Do you love me more than these?

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

My inclination is to give Peter a break here. Yes I know that he denied the Lord three times.
I also know the shame that he felt because of those denials. Jesus saw through that shame and forced Peter to deal with the shame. He saw past those denials and he knew how much Peter loved him. Peter so needed the Lord to drag him out of his shame and challenge him to greater things. And the Lord was up to the task because he saw great things in his friend.

I love that Jesus saw in Peter a heart filled with care. Peter was a fisherman, not shepherd, by trade. Yet the Lord saw a heart filled with love, care and compassion for lost sheep. In speaking these difficult words to Peter the Lord was affirming and proclaiming his desires and plans for him. He is also speaking to us. He tells us that if we love Him we will care for his sheep. The two go hand in hand - if we love Jesus we will also love those that are his.

I love you Lord. Please, I beg you, open my eyes to your hungry lambs.

Come and have breakfast.

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

I so love this story. Once again the disciples find themselves in a familiar place. For the past three years they have eaten many meals with the Lord. John tells us that this is the third time that they have see the risen Christ and this time he comes specifically share a meal with them. It is interesting how they recognized Jesus when he told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. Seeing the many fish they must have flashed back to that day when Jesus did the exact same thing and they had the same results.

Peter must have remembered that day in a boat like that when he confessed himself to be a sinner and Jesus told him that he would soon be fishing for men. I so love Peter's reaction! Overwhelmed at the thought of talking with the Lord, Peter throws himself into the water - he wanted to be the first to see the Lord up close. Interesting also how these disciples knew it was the Lord even though Jesus did not say who he was. I can picture myself there and feel my heart filled with awe, excitement and love for the Lord.

Help me Lord to see you in the ordinary events of my life and in the faces of your followers.

Stay ... until you are clothed with power

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.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. 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.”

A new chapter of mankind is dawning and these humble fishermen, tax collectors and handmaids would be those who would turn the world upside down. These who witnessed, and performed, miracles had a story to tell. These who loved Jesus and walked with him in friendship would now continue his mission to proclaim the good news to all of the earth. It is amazing when you consider the extent, and the impact, of their message on humanity. How is it that these humble few could do such a thing.

Jesus tells them that they are not yet ready for the mission that he is sending them on - they must wait until they are "clothed with power". Does that image simply captivate your imagination? I think that we sometimes get a bit too theological when we consider the work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The truth is that these who Jesus spoke to were timid and afraid. They simply lacked the ability to continue Jesus' mission. They needed to wait for the promise of the Father.. to wait until they were "clothed with power".

Teach me to wait for the promise Lord. I need to be clothed with holy power.

Do not disbelieve, but believe.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I think that it is so interesting how Thomas rejected the witness of his friends who had actually seen the resurrected Christ. In a sense Thomas was the first skeptic in a very long procession of skeptics. Every day it seems that I run across somebody else who rejects the testimony of first hand witnesses like John, the reporter for the account above. Somehow folks seem to think that it is "intellectual" to dismiss the eye witness accounts of the many who saw the resurrected Christ. In truth it is just an unwillingness to believe.

Jesus confronts Thomas, and modern day skeptics, speaking of his need to believe the testimony of those who actually saw him alive. He responds to Thomas' confession and infers that it does not take faith to believe something that you can feel with your hands or see with your eyes. Jesus rebukes Thomas for not believing the eyewitness accounts of his friends. He ends by speaking of the blessings that accompany those that have not seen yet believe the reports of eyewitnesses. I am one of those people.

Lord I believe the reports of the witnesses. Thank you for their first hand reports.

If you forgive ... they are forgiven

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Can you even imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to simply materialize in a locked room? Visions of Star Trek transports come to mind. I know that I would have been freaked out. Luke adds to the record of this event reporting how Jesus said:
"Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?"
Isn't that the way that we so often deal with things that our brain cannot comprehend? When something unexplainable happens we are troubled and have difficulty believing - things that seem too good to be true are often hard to believe. To comfort them Jesus speaks peace and shows them his wounds. In Luke's account he even eats a meal to show he was real.

And how interesting that the Lord's first message to them is about forgiveness. A bible college teacher once told us about his struggle to forgive and how this verse helped him to come to grips with the power of forgiveness.. he realized that those he forgave were forgiven even though his feelings told him they were not. Many times I remember that when I forgive - feelings will eventually follow the act of forgiveness.

I am in awe of the resurrection Lord. It cause me to realize my need to forgive.

O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?”

And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus is miraculously alive and, instead of appearing to the masses, he chooses to walk a seven mile stretch of road with two of his disciples. Now doesn't that sound like our Lord? And isn't the dialog so revealing about the disciples' mindset? They have resigned themselves to the idea that Jesus is dead and they have rejected angelic reports of his resurrection. They have given themselves over to all that is logical and explainable.

Such is the place that many find themselves today. What would Jesus say to many of us if he walked that stretch with us? Would our words reveal our trust in the visible and the logical? Would Jesus have to explain the scriptures to us and speak to us of things illogical and invisible? Would we hear what he had to say if it disagreed with our ideology and theology? Or would our hearts be open to the things that he would share with us?

I am often foolish Lord. I often rely on my senses instead of trusting you with all of my heart. Help me. Open my eyes and my ears. I do not want to be slow to believe.

Do not cling to me ... but go

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

What a scene! Movie writers could not have painted a more dramatic picture. What would it have been like to have witnessed the crucifixion and find yourself crying at the Lord's tomb a few days later. What would it have been like to find yourself so engulfed in grief that you did not recognize Jesus? What would it have been like to hear the Lord speak your name? And what would it have been like to fall down and embrace the feet of Christ? Simply Surreal!

Yet Jesus offers an alternate response to Mary and to us. He tells us that there is a time to linger and cling to him in worship but there is also a time to go. In a sense the Christian life is all about going after clinging. We do not know how long Mary hung on to Jesus' feet but it is suffice to say that she wanted to linger longer. But Jesus had plans for Mary. She, a woman, would be the very first to preach the good news of the resurrection of Christ.

Lord, teach me to go with the message that you have risen from the dead.

The Son of Man ... in the heart of the earth

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Little is written about the time between the cross and the resurrection. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians and spoke of Jesus leading captivity captive when he descended into the lower regions of the earth. There is much speculation about what that means. Some think that Jesus set righteous saints free from Sheol, the place of the dead. Some think that the captives that were set free were those living in bondage to the law of sin and death.

Such speculation is interesting but what I think about is how similar the experiences of Jesus and Jonah are. Both were alive during the experience - Jonah in the fish and Jesus in heaven. Both were missing and deemed dead and gone. They both needed a miracle to survive their experience. They both returned and had a message of hope for people under a sentence of death. And this is where we are today as we embrace, with much hope, the mystery of the tomb and of the time between the cross and resurrection.

Thank you for experiencing and tasting death for me Lord. I am in awe of you.

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

This last utterance from the cross reminds me of these words that Jesus once said:
I lay down my life that I may take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
Even at this very last moment of his life we are reminded that the son of God was not a victim of circumstances or of man's evil plans. At any point after his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane he could have chose another path for his life. Yet love compelled him to stay the course and freely offer his life for us. Love compelled him to stay committed to the words he prayed saying "Not my will but thine be done".

And since that final moment we have all been beating our breasts. Like the centurion, and those who watched at a distance, we have all been wondering how this could have happened to an innocent man. Perhaps it could have happened no other way? Maybe the whole spectacle took place to reveal the darkness of man and the brilliant light of God? At the very last moment Jesus completes his life of love as he offers his spirit to his Father.

I am unworthy of your love Lord. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for staying the course and showing me how to love. Thank you for the cross. Thank you for enduring the pain.

If your brother sins against you

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

I love the way that God's ways are so different than our ways. Sadly, each of us can relate to the idea of complaining, and even gossiping, when we are offended. Going to the source of our angst can be so hard to do. Sometimes the people we are called to confront can be difficult to talk to and we have to summon every bit of courage to talk to them. In a sense, this kind of reconciliation is the only way that healing comes to the body of Christ.

The passage is not so much a process to follow but a glimpse into the mind of God. In these few sentences Jesus presents an image of what reconciliation really looks like. When he says go alone he speaks to the sensitivity that is needed to restore a relationship. When he says take one or two Jesus is stressing the need for accountability. And when the Lord say to tell it to the church he is telling us that reconciliation is at the very heart of God.

Lord, forgive me when I gossip about my pain. Give me a heart of reconciliation.

Do not despise one of these little ones

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

With a child standing in the midst of his disciples Jesus begins to give us a peek into the heart of God. In just a few sentences our Lord paints a picture of a Heavenly Father that assigns protecting angels to his children and searches out wayward children when they stray. And He rejoices when the lost one is found. His heart for his children is matchless. His love overwhelms me. He is a Father like no other.

And our Lord tells us to not despise God's children. In contrast, we should be like the angels in our protection of each other - we should always have each other's back. When one of us strays our heart should demonstrate the compassion of the Heavenly Father and go after that lost sheep. Our desire should be for each other's salvation. We should rejoice when a lost soul is found. Our heart should be that no one perish.

My prayer is for the child that has strayed today Lord. Help them to see you coming.

If your eye causes you to sin ...

Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Some have interpreted Jesus' words literally.. Sharia law even commands that the hands of thieves be cut off.. and totally miss the point of what Jesus is teaching. Speaking in hyperbolic language the Lord exaggerates to make the point that sin is serious business. I think that our actions would be different if we saw sin the way that our Lord saw it. The truth is that sin damages not only us but the fabric of society as a whole. Perhaps a definition of heaven is the absence of sin?

The phenomena of temptation is one that is common to everyone. We all have weak areas where temptation is the hardest to overcome. In a sense, yielding to temptation occurs when our outer being (i.e. flesh) is stronger than our innermost being. So the onus is on us to do the things that make our innermost being strong. Spiritual disciplines like prayer and scripture reading/study feed our innermost being. And each time we deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Christ we strengthen and exercise our innermost being.

Lord help me to feed and exercise my innermost being today.

Whoever humbles himself ... is the greatest

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

A hallmark of a great culture is the way that it treats children. They are the most vulnerable of all humans.. they are the most innocent.. their faith is simple.. they have a genuine trust of others.. they are humble.. their faith in God is something to be emulated.. and how we treat children says much about us. So Jesus speaks directly to the severe consequences of causing such children to stumble or to sin.

In contrast, adult human beings, like the disciples, are all about "who is the greatest". The demeanor of pride filled adults is in stark contrast to the humility of children. Perhaps pride is the sin that Jesus warns his disciples about.. perhaps the exodus from childlikeness is all about the road from humility to pride? Jesus instructs us and tells us that the road to greatness is childlike humility.

I repent of pride Lord. Help me to be like a child.

From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax?

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

In one week tax returns will be due here in the United States. Over the years I have encountered Christians who believe that they do not have to pay taxes.. can't really remember their rationale but they were pretty firm in their beliefs. The truth is that many begrudgingly pay taxes and look for every single legal (and I used that term loosely) deduction they are entitled to. I think taxes have always been an unpopular reality - back in Jesus' day and today people have always hated to pay them.

Interesting how Jesus addresses the inequities of the tax code back then. Apparently it was common knowledge that some (i.e. sons of kings) did not ever pay taxes - sounds a lot like folks today who use loopholes in the tax code to evade taxes. Jesus tells Peter that he should pay the tax to simply not offend the taxing authority. He did not see himself as one above the law. But the way he finds the shekel to pay the tax - now that is quite amazing. How did he know that fish had a shekel?

My trust is in you Lord. Help my attitude to be one of gratitude when I pay taxes.

They will kill him ... He will be raised

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

The gospel is a greatly distressing message when you consider what happened in the hours preceding the death of Jesus. My heart breaks when I consider what happened to God's only Son after he was delivered to the religious and governmental leaders of that time. He was given a mock trial and declared guilty of blasphemy by religious leaders who should have known better. He was delivered to two leaders (Pilate and Herod) who treated him with unspeakable violence. He was then sentenced to death and nailed to a cross on a Friday.

Yet this distressing message gets turned on its head on Sunday morning. In a single stroke of the miraculous God would not let the cross be the last word. As he himself foretold, Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead in a form and fashion that no one had ever been raised before. He was raised immortal with a heavenly body. Reams have been written about the resurrection and still many do not believe. Perhaps these cannot get past the distressing message of the cross? Perhaps the resurrection is too wonderful to embrace?

Thank you for the cross Lord. Thank you for dying in my place. Thank you that the cross was not the last word. All praise and honor to you my resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”

And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

This is a difficult passage if one interprets Jesus' rebuke to his disciples in a certain way. Many read this passage and do not understand that Jesus is speaking in hyperbolic fashion. Using imagery like mustard seeds and mountains Jesus paints a picture about the role of faith in prayer. He is not speaking about what we say.. he is talking about what we pray.. and he says that great obstacles can be removed when we pray.

The message of this passage is that even the smallest of faith is effectual when it is directed in the right direction. The fact of the matter is that God is the one who casts out demons and he is the only one who can remove mountainous obstacles.. and He must always be the focus of our faith. If our faith.. even great faith.. is directed in any other direction it will fall short. Yet if our faith.. small as a seed.. is focused on God it will accomplish much.

Help me to stay focused on you Lord.. in difficult times and in ones not so hard.

The Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

The disciples have just witnessed the return of Elijah in a shared vision on the mountain. They have questions about the prophet and the scripture in Malachi that says:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Jesus points to John the Baptist and alludes to the way that he was rejected and killed. This is not how everyone thought that the prophet Elijah would be received. I imagine everyone who read that verse in Malachi believed that Elijah would be acclaimed by the Jews. No one thought Elijah would have a message of simple baptism and repentance. Jesus points to John and says that he will receive a similar fate at the hands of religious people.

I wonder if this is a message that God wants us to consider? The idea that a prophet would come and be rejected is a troubling thought. And who amongst us could ever imagine that we ourselves might reject God in the flesh? Maybe the message is about how a narrow religious view can obscure our spiritual eyesight? Perhaps such a view blinds us to the voice and presence of God? Something to consider in this season of Lent.

I cannot get past my own dogma Lord. Open my eyes to your appearing.

Rise, and have no fear.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

All I can say when I read such accounts as this one is WOW! I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be up on that mountain with Jesus. All of a sudden Moses and Elijah shows up and Jesus speaks to them as one would with old friends. Peter is crazed and begins to babble about tents. God then speaks from a cloud. With a few words God Almighty removes any doubt concerning the origin and identity of Jesus. I would be terrified too.

Jesus comes and does what he always does - he speaks comfort and peace to his friends. Doesn't this comfort you as well? One minute Jesus is speaking with men who have been dead for centuries and the next talking with his disciples. I cannot imagine the awe that Peter, James and John must have experienced. Hearing the very voice of God must have been so surreal. Small wonder that Jesus responded the way that he did.

I am in awe of you Lord. Take my fears away.

What shall a man give in return for his soul?

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

I recently read a mini-review of "Love Wins", Rob Bell's new book, and the pastor who was writing the review said that the book was forcing him to talk about the 'bad news' instead of the 'good news'. Phrases like "forfeits his soul" and "repay each person according to what he has done" might be discounted if they were not spoken by Jesus himself. These phrases present a heavenly admonition about the cost of living for ourselves and not God.

On the flip-side Jesus speaks of those who follow him and says that they "will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." So often it is easy to forget that Jesus does not command us to deny ourselves in vain. He does not ask us to bear our cross for naught. Yet the promise of paradise is so simple.. it was given to the thief on the cross who denied himself and cried out to Jesus in his last hour. He found hope hanging on a cross.

I need you today Lord. Help me to deny myself, pick up my cross and follow you.

Get behind me, Satan!

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

I wonder what it was in Peter that provoked him to rebuke the Lord. Maybe a bit of religious pride entered in when Jesus told him that God had spoke to him about the identity of the messiah? It sounds like something I would have done for sure. It is a problem that many new believers face. We get a bit of revelation and then, with this new information, we feel empowered to rebuke those who are older in the faith. Jesus would have none of it.

The Lord reveals to us a bit about the nature of the Adversary. He tells us that Satan hinders God's work by causing us to focus our attention on the temporal and visible instead of things eternal and invisible. It is humbling to know that Jesus knew of his fate in Jerusalem and went there anyway. In doing this he modeled for us what it is to deny ourself, take up our cross and follow God. And we emulate Christ when we embrace this eternal focus.

Lord, help me to embrace my cross. Open my eyes to eternal things.

On this rock I will build my church

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

These two verses have separated Roman Catholics and Protestants for many years. Some see the rock to be Peter and some view the rock as something else. I once thought the rock was the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah - after all Peter just made that profession.. in context that seems to make sense. Yet these days I see that rock to be Jesus himself. He is the Head of the church and its bedrock foundation.

Many get confused by the next verse trying to discern what binding and loosing are all about. To me the simple explanation is that the keys to the kingdom is prayer. When we pray we affect matters pertaining to the kingdom of heaven.. things are loosed and bound when we pray. This speaks to me of the importance of prayer and of our need to be faithful to pray. Things that need loosing will stay bound and things need to be bound will stay loosed if we do not pray. Yet when we pray things are made different.

You are my rock Jesus. Help me to be faithful to pray.

But who do you say that I am?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus Christ is the most controversial person who ever lived. The issue of his identity has been debated for thousands of years. Most people admire him and call him a great teacher. Some, like his disciples indicate here, consider him to be a great teacher like Elijah or Jeremiah. And some, like Peter, have received a revelation from God concerning Jesus' true identity. In Mere Christianity CS Lewis frames this tension like this:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."
The missing element in Lewis' trilemma is that one cannot come to the conclusion that Jesus is divine using logic. Like Peter we need a revelation from heaven to understand who He is.

Lord, reveal yourself to me today.

Do you not yet perceive?

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

I can really relate to the disciples. So often my troubles seem so large. So often the minutiae of forgotten bread obscures my thinking and makes me forget about the miracles of His provision - He always meets my needs. When I find myself worrying about forgotten bread I am reminded about how the Lord instructs me to trust Him with my heart and not lean on my own understanding. Worry is of the head but trust is a heart thing.

Jesus calls the teaching of the religious leaders leaven because teaching and teachers influence us in a major fashion. I sat under the teaching of a fundamentalist pastor for 16 years. His teaching influenced me to embrace the scriptures in a very literal and legalistic fashion. His teaching fed a dark part of me. Such is why Jesus told his disciples to be on the alert when the Pharisees and Sadducees taught.

Lord, help me to discern when I am being influenced by false teaching.

Except the sign of Jonah

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

So often Jesus speaks with veiled speech. It is easy for us, two millennia later, to understand what Jesus meant when he said "the sign of Jonah". Jesus had already explained it (possibly to another group of people) saying:
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Yet even that had to confuse his listeners. Who amongst them could have ever imagined Christ's resurrection or related such an event to Jonah?

Do you ever think about our preoccupation with the signs of the sky? Many embrace astrology and look to the stars for guidance. I sometimes seem addicted to the predictions of weather forecasters. And all the while so many miss all of the signs that are evident in creation. When I look around around I see the fingerprints of God in every beautiful tree.. in every sunrise and sunset.. and in the face of a newborn child. Signs of God's presence are all around us if we choose to see such things that way.

Lord, please open my eyes to the signs of your presence all around me.