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Thank God.

LORD of reconciliation, Master of mercy, Author of true joy, there is no greater hope to be found than the hope You have provided through Jesus Christ. You alone have the words of life, there is nowhere else to turn. Peace flows from the veins of Christ across all of us who were once at war with You, & You have drawn us near, glorifying Yourself. This is not our effort, but Yours, not our battle, but Yours, not our righteousness, but Yours & You alone are praised for the defeat of sin & death & victory over the grave rests with You. Open our eyes, revive our hearts & continue to draw glory to Yourself as we spread the Gospel around the world. We pray this through Christ our Lord, amen.

Luke 24:36-53
36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

I am real
You wouldn’t think you would ever read through the Scriptures & come out thankful that Jesus ate fish. It’s such a simple action, a basic thing to do. Look at His life with His disciples, how many times do you think Jesus ate fish? Grilled fish, baked fish, boiled fish, broiled fish, stewed fish, smoked fish & I’m sure the possibilities continue. But Jesus takes this common basic thing, this simple sign of something comfortable to reassure His disciples that He is indeed really there with them, present & constant. He’s no spirit, no ghost, no hallucination & He proves it by eating something they themselves prepared. I would have done some small miracle before them, shown myself through a divine sign, proving myself in that way. But He chooses something they can do & duplicate & I think that says an awful lot more.

He wanted them to know without a shadow of a doubt that He was indeed alive, present & moving forward into the next phase of life & covenant with them. A risen Savior is a real Savior, & this crew of confused & disheartened disciples needed something they could sink their teeth into, like a piece of fish. Jesus provided that for them that wonderful morning.

Forgiveness is real
Not only did Jesus want them to see & understand that He was & is real, He wanted them to remember the context of everything that had just happened & that not one moment of it all was coincidence or accident. He reminded them of the Scriptures they were raised with, a comfortable & familiar remembrance. He reminded them about Moses & the prophets & everything the Father had promised & been promising over the preceding millennia. This was the plan the whole time.

And why? This didn’t happen for nothing, right? This wasn’t something that was done simply for the sake of saying it would be accomplished. This is the promise of God to glorify Himself by the redemption of creation & humanity to Himself. This was all about God offering forgiveness to rebels like them & us & bringing peace & righteousness back into creation. This was the first step in seeing holiness win out over sin & evil. The foot of the Savior was bitten by that serpent, but his head was now thoroughly crushed. This has been the plan since the garden had to be cleared out  & Adam & Eve first perceived their own nakedness & brokenness entered the world. This was all about God’s glory & how He would provide forgiveness to all who would come to Him.

You are witnesses
And Jesus didn’t leave them out, either. In this moment where disbelief & joy slam into each other, Jesus reminded them that they had a part to play in this whole wonderful affair. This wasn’t just something done for them, but to them & would now happen through them. They are -the- witnesses to this universe altering news. They are the ones who would take this first-hand account of holy truth into the world. They are the ones with these words written on their hearts because they lived it, every single moment of it. Where they were feeling hopeless just hours before, & confused just moments ago, Jesus was letting them know from the onset that they had what everyone else needed. They have a purpose to fulfill. They are the bearers of the Gospel of love, peace, mercy, grace & forgiveness, & if this world is going to learn how to walk in the rhythms of grace with God, the it’s going to happen through them sharing all of this good news.

Joy is real
The world needs to know that joy is real. There is so much trouble, so many hurts, so many reasons to mourn & feel trapped in the brokenness & God doesn’t desire for another moment to pass from this one where people don’t know about the beacon of joy that will draw them back into wholeness with Him. Jesus knew that people outside of that room would struggle, & so He was sending out people who had struggled. Jesus knew that people outside that room would doubt, & so He sent out people who wrestled with doubt. He knew that people outside that room would deal with loss, sorrow & pain & so He sent out these people who had those feelings fresh on their hearts.

He knew the world needed joy, so He sent these out who were first to experience it. This fresh message, this amazing truth was needed more deeply than anyone could imagine & this firestorm of joy would burn without ceasing for the millennia to come. The disciples carried it, you & I who are in Christ carry it & the world still desperately needs to know about it. There is work to be done, joy to be spread. The Savior is real. Forgiveness is real. We are the witness to true & lasting joy. Let the whole world hear our praises!

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Mark 11:12-14; 20-26 // Fruitless Lives Condemned, Faith Encouraged 

“12 The next day when they came out from Bethany, He was hungry. 13 After seeing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, He went to find out if there was anything on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples heard it.”

“20 Early in the morning, as they were passing by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that You cursed is withered.”

22 Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. 23 I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for — believe that you have received them, and you will have them. 25 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing. [26 But if you don’t forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your wrongdoing.]””

Mark 11:12-14; 20-26

Here we find the only destructive miracle in the Gospels. This cursed fig tree, that should have borne at least some edible buds, was entirely fruitless. Fig trees have been symbols of Israel throughout different eras in the Old Testament, specifically within the prophets. And yet again, this fruitless fig tree stands as a witness against the nation. 

Looking back to the beginning of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 14, we see that God intended for Israel to be a blessing to the nations. They would serve God and in turn bear witness to the Gentile nations, teaching them and blessing them in His Name. But they became a group of navel-gazers, looking inward and neglecting those nations and peoples whom they had been tasked with serving. 

Just like the priests in the tabernacle and temple were meant to serve in the presence of God and bear witness to Israel through their ministry and teaching, Israel was meant to bear fruit for the nations in the same way. But here, they stand fruitless, and so stand cursed. 

And so Jesus shows His disciples that faith is simply a matter of sincere belief and truthful expectation. It’s not a ritual to play out or something you are born into. Faith is an active, intentional thing. We trust God in faith and then move in that faith. Fruit comes from an active faith. The fruitless life is obviously, then, unacceptable. 

As we GoLove people in Jesus’ Name, we must understand that it is to be done in, through and with faith. Faith in God, in His calling on us, in the works He desires to do in and through us, all this must be acted upon so that fruit is born for Him and for the Kingdom.  It is not an option to be fruitless in our lives, fruitlessness does not honor Him or draw people to Him. Faith bears fruit for God, not out of obligation or ritual, but out of love and thanksgiving. 

Mark 11:1-11 // The King Arrives

“1 When they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples 2 and told them, “Go into the village ahead of you. As soon as you enter it, you will find a young donkey tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here right away.'”

4 So they went and found a young donkey outside in the street, tied by a door. They untied it, 5 and some of those standing there said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the donkey?’ 6 They answered them just as Jesus had said, so they let them go. 7 Then they brought the donkey to Jesus and threw their robes on it, and He sat on it.

8 Many people spread their robes on the road, and others spread leafy branches cut from the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed kept shouting:

 “Hosanna!

He who comes in the name

of the Lord is the blessed One!

10 The coming kingdom

of our father David is blessed!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 And He went into Jerusalem and into the temple complex. After looking around at everything, since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

Mark 11:1-11

What a strange mix of emotions must have been running through Jesus’ heart this day. Celebration, laughter and joy tempered with an anticipation of the terrible events yet to come that are now set in motion. Happiness at seeing the people recognize Him for who He is, but also a sadness because they only understand the surface of what this action means. These who shout ‘Hosanna’ will also shout ‘Crucify’ in less than a week.

There are times where I have trouble being in the moment because I am anticipating and thinking about what is yet to come. There are plans to execute, arrangements to be made, people to catch up with & other things to do. So, I wonder if Jesus was looking around the edge of the city toward Golgotha as He entered that day. I wonder if the events of Thursday and Friday, yet to come, we’re now occupying His heart and mind. Was He able to focus and receive the adulation and worship He was due with His whole heart? Did He smile and engage with people, or was this a very serious thing for Him? My human heart and mind cannot begin to think what His heart and mind were capable of or tended towards. 

This look at the Temple complex, now modified by man beyond God’s plan, in its last  days of purpose and needed use must have been interesting. After this coming weekend, no more lambs would be needed, no more blood had to be poured out. Jesus’ sacrifice would do away with so much of what went by for daily practice at the temple. After His passion, people could go back to walking with God wherever they were, talking with Him, worshipping Him. The temple could be used for teaching and worship and everyone would be welcome…in theory. But that’s not what would occur. 

This ‘Triumphal Entry’ into Jerusalem was triumphal by human standards, because it held such distinctive political meaning. But for Jesus, the true triumphal walk would be the one that would occur Sunday morning when the stone rolled away. 

As we GoLove people today, we need to understand just how badly they _need_ their hearts opened to the entry of Jesus. It’s not a casual conversation to bring up, but sin, death & hell are not casual topics. Grace and mercy are deep wells, and to spend time talking to people about the joy and redemption that comes from them? That will require an investment on our part and theirs. We need to keep our eyes and hearts focused on Golgotha and the empty tomb, because it is the work that Jesus did there that quite literally changed _everything_.

Conspiracy and the rationalized evil // Matthew 26

“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples,
“As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
Matthew 26:1-5 NIV

As His Passion had begun to unfold, Jesus found Himself at the home of a man named Simon (the leper, presumably now cured) and He again directs the hearts of His disciples toward His suffering that looms heavily on the horizon of His mind. His voluntary suffering, brought on by love and justice and grace, is undeniable and He desires that those closest to a Him understand what is getting ready to take place.

This isn’t the first time a He has introduced this topic, and I fact, He has even had to correct them on their misunderstanding of His mission here on earth. When Peter heard Him speak of this earlier, he responded in a deeply human way to it, and was rebuked for acting and speaking and thinking in this way (“Get behind me, Satan!”.) Suffering was prophesied for the Messiah, Scripture confirmed that this is what must happen, but the hearts of Jesus’ disciples and the rest of Israel don’t want anything like this to even be mentioned.

When our hearts are misaligned with God’s heart, His message is going to seem abrupt or even strange to us. News of what God is up to, even if it is for our good, is going to sound disruptive and can put us out of joint.

We see this pretty clearly in the hearts and minds of Caiaphas and those conspiring against Jesus. Their hearts were so out of line with God that having all of His Word memorized didn’t help them see His Word standing before them in the flesh. They knew the prophecies, they knew what was supposed to happen, but they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Their own agendas had long since circumvented what God desired, and their hearts are now solidly conspiring against Him.

Rationalizing one misdeed seems bad to us, but not horrible. We mess up all the time, and so one more little slip, albeit an intentional slip, doesn’t seem that terrible. But one rationalization leads to another, and soon another and before we know it we have traded the granite beneath our feet for quicksand. We find ourselves so far beyond where we would have ever thought and we see a return to where we should be as nearly impossible. And so we compromise again to compensate…

Jesus is trying to explain what must happen. We need to be ready to hear these messages and directions of God’s plan for us, to be willing to hear what He has to say. It may not always be the easiest thing to comprehend, but it is His will, and it is working for the good of those who love Him.

We will find ourselves on either side of that coin, either we accept what He has for us or we will find ourselves compromising and conspiring against Him. We cannot have it both ways.

So, as Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday approach, pray and ask God to create a willing heart in you, ready to hear, believe and act in His will and in His perfect plan. Ask Him to guard your heart against pride, and to give you a spirit of peace in whatever He desires of you.

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