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The Intention of Agony

Father, these moments of remembrance, the pauses in prayer, the pleas from Jesus for support from His friends, even today we can feel the tension & difficulty of the moment rising, time closing in & the plan of redemption bearing down in the fullness of its weight & urgency. This was not a desperation of confusion, but a desperation for Your glory & for the saving of many, many souls. The garden was pregnant with intention & Your preparation that night, Father. Jesus was not ignorant of what was coming, even if it was heavy beyond reckoning from a human perspective. Betrayal happened in darkness, but darkness cannot overcome You. May our hearts be reminded of Your great love, patience & design as we walk through Holy Week with You. May we keep watch with Christ in anticipation of Your good grace. We pray in His Name, amen.

Luke 22:39-53
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

This makes me uncomfortable.
This passage begins the portion of the Passion that is easier to read through quickly than to stop, slow down & be intentional about meditating & praying through. The agony of Christ in the garden that night was & still is, an agony that I have contributed to, personally. The suffering that began its work, pressing sweat & blood through His skin came from what I have done, will probably do today & haven’t yet done tomorrow. My brokenness, my sin, my intentional, willful disobedience & my momentary transgressions that I am tempted to pass off as if they are nothing all combine here. They press upon the heart of the Lord of Heaven, the Lamb of Glory, perfect & pure, & my struggles become His struggles. This is hard to think about. This is hard to come to terms with every time I read it. The reality of my shame & the unbearable weight of the separation it has caused between my heart & the heart of God comes crashing down in this moment, & Jesus steps in to take that weight, that blow, so that I, so that we, are not utterly destroyed.

This should make me uncomfortable. This should bring me face to face with my brokenness & my absolutely desperate need for Jesus & the grace of God. I would be lost, crushed & dead before I made it to my own cross if I had to begin to wrestle with the wrath of God for my sin. The suffering I would endure would be beyond comprehension, beyond weighing out & I would be utterly spent from the first moment, destroyed. But Jesus begins this struggle, wrestling with the brokenness of man & the glory of God, here in the garden. This isn’t the moment of redemption, but the doors are closing on the first leg of the human journey to sanctification by grace & the weight of the Law, & opening to the relief of grace by faith & the new rhythms it would bring. Relief is on the way, but this struggle cannot pass if it is to come. This cup must be drained to the dregs & Jesus alone can carry it, lift it to His lips & drink the fullness of it all.

And so we find ourselves, here in the darkness of the garden that most of us will never visit in person, but where our hearts remain present with Christ, keeping watch with Him, as His disciples sleep for grief. We count the hours, we see the suffering beginning & we account for every drop of blood that presses its way through His precious forehead. We want to take our portion from Him, but that is not ours to decide & we know we cannot bear it. And so we watch, & we wait with Him & We pray that we may not fall into temptation. We do not rush through this moment, but we keep watch with Him. We thank Him & we are brought to that place of repentance again, knowing our part in this scene. He bore it because we cannot.

Precious Jesus…our Wonderful Redeemer, we watch & pray & praise Your blessed Name.

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Acts 12:6-19 // God’s Rescue Plan

“6 On the night before Herod was to bring him out for execution, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” Then the chains fell off his wrists. 8 “Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did so. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what took place through the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they passed the first and second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went outside and passed one street, and immediately the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. 13 He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.

15 “You’re crazy!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel!” 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded.

17 Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. “Report these things to James and the brothers,” he said. Then he departed and went to a different place.

18 At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19 After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.”

Acts 12:6-19

James had been executed, Peter was in jail awaiting his own execution and things seemed pretty hopeless. We all have seasons in life that feel like this. There doesn’t seem to be any good news, and if some does come, we write it off quickly and dismiss it as something else. Nobody likes to be in places or times like this, but when they come, time seems to slow down and things never progress at the speed we want them to…

For the Christian, this is a very contrary attitude to have and to hang on to. We see these things happening, know what the truth is, and that God has something better planned for us, but somehow we get wrapped up in the woes at hand and forget the promises that have been laid out before us. We center our hearts on this world as our home, rather than on the glorious promise of God through eternity, and so our hearts get bogged down in the worry and the details of the trial taht we are experiencing. 

Faith doesn’t mean that we deny the trial is even happening. It doesn’t mean that we dupe ourselves into believing that it’s not really going on. Instead, faith lets us see clearly beyond the current struggle that we are dealing with and into the reality that God is our great rescuer. Now, Peter could have been rescued by God in any number of ways, or God could have chosen to let Peter’s life be an example to others in what it means to surrender your body to the Lord (which he would eventually do, and Jesus had prophesied would happen.) And either way, God would be the One gettin Him through the situation and providing the exit plan, even if it wasn’t the one that their human desires were longing for.

Faith also means being prepared for God to move however He sees fit, and having confidence in that plan, even when we do not understand it as well as we would like, or even at all. The church was praying for him, but they weren’t even ready for what God was going to do. It makes for a fun read for us, to see them shocked and surprised by the goodness of God, but it just goes to show that God’s plans are not our plans. It sometimes takes us a moment to see what is going on and just what He is up to. That moment can be a literal moment, as we see here, or it may take us much longer to clue in to what God is doing. 

Either way, we are called to be a people of hope and to trust in God no matter the circumstances. In this way, we provide a viewpoint on life that others  do not have as we GoLove them in Jesus Name. The life of faith, unrelenting faith, isn’t a life lived in a pipe-dream but a life of eager expectation for whatever it is that God is going to do. Yes, it is a life of hope, and it wouldn’t be a reflection of the heart of God if it wasn’t. 

Have faith. Be hopeful. Trust in God.

  

Acts 5:21b-32 // Only death would silence them

“21b When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin — the full Senate of the sons of Israel — and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 As the commander of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, as to what could come of this.

25 Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!”

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

Acts 5:21b-32

Peter and the rest were so compelled by the power of the Gospel message, the movement of the Holy Spirit in them, and the truth of what they had seen and heard, that there was simply no force apart from death that could silence them. They were convicted, determined and excited by and because of this hope that now lived inside of them. Jesus’ teachings were authoritative enough to be worth teaching, they were -the- truth after all. But the fact that they and all of Jerusalem had seen Him arrested, tried, convicted, crucified, dead and buried…and to have Him then walking, eating, talking and still performing miracles 3 days later…that was enough for them to turn their lives over in glad and joyful surrender. 

And that’s what it takes to follow Jesus, we must surrender to Him. We cannot try to save ourselves, to preserve our former way of life. We have something new and wonderful and amazing to take part in. A new purpose, a new life, a new state of mind, of heart and of the soul, in which to walk and live and exist. Following Jesus comes with a Great Commandment to GoLove Go & men, a Great Commissioning to baptize, to teach & make disciples. There is nothing that should stop us, quiet us or keep us from sharing what we now hold so dear. Like Peter & the other apostles, death itself should be the only thing that should keep us from speaking in the Name of Jesus Christ, and even then, in our deaths, we should still proclaim His Name with our last breaths. 

We cannot be silent or silenced. We cannot live in fear or timidity. We cannot compromise the Good News for the sake of comfort or for secular social ‘standards.’ Faith in Christ and a general silence do not work, they are not compatable. The joy that has been planted in us compells us each in our own ways, with the giftings we have been given, to speak the truth in love, to serve others in His Name, to teach them what we have learned and to then equip them to do the same…in other words: to ‘go and make disciples.’  

Peter & the rest were in prison for what they had said about Jesus. Would we risk prison?

Peter & the rest were prepared to go before the highest court of their people because of what they said about Jesus. Would we risk trial?

Peter & the rest spoke up in defense of the Gospel message to people who were more educated than they were. Would we risk public shaming?

Peter & the rest were simply human beings, flawed human beings, who had been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and in whom the Holy Spirit now dwelled. How do we see ourselves today, we who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and in whom dwells that same promised Holy Spirit? Do we see oursleves with the capacity to be bold to the point of prison, court and death? Or do we walk timidly, trying not to stir the pot too much, not to make too many waves? 

We must make our own decision. Do we follow Christ, living as He intends, witnesses for His gospel walking the narrow road, or do we try to make up some middle ground for ourselves, trying to ‘play it safe’ hoping that Jesus will excuse our complete lack of faith in Him? We know the correct answer & so we should live it, trusting in Him, loving Him more than we love this life. 

  

Acts 5:12-16 // Signs, Wonders & a Jailbreak

“12 Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. By common consent they would all meet in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people praised them highly. 14 Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers — crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 In addition, a large group came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”

“17 Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.” 21 In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach.”

Acts 5:12-21a

If you ever needed a situation to describe or define ‘boldness’ this would be one worth using. The apostles are preaching, teaching, healing and crowds are being drawn. The Temple elite don’t take kindly to this, and so they throw them all in jail only to have God undo what they did…and the apostles get right back to work. I love these accounts! When we look at the early church, these initital believers, using the word ‘minority’ to describe their numbers isn’t a small enough word, but they still stand tall, loud & bold for Jesus. They don’t care what the high priest’s interpretation is on life after death (he’s a Sadducee, so he doesn’t believe in a resurrection) because they have seen the evidence for themselves. They know what they believe because their faith was also sight. They know, because they lived it all, they saw it all and they experienced every moment personally. Theor testimony was powerful, and the Gospel was at work in them because they were joyfully willing to let God do whatever He wanted to do in them and through them. 

So, when the high priest and his men said not to preach Jesus, Peter and the Apostles will reply back with the only answer that makes sense: “We have to do what God wants before we do what you want.” But I’m jumping ahead a little bit. 

Most of us, if arrested for an activity, wouldn’t turn right around and get back to it the moment we were freed from jail. The only people who do that are addicts. They steal to they can get their fix, get caught, jailed, eventually released, and then they get right back to what got them in trouble in the first place. That’s called a chronic condition. And when it came to the Apostles, they had a chronic obsession with Jesus, and rightfully so! This boundless boldness, this joyful Good News, propelled them forward through any and all obstacles that would come their way. Prison, death, torture…none of those would hold them back from what they knew needed to be done, and so the Holy Spirit propelled them forward, changing the world through them, because they didn’t love themselves so much that they wouldn’t do whatever needed to be done for the sake of the message that brought them life, and shone light into their hearts.

They were excited & they were unstoppable!

Church, we need to remember this for ourselves. We need to be bold, unhinged and carry the Good News with us every day, every where, all the time. This is our joyful task that we have been appointed by the Master to accomplish. GoLove people! Tell them the Good News that has changed everything in our hearts, that has saved us from ourselves, sin, death & hell. Let them know the truth, show them the evidene and plant seeds of faith, water those seeds of faith, so that God might reap a harvestin their lives. No fear of social awkwardness should keep us from delivering the message that redeems souls and can change the course of their eternity. To GoLove in the way that Christ desires requires us to be vocal, to reach out & do what the Master would have us do.
  

Mark 16:1-8 // Just as He told you

“1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so they could go and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise. 3 They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?”

4 Looking up, they observed that the stone — which was very large — had been rolled away. 5 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; they were amazed and alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he told them. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been resurrected! He is not here! See the place where they put Him.”

“7 But go, tell His disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there just as He told you.”

8 So they went out and started running from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.”

Mark 16:1-8

— 

This is further evidence of our inability to remember and act upon good things that God has promised us. Just like the disciples heard that Jesus was going to die and be raised on the third day over and over again, we tend to hear the good news of the Gospel and forget parts that have been distinctly promised to us. 

If anyone had been paying attention, if their hearts and minds weren’t darkened, they would have seen and heard and understood about the resurrection of Christ. I’m not sure how much of their lack of understanding came from the fact that the Holy Spirit was not indwelling them yet, or how much was fear or a different expectation of what Messiah was supposed to be like and how He was to reign and rule. 

There may have been multiple contributing factors, but suffice it to say, it wasn’t clicking for them. The angel even said ‘just as He told you’ to help drive it all home, but they still lacked understanding as they ran back to the upper room. 

When you and I forget that we have been promised various things through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the giving of the Word, we find ourselves living a lackluster Christian walk. We have been given power. We have a singular handle on the truth. We have a hope that the rest of the world cannot grasp or understand. We know the end of life’s big story and we know what it takes to be on the right side of judgment day. We have more than we remember sometimes. ‘Little is much when God is in it.’ And when we, in our tiny, finite lives, understand that the infinite Creator of the universe has chosen to indwell us through His Holy Spirit, we will remember just how big a punch that packs. 

We are an empowered people, just as He told us.

We are entrusted with the truth, just as He told us.

We are to GoLove with a purpose, just as He told us.

We are the purveyors of hope, just as He told us.

We are going to be hated by the world, just as He told us.

We are going to face persecutions, just as He told us.

We are going to go before governing authorities, just as He told us.

We have a cross to carry, just as He told us. 

We must die to self, just as He told us.

He will be with us always, just as He told us. 

Numbers 22 // Talking donkeys and pagan prophets

“15 Balak sent officials again who were more numerous and higher in rank than the others. 16 They came to Balaam and said to him, ‘This is what Balak son of Zippor says: “Let nothing keep you from coming to me, 17 for I will greatly honor you and do whatever you ask me. So please come and put a curse on these people for me!”‘
18 But Balaam responded to the servants of Balak, ‘If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go against the command of the Lord my God to do anything small or great. 19 Please stay here overnight as the others did, so that I may find out what else the Lord has to tell me.’
20 God came to Balaam at night and said to him, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, get up and go with them, but you must only do what I tell you.’ 21 When he got up in the morning, Balaam saddled his donkey and went with the officials of Moab.

22 But God was incensed that Balaam was going, and the Angel of the Lord took His stand on the path to oppose him. Balaam was riding his donkey, and his two servants were with him.”
Numbers 22:15-22

This is one of those unusual passages of Scripture that look like God is contradicting Himself, but all it takes is a tiny amount of investigation and a look at the context of what is going on to find out that God is indeed acting as normal, and that nothing contradictory is being said or done. As always, with any good study of Scripture, with any good exposition, context is key. Don’t take what you know from your cultural understanding and apply it to the conversation/sequence of events happening in a different culture at a very different time in history.

Balaam refers to the Lord in the proper way, but that does not mean he is a believer. He is a diviner, a pagan, who uses entrails, dissection, bones and other cultic instruments to try to seek out the future and determine coming events. And so when he enquires of God about Israel, God is going to be very direct with him about how they are to be handled & treated. Because they mean nothing to Balaam, they are obviously seen as an enemy to Balak, and so God is unhappy with the whole situation. So God gives Balaam two different opportunities to see and understand that there are to be no curses laid out on the people of Israel. The first time, the message is for Balaam and Balak, when God tells them that he will not be going to curse Israel. That lets Balak hear for himself that they are not to be cursed. Balaam and the emissaries sent to him are all used as messengers from God for this pagan king, to point his mind toward God’s will and desire. The second time God gives Balaam permission to go, but not to do anything other than what He says. And so it is no surprise that God gets angry with the situation. Balaam holds no heart-loyalty to YHWH and if he does ‘curse’ the people for Balak, if even the smallest unfortunate circumstance happens, then Balak would claim responsibility over the event, and in turn power over God Himself. So, when God stops Balaam on the way with His angel, and even makes his donkey speak to him, it is all to let Balaam see and understand that God is not fickle, not impulsive or inconsistent that the imagined pagan gods that he is used to ‘invoking.’ God is serious about His people, and He is serious about His reputation and that His Name is glorified and lifted up. Nothing will stand in the way of His will. Balaam’s promise to refuse the gold and silver when it is a 25 day journey is one thing, but often gold in the hand sways the heart.

As Christians, we see from this event in Scripture that God is serious about the integrity of His Name and His people who bear His Name. That should be a great motivator to us to make sure that we are honoring God in all our efforts, and in every arena of our life. The proper respect for God as we GoLove others in His Name and according to His will, will translate into everything we do for His sake. We cannot take Him or His will lightly and hold Him in His proper place.

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