Easter Sunday

The Meaning of Easter

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

 “But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Peter on the day of Pentecost – Acts 2:24, 36)

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

“Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 6:4; 8:11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, the fundamental elements of the Christian gospel would no longer exist. The apostle Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But the universal testimony of the Christian scriptures is that Christ has been raised from the dead. And this event does not merely describe the interior feelings of the disciples (“we feel that he must still somehow be alive”), but rather has to do with objective, historical reality, something that many people on a variety of occasions perceived sensually, and not merely in their hearts. Christ “appeared” to his disciples after his burial (1 Cor 15:5-8), could be touched with one’s hands (John 20:27), and spoke in a real voice that people heard with their ears. The resurrection appearance of Jesus to Paul, even changed him from an enemy of Christianity into a passionate believer and apostle of Christ (Acts 9).

What is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus? Based on the scriptures quoted at the beginning of today’s reading, we can suggest that the resurrection means at least three things:

  • It says something about Jesus. Since God raised Jesus from the dead, this means that God has vindicated and affirms his identify as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Because of Easter we are, therefore, right to affirm Jesus as Lord and Savior. We believe in him and even worship him, and do not consider him to be simply a great teacher and prophet.
  • Christ’s resurrection becomes the basis for the hope (conviction) that we too will one day be raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). This means that we look forward not simply to surviving death as spiritual beings, but to a kind of life that includes a resurrected body and life in a new creation. Christ’s resurrection means that we do not long from release from creation, but for a renewal of creation—even of our own physical bodies.
  • The resurrection of Jesus means that in the present—between Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of our own bodies in the age to come—we can enjoy an ongoing experience of the living Christ within us (Romans 6:4; 8:11). Easter, then, is not simply about what happened to Jesus two thousand years ago, nor is it only about what will one day happen to us after we die, but is also about a present fellowship that we enjoy even now with Jesus. Jesus is no longer dead; he lives even now within us.

Meditation: As you consider the meaning of Easter, what aspect of its message especially strikes you today? How do you think God wishes you to experience Easter in new ways or with new power?

Prayer: “O God, you have your only Son to suffer death on the cross for our redemption, and by his glorious resurrection you delivered us from the power of death. Make us die every day to sin, so that we may live with him forever in the joy of the resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen”  (Lutheran Book of Worship).

 

 

Holy Week – Day 40

The Atonement

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The term “atonement” describes the theological significance of Christ’s death in bringing about our salvation. Throughout history theologians (such as Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm, and Abelard) have developed various ways of explaining the atonement, ways that have emphasized differing New Testament images regarding the meaning of Christ’s death. On the basis of various scriptural passages, these theologians have described how Christ’s death on the cross has brought about victory over the devil, deliverance from death, the forgiveness of sins, rescue from God’s wrath for sin, and the transformation of God’s enemies into friends. Many scriptural texts regarding the significance of Christ’s death in brief, terse language, so that various theologians sought to flesh out or explain these passages in greater detail. For example, since Mark’s statement that Christ (“the Son of Man”) gave “his life as a ransom” (10:45) is exceedingly brief, theologians speculated regarding who was paid this ransom (God or the devil?), what were humans ransomed from, and exactly what sort of transaction was made that brought about this liberation.  Without engaging such detailed and sometimes fanciful theories of theological explanation or speculation here, we can consider what the New Testament itself says regarding the meaning of Christ’s death. A survey of such passages will illustrate the wide spectrum of ways in which Christ’s death has benefitted us.

 Christ’s death means:

  • Victory over the devil: “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities (likely referring to evil powers in league with the devil) and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it [the cross]” (Colossians 2:15).
  • The defeat of death: Besides the verses just quoted from Hebrews 2, a somewhat enigmatic passage from Matthew describes how the dead were raised at the moment of Jesus’s death, indicating that the defeat of death is part of what God accomplished through the death of his Son. When Jesus dies, “The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” (Matthew 27:52)
  • The forgiveness of sins: “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7).  “[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). When Jesus institutes the Lord’s supper, he reinterprets the wine from the Passover meal in terms of the shedding of his blood.  Concerning the wine Jesus says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:29). This suggests (or means) that Christ’s shed blood on the cross provides for the forgiveness of our sins.
  • Deliverance from slavery to sin: “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1 Peter 1:18-19). “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6).
  • Deliverance from the wrath of God: “Much more surely, then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9)
  • Transformation from enemies of God to the friends of God: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10) “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ . . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  “And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him”(Colossians 1:21-22).
  • The knowledge of God’s love toward us: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The atoning effect of Christ’s death is sometimes stated without an explicit explanation of what this effect may be. For example, Romans 3:25 refers to Christ as the one “God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood . . . .” Interestingly, though, the Greek term for “sacrifice of atonement” here (hilasterion) is the word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the “mercy seat” in the temple. As the Old testament explains, once a year on the Day of Atonement animal blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat on top of the arc of the covenant in the Jerusalem temple in order to make atonement for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). According to Paul in Romans 3, the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross has become, as it were, a new day of atonement, (Rom. 3:25), presumably indicating that Christ’s blood is the means by which our sins are atoned for. Leviticus says this of the Day of Atonement: “For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the LORD” (16:30). Now Christ’s death makes it possible for us to be cleansed of all our sins.

Meditation: Which aspect of the New Testament explanation of the atonement most appeals to you, and why? Which passage of scripture do you wish to especially focus on today as you meditate on the meaning of Christ’s passion?

Prayer: Thank you, O God, for the salvation you have accomplished through the death of your Son upon the cross. Help me today to grain new insight into the meaning of his death in my own life.  Amen.

 

Holy Week – Good Friday, Day 39

How Jesus Dies: Gospel Portraits

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” – Luke 23:46

The four gospels present us with the same Jesus, but do so by presenting Jesus in four distinctive ways. The gospel writers are like four artists who paint unique portraits of the same person. It is easy to see that they are describing the same man, yet they emphasize differing aspects of his personality and ministry. These differences can be seen in how the gospels describe how Jesus dies. Here we will illustrate this difference by comparing how Mark and Luke describe Jesus’s death. A consideration of such differences should help us to appreciate unique aspects of what it means to follow Jesus.

In Mark the last words on Jesus’s lips are the ones quoted above: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Luke presents Jesus’s death differently. Here his last words are, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Immediately following this, Luke writes, “Having said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). The picture in Mark, then, is of a man dying as one who feels abandoned by God at the moment of his death, while in Luke Jesus dies relatively peacefully, praying to be received into the welcoming arms of his Father. When in Mark (but not in Luke) Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” one is led to consider that Jesus’s own flesh is weak. He meets his moment of trial feeling weak and needing to stay awake and pray. What really distinguishes Jesus from the disciples at this point is not that he is strong while they are weak, but that they sleep while he stays awake and prays.

Mark, then, presents a fully human Jesus. (Though, elsewhere Mark also draws attention to Jesus’s divinity, as when he stills a storm in 4:35-41, or forgives sin in 2:1-12). Jesus was not a man of steel who could not be touched by the pains and fears that afflict ordinary humans. As Hebrews tells us, he was “like his brothers and sisters in every respect” (2:17) and was “one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). It is clear from Mark that Jesus understands what it is to be human, even the horror of feeling godforsaken.

Meditation on Mark’s passion narrative leads us to consider God’s Son Jesus as one who identifies with all those who feel abandoned by God.  It is also important to realize that although it seemed to Jesus that he had been forsaken by God, he was not. The gospel ends with a surprising message to some women at Jesus’s tomb on the first day of the week: “He has been raised; he is not here” (Mark 16:6). Evidently God has not abandoned Jesus after all. Similarly, just as Psalm 22 begins with an expression of abandonment by God, it goes on to testify, “[God] did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him” (22:24). Therefore, “you who fear the LORD, praise him!” (22:23). Though as human beings we, like Jesus, sometimes feel forsaken by God, Mark and the other gospels testify that no danger, not even death itself, can keep us from God’s love. When a man named Jairus hears that his daughter has just died, Jesus tells him, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36). Then the one who will himself be raised from the dead at the end of the gospel goes to the girl, takes her by the hand and tells her, “Little girl, get up!” (5:41). And she does just that!

Luke, on the other hand, describes how Jesus ultimately dies with confidence and in peace, trusting that at the moment of his death he is passing into the loving embrace of God. It used to be common for Christians to give more consideration to the day of their own deaths than we do today, and to pray that God would grant them “a good death.” Luke describes Jesus’s death as “a good death.” In his second New Testament writing, the book of Acts, Luke describes how the first Christian martyr, Stephen, also dies a good death, one resembling that of Jesus. As Stephen is about to be put to death, he has a vision of God and Jesus in heaven, and prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).  Meditation on Luke’s passion narrative, therefore, leads us to consider how Jesus may also grant to each of us the gift of a good death, one in which we die at peace and with the confidence that we are about to pass into the arms of God.

 Meditation:  Both Mark and Luke illustrate how Jesus met the challenges of his life by means of prayer, and that he found the language for such prayer in the Psalms. In Mark Jesus prays with the words of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”); in Luke Jesus prays the words of Psalm 31 (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”). Following the example of Jesus, the Church throughout its history has considered the book of Psalms to be its prayer book. The passion narratives in Mark and Luke, therefore, may help us consider how we can make better use of the Psalms in our own prayer lives. Perhaps we can adopt the habit of reading and praying a particular Psalm each morning and evening. In both gospels, Mark and Luke, Jesus faces his death by means of prayer, prayer that has been infused with the language of the Psalms. The gospel accounts of Jesus’s death teach us about praying. Jesus instructs us as he did his disciples: “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we today consider your own passion and death, we also think about the day that we will die. Help us to prepare for that day and to be ready for it. We ask, too, that you may give us the gift of a good death, one in which we enjoy the confidence that nothing can separate us from your love. In the meantime, help us to pray and to learn the language of prayer from the book of Psalms. Amen.

The Old Rugged Cross

On a hill far away, stood an old rugged Cross
The emblem of suff’ring and shame
And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain

Oh, that old rugged Cross so despised by the world
Has a wondrous attraction for me
For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary

In the old rugged Cross, stain’d with blood so divine
A wondrous beauty I see
For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above
To pardon and sanctify me

To the old rugged Cross, I will ever be true
Its shame and reproach gladly bear
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away
Where his glory forever I’ll share

So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

Holy Week – Thursday, Day 38

The Last Supper

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”                                                                      – 1 Corinthians 11:23-27

On the Thursday evening before his crucifixion, Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover meal with his disciples (e.g., Mark 14:12, 16). This last supper has become the basis for the church’s practice of the Lord’s Supper (also, Communion, or the Eucharist) that has been practiced by Christians from the very beginning. Thursday of Holy Week, therefore, is a good time to reconsider the meaning of this supper. Its meaning includes aspects that direct our attention to the past, to the present, and to the future.

The Past

The “last supper” was a Jewish Passover meal. This meal is an annual festival (in March or April) that is still practiced by Jews today and commemorates the evening in which God acted to bring about Israel’s freedom from bondage in Egypt. This annual celebration is commanded in Mosaic legislation (Exodus 12) and remains the most important annual Jewish festival. The meaning of this meal is articulated in Exodus: “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses” (12:26-27). Jesus reinterprets the Passover meal in terms of himself so that we now recall the redemption brought about through his crucifixion. Jesus instructs his followers to eat the bread and drink the wine “in remembrance of me.” By doing so, Christians continue to “proclaim the Lord’s death.”  This means that every time we receive communion we remember again that Christ died for us on the cross in the first century A.D. in the Roman province of Judea. The Passover meal becomes the Eucharist, and we now focus our attention not on the book of Exodus described in the Old Testament, but on Christ’s death for us narrated in the New Testament.

The Present

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are not only mentally recalling an event that happened two thousand years ago. This is because the living Christ comes to us even now in this meal. At communion we receive Jesus Christ in the present. The apostle Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, it is not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). This sharing happens now. We receive not only physical bread in this meal, but Jesus himself, “the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). Just as the Israelites were sustained during their time in the wilderness by manna or “bread from heaven” (John 6:31; Exodus 16:4; Psalm 78:24), so God sustains us now on our earthly pilgrimage with Christ, “the bread of God . . . that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

The Future

Jesus speaks of the future when at the supper he says to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). Also speaking of the future, the apostle Paul says that in this meal we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11). Scripture ties the promise of Christ’s return (or coming) to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises for the future (1 Cor 15:20-28). Christ’s second coming will usher in the age to come in which God will become “everything to everyone” (see 1 Cor 15:28), an age that begins with the resurrection of the dead. The Lord’s Supper is a meal that is a foretaste of the feast to come, that Messianic banquet in which “many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Perhaps there is no better image of the life to come than that of a great banquet (see Luke 14:16-24; Matthew 22:1-14) since a banquet describes a situation of joy, community, hospitality, and abundance—abundance such that no one is left hungry, but instead all enjoy the most delectable food and drink.

Meditation: In what ways has the Lord’s Supper been important in my spiritual life? What aspect of the Lord’s Supper especially strikes me in the scriptural reflections above?

Prayer: We give you thanks, Lord, for giving your own body and blood for us on the cross. May you continue to sustain us with Christ as the bread of God on our earthly pilgrimage, and help us anticipate with joy the feast to come. Amen.

How Deep The Father’s Love For Us

By  Stuart Townend

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there, until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

 

 

Holy Week – Wednesday, Day 37

A New Passover

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

“For our paschal (Passover) lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” – 1 Corinthians 5:7

The Exodus is the central act of salvation in the Old Testament. The “Exodus” is the name given to God’s act of deliverance of his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. On the night of Israel’s redemption (the Exodus), a Passover (paschal in Hebrew) lamb was sacrificed and the animal’s blood was sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of each home. The LORD says, “when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). The New Testament tells how God has also acted through his Son, Jesus Christ, to bring about a new exodus, that is, a liberation from sin and death through the death and resurrection of his Son. Christ is the new Passover (paschal) lamb whose blood has been shed in order to save us from destruction and to bring about our freedom. The church’s annual commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter reminds us of this new exodus.

The New Testament gospels make repeated references or allusions to the Old Testament Exodus story as a way to explain the meaning of God’s redemptive action in Jesus Christ. God is bringing about a new exodus through a new Passover lamb, Jesus Christ. A few examples can illustrate how the gospels make this connection between Passover and Jesus. In John’s gospel, John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29), a likely reference to Jesus as the Passover lamb. Also in John, a comparison between the Passover lamb and Jesus is made with reference to the manner of Jesus’s death. The Mosaic requirement that the leg bones of the Passover lamb are not to be broken (Exodus 12:46 in John 19:37) is enacted also with Jesus, whose legs are not broken at his death on the cross (John 19:33).

As can be demonstrated with the gospel of Mark, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) make prominent use of the exodus theme in explaining the theological significance of Jesus’s life and death. A few examples may bear this out. It seems clear that reference to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river followed by a period of testing in the wilderness for forty days (Mark 1:9-13) is an allusion to Israel’s Old Testament experience of passing through the waters of the Red Sea before enduring a forty year time of testing in the wilderness. In Mark 5 Jesus casts a legion of unclean spirits from a man in the country of the Gerasenes. The word “legion” is a military term that would seem to be an allusion to the Roman occupying troupes (a legion was commonly a division of 5,000-6,000 Roman troupes). The gospel account tells how this “legion” of unclean spirits entering a herd of two thousand swine that “rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea” (Mark 5:13) is reminiscent of the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:4-5).

And above all in making such connections, it should be noted that Jesus’s death takes place at the annual celebration of the Passover (Mark 14:1, 12, 14).  The meaning of Jesus’s death is interpreted in the gospels in terms of the Passover. Jesus’s “last supper” with his disciples is a Passover meal and he reinterprets this meal in terms of himself and of his impending death. The bread of the Passover meal (Exodus 12: 8, 15, 18; 13:6-7) is interpreted by Jesus in terms of himself: “This is my body” (Mark 14:22).  Jesus also refers to the wine of the meal in terms of himself and to his blood about to be shed, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant” (Mark 14:24; This recalls the covenant God made with Israel following the exodus at Sinai, Exodus 24:8). Each Good Friday, and indeed, every time Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper they recall and experience anew their liberation from sin, death, and evil that God has wrought through Christ, the pascal lamb.

Meditation: How have I experienced spiritual liberation through Jesus? In what areas of my life do I need to experience new freedom in Christ?

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for our Passover lamb, Jesus Christ. Help us to always treasure and take to heart all that you have done to make us free. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Holy Week – Tuesday, Day 36

Knowing God as Abba

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

 Jesus said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” – Mark 14:36

“And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” – Galatians 4:6

“Abba” is the word for “father” in Jesus’s native language, Aramaic. As Jesus faces the biggest trial of his life—his imminent death by crucifixion—he does so by praying to God in the garden of Gethsemane, addressing God as “Abba” or “Father.” By his example Jesus teaches us here to meet our trials with prayer. Jesus instructs his disciples, “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial” (Mark 14:38). This statement is similar to the petition of the Lord’s Prayer which says, “do not bring us to the time of trial” (or, “lead us not into temptation” – Matthew 6:13). The Greek term used here, peirasmos, can be translated either as “trial” or as “temptation.” As Mark (together with Matthew and Luke) tell us, Jesus’s public ministry begins with a forty day period of testing (Mark 1:12-13). Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13) tell us that Jesus met those trials filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1) and fortified by the word of God (Deuteronomy). As on other occasions, now in Gethsemane he faces his greatest test by praying, addressing God as “Abba, Father.” It is Jesus’s intimate relationship with God as indicated by such language that helps him face this terrifying challenge. Hebrews describes this moment in Jesus’s life: “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (5:7).

Though scripture bears witness that Jesus Christ was God (examples: John 1:1-2; 20:28; Hebrews 1:8), it also testifies that Jesus was a human being, a man (see, for example: 1 Timothy 2:5). As a man, Jesus was born, grew and increased in knowledge (Luke 2:52; Hebrews 5:8), faced various trials and hardships, and ultimately suffered and died. Hebrews says that “in every respect (he) has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The gospel story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified (Mark 14:32-42) instructs us about how to meet the trials in our lives as well. Jesus stayed awake and prayed. And he prayed to God as to One with whom he enjoyed great intimacy, the intimacy of a father and son.

Humanly speaking, Jesus learned to address God as “Father” because he had first been addressed by God as, “Son.” At his baptism, the voice from heaven (God) addresses Jesus directly, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Not only is Jesus God’s Son, he is “the Beloved” (or, God’s “beloved Son”). Jesus begins his public ministry filled with the Spirit (Mark 1:10; Matthew 3:16; Luke 3:22) and assured that God his Father loves him, and is well pleased with him.

Israel’s kings ideally enjoy a close relationship with God that is described in terms of the relationship between a father and son. “He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God’” (Psalm 89:26). God will say to the king, “You are my son” (Psalm 2:7). More than previous rulers, Israel’s future king, the Messiah, would be God’s Son. When the New Testament calls Jesus God’s Son, it means that Jesus is the Messiah, but with the connotation that he is more than a merely human king, that he is even God in human flesh (see John 5:18; 1:14).

Jesus’s address to God as “Father” in Gethsemane is one of the few places in the passion narrative where we see the presence of the Trinity. The New Testament’s language of Father and Son for God and Jesus is Trinitarian language. We have seen the full three persons of the Trinity at Jesus’s baptism, with references to the heavenly voice (the Father), the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus, and Jesus addressed as the “Son.” In Gethsemane (as in many other texts) we learn of the relationship of Jesus with God in the Father-Son language of prayer (that is, the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son). Father and Son share the language of intimacy, the language of love. God the Father loves Jesus the Son, and Jesus the Son loves God the Father. The many references in the gospels to Jesus at prayer (especially prominent in Luke: 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28, 29; 11:1; 22:32, 41) speak about the ongoing relationship of love that Jesus enjoyed with God the Father.

When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he does so by giving them “the Lord’s Prayer,” a prayer that begins with the word, “Father” (Luke 11:2), or the words, “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). In other words, Jesus teaches his disciples—and us—to pray to God in the same way that he prayed, by enjoying an intimate relationship with God that allows us to also address God as “Abba, Father.”

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther begins the explanation of the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “With these words God wants to entice us, so that we come to believe he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with confidence, just as loving children ask their loving father.”  

Meditation: How would you describe your prayer life? What does Jesus want to teach you about prayer? How may prayer help one to face the trials of life? Jesus faced the greatest challenge of his life praying to the One he knew as “Father.” How does the knowledge that we are God’s beloved children help us to pray?

Prayer: Dear God, may we come to know you through your Son Jesus Christ in such a way that we enjoy the knowledge that we also have become your beloved children and that you hear us when we pray and invite us to address you as “our Father,” knowing too that you can save us from the time of trial so that nothing will ever separate us from your love.  Amen

“Abba, Father We Adore Thee”

By Robert Stephen Hawker

Abba, Father! we adore Thee, humbly now our homage pay;
’Tis Thy children’s bliss to know Thee, none but children “Abba” say.
This high honor we inherit, thy free gift through Jesus’ blood;
God the Spirit, with our spirit, witnesses we’re children of God.

Thine own purpose gave us being, when in Christ, in that vast plan,
Thou in Christ didst choose Thy people e’en before the world began.
Oh, what love Thou, Father, bore us! Oh, how precious in Thy sight!
When to Thine own Son Thou gav’st us, to Thy Son, Thy soul’s delight.

Though our nature’s fall in Adam shut us wholly out from God,
Thine eternal counsel brought us, nearer still, through Jesus’ blood;
For in Him we found redemption, grace and glory in Thy Son;
O the height and depth of mercy!
Christ and His redeemed are one.

Holy Week – Monday, Day 35

Jesus and the Temple

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

“Then they came to Jerusalem. And [Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,’ “My house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations?”’” – Mark 11:16-17

“As he came out of the temple . . . Jesus [said], ‘Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’” – Mark 13:1-2

Witnesses against Jesus: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” – Mark 14:58

 

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16

The gospel writers (such as Mark) give prominent attention to the Jerusalem temple in their narration of the final events in Jesus’s life. Somehow or other, the meaning of what is happening to Jesus during his final days is related to what also happens to the temple. Jesus cleanses the temple (Mark 11:15-19), spends time teaching at the temple (12:35, 41; 13:3; 14:49), and predicts its ultimate destruction (13:2). The leading temple priests (chief priests and the high priest) in Jerusalem become Jesus’s principal opponents during his time in the city, and after Jesus has cleansed the temple, they begin plotting how to put him to death (11:18, 27; 14:1, 10, 43, 53, 54, 55, 60, 63; 15:1, 3, 10, 11, 31). At his trial before the Jewish council, the chief priest declares his verdict that Jesus has uttered “blasphemy” (14:64). The entire council agrees with him and “condemn him as deserving death” (14:64).

The most significant reference to the temple in the passion narrative happens at the precise moment of Jesus’s death. “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38). The gospel writer does not explain the significance of this event, but it is clear that we are to understand the meaning of Christ’s death in relation to this dramatic occurrence in the temple. The most likely interpretation is that the ripping of the veil of the temple indicates that Jesus’s death has accomplished the final and ultimate atonement for the sins of humanity and has thereby opened the way for humans to approach God freely. The veil is understood to refer to the veil before the “holy of holies” in the temple where the blood of sacrificed animals was sprinkled on the lid of the arc of the covenant to make atonement for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). Jesus’s death is understood as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all people that renders temple sacrifices as unnecessary. As Hebrews says, “he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). “Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Christ, by the new and living way . . . let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19, 20, 22).

In his teaching at the temple, Jesus has already implicitly downplayed the importance of temple sacrifices with his stress on the primary importance in Israel’s scriptures regarding the commandments to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-34 that quote Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18). But the action of God in ripping the veil of the temple (“from top to bottom”) indicates the end of the need for the atoning sacrifices of the temple. Then a few decades later, Jesus’s prediction of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:2) is fulfilled when in 70 A.D. the Romans destroy the temple in their war against the Jews.

The temple was understood not only as the place for sacrifices to be performed, though, but was also the place where God especially dwelled (see, for example, Psalm 84). The New Testament indicates that for believers in Christ there is still such a temple where God dwells by his Spirit, but that this temple is not one built of stone, but is a spiritual temple consisting of all those who are united to Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of this when he writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; see also Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). Jesus Christ is the place where God’s presence is known, and Christ’s ongoing presence in the church after his resurrection makes the church God’s new temple. Although during his lifetime Jesus never says that he will destroy the Jerusalem temple, there is an element of truth in what certain false witnesses say: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’”(Mark 14:58). The church, made up of believers in Christ, is this new temple not made with hands.

Meditation: The Psalmist writes, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!” (Ps 84:1). Have there been any holy places in your experience where you have become especially aware of God’s presence? Jesus changed how we think of God’s presence so that we no longer think of it principally in terms of buildings, but now in terms of people (the church). Spend some time considering what it means that we are now God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in us.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, that you wish to dwell not only in heaven, but especially among people, among us. Help us to make space in our lives so that we may experience your presence in new and life-changing ways. “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10).   Amen.

Open, Open, Open the gates of the Temple,

By Fanny Crosby

Open the gates of the Temple,strew palms on the Conqueror’s way

Open your hearts, O ye people,that Jesus may enter today

Hark! from the sick and the dying, forgetting their couches of pain,

Voices, glad voices, with rapture are swelling a glad refrain,

 

Open the gates of the Temple, one grand hallelujah be heard.

Open your hearts to the Saviour, make room for the crucified Lord.

Tears and the anguish of midnight are lost in the splendor of day.

They who in sorrow once doubted are swelling a glad refrain,

 

I know, I know, I know, I know that my Redeemer liveth.

Canst thou, my heart, lift up thy voice, thy voice and sing:

I know, I know, yes I know that my Redeemer liveth;

And because He lives, and because He lives,

And because He lives, I too, I too, I too shall live.

 

 

Holy Week – Palm Sunday

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

Holy Week is the last week of Lent that culminates with Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It begins with Palm Sunday, the day Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. It is difficult to determine with certainty what Jesus did each day of this week since the gospels do not present a detailed chronology regarding the events of Jesus’s final week. But based on clues in the gospel text (we will follow Mark here), together with church tradition, one can at least construct a tentative outline of what Jesus does throughout this week.

  • Palm Sunday: Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and is heralded as King. (Mark 11:1-11)
  • Monday: Jesus cleanses the temple in Jerusalem (Mark 11:12-19)
  • Tuesday: Jesus teaches in the temple (Mark 11:20 – 13:37)
  • Wednesday: Jesus is anointed by a woman at Bethany (Mark 14:1-11)
  • Thursday: Jesus celebrates the Passover in the evening with his disciples (Mark 14:12-31)
  • Friday: Jesus is tried, crucified, and buried (Mark 14:32 – 15:47)
  • Saturday (Sabbath): Jesus’s body lays in the tomb. (see Mark 15:42-47)
  • Easter Sunday: The tomb is empty; Jesus has been raised (Mark 16)

In the meditations that follow, some will focus specifically on what happens on that particular day of this final week: Tuesday, Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Other meditations will feature a theme related to the passion narratives more generally.

Palm Sunday

A Crucified Messiah

“Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,  ‘Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!” – Mark 11:9-10

“’But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” – Mark 8:29

“Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am.’” -Mark 14:61-62

“It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” – Mark 15:25-26

“We proclaim Christ crucified (or, a crucified Messiah), a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” -1 Corinthians 1:23.

While Mark’s gospel begins with the clear identification of Jesus’s identity (“Jesus Christ, the Son of God”- Mark 1:1), the human characters described in Mark’s account are slow to figure out who Jesus is. In fact, in the entire gospel of Mark the only human (other than Jesus at his trial) to say sincerely that Jesus is the Messiah is the disciple Peter in the verse quoted above from Mark 8. At the end of the gospel, as Jesus hangs dying on the cross, the chief priests and scribes also refer to Jesus as the Messiah, but do so in jest. They say, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:31-32).

We learn in Mark 8 that most of the Jewish people who know Jesus think of him as a prophet. They form this opinion, apparently, because of the many miraculous signs that Jesus performs that makes him resemble the prophets Elijah and Elisha (1-2 Kings), or because of his authoritative speech like that of the prophets of old. Almost no one recognized Jesus during his lifetime as the Messiah, yet this becomes the central claim of the first believers concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the Messiah (or the Christ– “Christ” is the Greek term for the Hebrew word “Messiah.”)  This title becomes the name for Christ’s followers, “Christians.”

At the time of Jesus, the title “Messiah” was understood principally as a royal term, that is, as the coming future Jewish king who would rule over Israel and the nations, thereby establishing the rule of God. As a descendant of King David of old, this ruler would usher in a new age of salvation upon earth. One senses how such messianic expectations excite the crowd that welcomes Jesus as he enters Jerusalem riding a donkey.  They enthusiastically anticipate “the coming kingdom of our ancestor David” (Mark 11:10). Images of the coming messiah grew from Old Testament prophecies into full-blown intertestamental pictures of Israel’s ideal future king. Such texts described how Israel would one day enjoy peace and prosperity under such a king in a world where justice and goodness would flourish.

1 Maccabees (Apocrypha) describes the rule of the Jewish leader Simon in idealized terms as though he were the messiah (without using the word). The portrait of life under Simon contributes to our understanding of Jewish messianic expectations at the time of Jesus.

8They tilled their land in peace; the ground gave its increase, and the trees of the plains their fruit. 9Old men sat in the streets; they all talked together of good things, and the youths put on splendid military attire. 10He supplied the towns with good, and furnished them with the means of defense, until his renown spread to the ends of the earth. 11He established peace in the land, and Israel rejoiced with great joy. 12All the people sat under their own vines and fig trees, and there was none to make them afraid” (1 Maccabees 14:8-12).

Another Jewish writing from roughly the same period, the Psalms of Solomon, explicitly describes the coming Messiah (Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigraph, vol. 2). This text helps us form a good picture of common Jewish expectations for the coming messiah.

The Messiah would possess powerful military might that would bring about Israel’s exaltation and the subservience of other nations. The Messiah “will have gentile nations serving him under his yolk” (17:30), “He will not tolerate unrighteousness even to pause among them” (17:27), “the alien and the foreigner will no longer live near them” (17:28), and “He will gather a holy people whom he will lead in righteousness” (17:26). This will be a powerful Messiah, a fearsome judge of the whole world who will be able “to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar” (17:23) and “to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth” (17:24).

It seems, then, that Jews at the time of Jesus commonly expected the coming Messiah to be one who would rule with power and might, thus winning Israel’s political sovereignty over Roman, and would establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness over the whole world. To use modern language, such a king would bring about Israel’s national independence and security, her economic prosperity, the elimination of crime and injustice, the help and protection of the poor and downtrodden, universal health care and physical health, and the universal knowledge of the true God (Habakkuk 3:14). Likely no one anticipated a Messiah like a Jesus, one destined to be rejected, crucified, and resurrected. Three times before his final arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus tries to educate his disciples concerning his identity (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). Peter was right in concluding that Jesus was the Messiah (Mark 8), but he and the other disciples still needed to understand that Jesus was a Messiah who was vastly different from common expectations. He was to be a “crucified Messiah.”

When Jesus tells his disciples that he must be rejected and killed (and raised again), Peter will have none of it. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him (8:32). But Jesus corrects Peter’s faulty thinking in no uncertain terms. Evidently, Peter shares the common Jewish expectation of a powerful and triumphant warrior Messiah.

Clearly Jesus is a Messiah who transcends human expectations. Instead of a strong man who throws his weight around, Jesus is a Messiah who “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In the same way, the God and Father of Jesus the Messiah is also one who works in surprising ways, choosing the insignificant nation of Israel to be his people through whom he would accomplish his purposes, instead of mighty world empires like Rome or Babylon or Assyria. The kingdom of this God, that Jesus inaugurates through his ministry, is not at first big and obvious and overpowering, but is “like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth” (Mark 4:31), but in the end “becomes the greatest of all shrubs” (4:32). So too, the Messianic identity of Jesus, when he lives like a servant rather than a master, and especially when he ends up being crucified as a criminal, is difficult to perceive. Jesus the Messiah defies human expectations.

But even as the crucified Messiah would be raised from the dead by God, so also will Jesus the Messiah be revealed with power for all to see and will fulfill all of the promises of the prophets concerning the age to come (Acts 3:20-21). Until that day, we follow a rejected and crucified Messiah as we learn what it means to deny ourselves, to take up the cross, and to follow him (Mark 8:34).  We are coming to know that “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (9:35).

Meditation: What does it mean for me to follow a Messiah who defies human expectations, that is, a crucified Messiah who calls me to deny myself and take up the cross in order to follow him?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me when I, like Peter, think in merely human ways regarding you and your ways. Teach me how to save my life by losing it for your sake and for the sake of the gospel.  Amen.

 

Lent – Saturday, Day 34

“”For from him and through him and to him are all things.

To him be the glory forever. Amen..” Rom. 11:36

Introduction

Where can I go to escape God?  I came from him, live through him, and when I die, I return to him.  Even my ancestors prepared the way for me.  Those who were faithful bequeathed a legacy of faith; those who ate sour grapes set their children’s teeth on edge.  What we do with Jesus will effect  generations who follow.  May they find us faithful.

Scripture

Jeremiah 31:29-34

“The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

30 But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. . .  This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Romans 11:33-36

33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? 35 “Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

John 12:37-50 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

“Lord, who has believed our message,and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”. . .

44 Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

Reflections

You will teach your children to worship something.  What is the god in your home? Is it education, financial success, good social connections, sports, the arts, nature, career, entertainment, food?  Does the God who created you fit in that list?  The recent death of seven Syrian refugees in a house fire in Halifax has brought home the importance of caring for your family and making every moment count. How have you prepared your children to meet death and disappointment in a broken world?  Ask God to open the eyes of your heart to understand truth so you can pass it on to those more precious to you.  The prayer of St. Patrick is a morning and evening prayer that children recited as they faced their day or the dark night.

Prayer of St. Patrick

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
― St. Patrick

Prayer

Lord, We need to include you in our daily thoughts.  What we model for our children returns to them in their adulthood as they face the big questions of life.  We need to give them the tools to meet those challenges when we are no longer there to help them.  Christ be in me.  Amen

Saint-Patricks-Prayer-1-945x945

Lent – Friday, Day 33

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  (Corrie ten Boom)

Introduction

Jeremiah assured the Israelites that they would eventually return home, even though they were captives in Babylon.  Jesus waited until Lazarus died before answering the call for help.  God sent his only son to the cross.  Believing that God works for good in the midst of tragedy sustains us. He asks us to trust in His love even when we don’t understand why.

Scripture

Jeremiah 29:10-13

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

John 11:21-26

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Reflections

Through the years I have used the verse in Jeremiah as a way to speak to my non-religious friends: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” It speaks to the heart of anyone going through adversity, even if they have no religious affiliation. It has always been accepted with tears and a hug. It’s the promise given to the Jewish remnant as they settled into the “new normal” in their 70 year Babylonian captivity.

Life consists of a series of challenges.  When there is no hope, we look to God for comfort: “For we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God.” (Rom. 8:28)  We are not denying the pain; we’re transferring it to the Lord who walks us through it.  You may never understand the “why”, but believing that he loves you in spite of the difficulties, gives you the courage to get out of bed each morning.  We pray to one who chose to suffer.  He knows what it means to face physical pain, misunderstanding, abandonment, fear, and death.  Knowing that there was a resurrection in three days didn’t make Gethsemane any easier. “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there.”

“Tapestry” by Corrie ten Boom

 My life is but a weaving between my God and me. 
I cannot choose the colors He weaveth steadily. 
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow; And I in foolish pride, 

Forget He sees the upper, And I the underside. 
Not ’til the loom is silent, And the shuttles cease to fly 
Will God unroll the canvas And reveal the reason why. 
The dark threads are as needful In the weaver’s skillful hand 
As the threads of gold and silver In the pattern He has planned. 
He knows, He loves, He cares; Nothing this truth can dim. 
He gives the very best to those Who leave the choice to Him.

 Prayer

Lord, As we pass through trials, we ask for your comfort and love.  You know what it means to suffer and die.  We give you all that is ours, trusting you to hold on to us during the most difficult days of our lives.  Amen