-God!  Who was in the crowd that came that night to arrest Jesus?  The gospels give us enough information to determine that it was a mixed crowd of select religious leaders, the guards of the Jewish temple and Roman soldiers-Jews and Gentiles alike. It is given through Peter’s response in slicing off the ear of one of the religious leader’s servants that even the disciples were shaken at the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, so His response of “I Am” and the resulting “we all fall down” that they witnessed served to assure them too that Jesus was in total control.

I can’t help but imagine the reaction of the religious leaders when they found themselves on the ground at the mention of the name “I Am”. How long did they sit there? Were they in shock?  Did they begin to question their authority or Christ’s deity? How could they just get up, shake the dust from their cloaks and continue in this arrest?  What about the Roman guard?  They were strong and feared men who ruled by force and intimidation.  They were reportedly carrying swords on their person.  But at the mentioning of the name “I Am” they too were knocked backwards to the ground by the power of Jesus’ words.  There should have been little doubt to all who were present that night, the religious leaders, the Roman guard and the followers of Christ that this man was God in the flesh and in charge of the situation.

Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus portrays this very nature of total control of what’s coming ahead.  In John 10:14-18 Jesus spells it out for us very clearly:

 14“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

In Mark’s gospel, chapter 8, Jesus is again recorded as predicting to His followers what must come.  From the Message Bible,

30-32 Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.

Those who heard these words at the time perhaps did not fully grasp what Jesus was predicting.  I’m quite certain that given the crucial role the disciples would eventually play in the birth of the new church and the new gospel, Jesus needed them too to be reminded that night that His betrayal and arrest was prophetic and being orchestrated as part of the plan of salvation set forth from the beginning of time, when Jesus was the Word and was with God and was God.

For good measure, Jesus reminded even Pilate of His power and control, recorded again by John in chapter 19;

He took Jesus back into the headquarters[a] again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 10 “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

11 Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.

In no way is this a suggestion that Jesus laid aside the physical aspects of His humanity as to not suffer pain. Any inferred implication that this was the case is not supported by scriptural texts. Jesus was fully God with complete power and control but yet fully man, responding to the torture and pain as any mortal man would. Luke is quick to record for us the physical elements of Christ’s suffering. Jesus was clear and deliberate to everyone present at the time and all who choose to observe His recorded words today that He voluntarily surrendered His life-laid it down and relinquished physical control, suffered the humiliating torment of suffering and death ascribed to the common criminal of that period out of a pure love we can never fully comprehend.  Jesus God allowed Roman guards to beat Him about the face, pull out his hair and beard, spit on Him, mock him, discriminate against Him and publicly bully Him. He didn’t demand his rights-He didn’t sue for defamation of character or false arrest-He didn’t accuse the leaders of profiling or religious bigotry. He simple gave us His life of His own free will as the ultimate and supreme sacrifice for all mankind for all time to come, because He wanted to, because He could and because He loved us that much. The Great I Am proved His submission to us. How unworthy I am for such a sacrifice.

Judas Syndrome-Subtle Betrayals

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The character Judas Iscariot has always fascinated me for some reason. Not much is written about him in the New Testament and little else is available through tradition or other writings. The theories about his life and motives span both sides of the spectrum. Some consider him to be the seed of the devil for his betrayal of Jesus while other sects look to venerate him as a saint, crediting him with putting into motion the chain of events that is our redemption and reconciliation. And yet others believe his role was to be viewed as an example that no one is safe from the snares of personal greed and temptation, even an Apostle of Jesus. Whatever your view, Judas Iscariot makes for controversial study.

We know his name in Hebrew means “Praised”. We know that he was from Judah, the only one of the twelve with all others being from Galilee. We know he was the treasurer of the twelve, responsible for the money and necessities of the group.  But what else do find in Judas that may be shockingly familiar?

In Matthew’s account Peter, in his explanation of how prophecy was fulfilled by Judas’ betrayal, describes Judas as “being numbered among us and having a share in the ministry”.  This does not suggest a passive but a hands on involved role, the evangelizing, the bearing witness to the miracles of Jesus first hand, the intimate instruction by the Master and even possibly the faith and partnership with the Apostles as they performed their own miracles in Christ’s name. We have no reason to believe that Judas started out as anything but a fully engaged “on fire” Apostle of Jesus. But along the way Judas fell prey to greed and temptation that he chose not to resist. Judas had a love for money.  We see that in his false narrative as he protests the anointing of Jesus with the expensive perfume.  We are told that he stole from the group treasury funds.  Materialistic greed is a powerful and addicting cancer that even the strongest can’t always escape.  The character of Judas is not one void of all redeeming qualities doomed from the start but one that in spite of the knowledge of Christ fell victim to his own desires.

It is possible that the act of the betrayal itself was merely motivated by profit and greed? Consider how many times we are told in the New Testament that Jesus “escapes” through the crowd because it wasn’t yet His time.  Did Judas believe that Jesus would simply escape again as in times past and that he would reap a reward of silver with no harm being done?  One has to wonder at the remorse Judas displays when he realizes that this time Jesus is indeed apprehended and taken into custody.  His immediate response is one of sorrow and regret as he returns the money and takes his own life feeling unworthy to carry on as an Apostle. The act of his suicide suggests to us that in the end he did not believe the words of Christ pertaining to resurrection and eternity so even his faith and intimate knowledge of Jesus was overcome by his greed and desires. Throughout all history perhaps no one individual was ever elevated to as high a status and yet lowered to a more detestable state than Judas Iscariot. How can one hear first hand the teachings of Christ,  share everyday life and fellowship with Him, observe Him as he heals the lame and raises the dead and even partakes in the initial ministry outreach of Christianity and still fall with so great a fall?  How could one man chosen to be one of the twelve that would see and hear things the rest of us can only imagine, one who literally sat in the presence of God in the body of Jesus who basked in His glory for a three year period, betray Him for any price, let alone a paltry thirty pieces of silver?

And now for a tough question-are we any different than Judas Iscariot? Judas did not harbor the typical hatred of a traitor but rather loved Jesus to the end, betraying Him with a kiss of brotherly affection. Do we openly proclaim our love and devotion for Jesus while in possession of an unforgiving spirit?  Do we praise and worship on the weekends but cuss out drivers throughout the work week? Do we hold onto every possession without thought for the desperate and needy? Do we practice subtle betrayal in our actions when no one else is around?  Do we have an intimate enough knowledge of Christ that compels us in holy awe and exhorts us to acquiring the character of our namesake or do we hang our Jesus outfit in the closet until the next weekend?  Do the thoughts we fail to take captive, the desires we allow to exist in secret or the actions we take when angered serve as betrayals of God’s grace and Christ’s redeeming work? I wonder, and I shudder at the thought. God have mercy on us.

Scripture is full of good news and hope for everyday life, but there is one passage that tends to be haunting to me.  Matthew 7:21-23 says this:

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

The Message Translation spins it this way:

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Subtle willing betrayals-secret sinful desires-dormant but breathing temptations, just like Judas. “Father, observe and restore our motivation to be like your Son Jesus in all we think and do, and to genuinely reflect His character in our lives so that we are not deemed guilty of His betrayal through our actions and unbelief”

Peace.