Before the rooster crows ...

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

This is probably one of the most famous passages in the bible and perhaps in all of literature. Who cannot relate to weeping bitterly when we fail spiritually? Who does not occasionally hear the crow of the rooster when we sin? Such is the result when we put our trust in the flesh. I can relate to Peter's boasting. Many times we do not understand how difficult it is to overcome temptation and make statements that we wish we had never said. Such is the broken state that Peter finds himself as he denies the Lord.

Peter, like all of us, needed the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. It is so interesting to see the change in Peter and the disciples in the book of Acts after the Holy Spirit came on them. All of a sudden these disciples no longer cowered behind closed doors. Consider what Peter said before the same tribunal that tried Jesus when Peter thrice denied him:
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.
This man who cowered at the questioning of a servant girl now waxed bold in front of those who had condemned his master to death. This turn around is simply amazing and speaks to the influence of the Holy Spirit on Peter and we ourselves. This speaks to me of inability to live by the flesh and our need to be filled each day with the Spirit of God.

Fill me afresh Lord. My flesh is weak. I need your powerful presence in my life.

You will see the Son of Man

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. ... At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”

But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

Court is in session and the religion of man is on trial. Ironically the religious elders believe that they are the ones in power and they are the ones with the authority to pass judgment. Such is the way that religion works.. such is the seduction of the religion of man.. such is the dark pride that takes captive the minds and intents of men called by God to care for the souls of mankind.. such is the setting of this trial that takes place in the middle of the night when most are sleeping.. such is the end of all who exalt religion over God.

Jesus would have no part in this trial - he remains silent before this evil tribunal until the top judge asks him a direct question concerning his identity. The answer Jesus gives is called blasphemy because he identifies himself as an equal to God himself. Yet he does not stop there. Jesus proceeds to speak of a day when he will sit as judge over those who sit in judgment that very day. Yet these hypocrites respond in a very nasty fashion. Such is the ways of religious hypocrites who exalt themselves instead of God.

Help me not to judge with fleshly motives Lord. Fill my heart with grace.

Have you come out as against a robber?

At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Darkness has descended on the garden. God the Son is being mistreated and manhandled. Things are being done in darkness that would never survive the scrutiny of light. Jesus confronts this darkness as he speaks of the cowardice of those who would take him captive. He speaks of how they would not confront him when he taught in temple but now come under cover of night. The darkness of the heart of man is on display.

Jesus also speaks of prophetic scripture being fulfilled. In light of this I cannot help but think of these two verses from the prophet Isaiah:
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter..
By oppression and judgment he was taken away..
John the Baptist watches from Heaven as his words begin to take form. In a moment the Lamb of God will begin his journey to slaughter - and no one, save Jesus, has a clue.. not one observer understands the magnitude of the moment. THE LAMB OF GOD IS GOING TO BE SLAUGHTERED!! He who came in peace is treated like a criminal and all of creation groans. Darkness has descended and the Lamb of God is the only light shining.

Now my heart is breaking Lord. How could all of this happen. I repent.

All who take the sword will perish by the sword.

Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

The revolution has begun and the followers of Jesus are prepared to fight with their Messiah as the soldiers once fought with King David, the ancestor and prototype of the man who stood before them. This was the hour of victory that they were all waiting for.. this was the time when the Son of God would vanquish his enemies and ascend to David's throne. For three years they had waited for this moment.

But Jesus puts a stop to the revolution. He speaks of legions of angels and of scripture being fulfilled. Jesus was ready for what was to come.. he had prepared himself in prayer.. he had already won the battle on his knees. Yet his disciples did not understand because they were carnally minded - when it was time to pray they slept instead. The battle ahead could not be won with swords - spiritual battles never are.

Lord, help me to pray when I am tempted to sleep. My spirit is willing.

My betrayer is at hand.

And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”

The thought that comes to me as I read this is "With friends like these who needs enemies?" Before the betrayer comes all of Jesus friends sleep - not one can stay awake with him in this hour of need. None of his friends could help him wage spiritual battle in prayer. When crisis comes Jesus stands all alone. And this crisis comes in the form of a kiss. I cannot imagine how the heart of Jesus broke as he saw Judas walking towards him.

Jesus certainly knew and experienced disappointment that day. I cannot imagine the thoughts that went through his mind. In a matter of moments all of his friends would run and forsake him. These who he lived with every day for three years would abandon him. I want to find something redeeming in this moment for God but I cannot. I want to end this meditation on something positive but all I can see is Jesus standing in the garden with a broken heart.

I am so sorry for all of the times that I have broken your heart Lord. Please forgive me.

Let this cup pass from me

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

If you ever wondered whether God understands what it is like to be fearful and could relate to your anxiety then wonder no more. Knowing the painful fate of scourging and crucifixion every part of Jesus' being is stressed with agony as he prays. He speaks to his friends of being sorrowful to death and in another gospel it is reported that he sweat blood. Every part of him wants to run but he stands firm in prayer. In a small way I can relate to this passage.

A month before my first wife Ellen died I found myself racked with pain and anxiety. I had been praying for her healing for years and she was not any better. That day I prayed a prayer similar to the one in this passage. I released Ellen into the hands of the Father and said that whatever He wanted was OK with me. It was one of the toughest prayers that I have ever prayed. Prayers such as these always are because they involve trust.

Praying these kinds of prayers can be so hard when we understand that God's will may involve personal loss and pain. Yet these prayers dig deep into what it means to trust the Lord. In times of great pain and struggle it takes courage to trust the Lord with the outcome and simply ask for his will to be done. Perhaps if the disciples understood the events of the coming hours they would have not slept but supported Jesus with their prayers?

Not my will but yours Lord. Let your kingdom come and your will be done.

You will all fall away because of me

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to hear those words. Put yourself in the setting and try to imagine yourself as one of the disciples - perhaps you would be thinking these thoughts as Jesus and Peter exchanged words:
What is going on? The mood was sweet - we had just sung a hymn. Why was Jesus saying that we would all fall away? I hear Peter speak about staying true to our Lord and I am in agreement with everything he says. I will never deny Jesus.
How could any of them know what was coming? How could Peter know that Jesus would not allow him to use a sword when the enemy came? They were all ready to fight but did not understand the terms of engagement. And such is the state of many to this day.

Following God has never been about fleshly power. It has never been about fleshly weapons. Following God has always been about unseen power and weaponry. And those who don't understand this risk falling away. Yet, consider what the apostle tells us:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
And maybe that is the message in our gospel passage today. We will always fail when we try to fight spiritual battles with our own power. But when we walk according to the Spirit, using spiritual weaponry, we will be found faithful when the rooster crows.

Give me spiritual eyes to see Lord. Help me to walk in the Spirit.

This is my body ... this is my blood of the covenant

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”

In one of the most amazing statements in all of human history Jesus proclaims that his body and his blood signified the covenant that God had made with man. I think that it is so easy to miss this idea when we get caught up in the logistics of communion. Here are a few things we should consider when we come to communion:
  • It is the Lord's table.. it is his body and blood.. we are merely participants together.. we all are equals at his table.. we all come with empty hands.
  • It is a table of forgiveness.. it is in his blood that we hope.. we are merely the recipients of that forgiveness.. we all come needing a touch from the Lord.
  • It is a table of intimacy.. it was one of his last desires to spend an intimate meal with his friends.. we are joined together by his body, his blood and his forgiveness. 
Jesus ends this passage with a promise that he will once again eat this meal with us in the coming kingdom. And in that we hope and look forward with hearts filled with faith.

Draw us close together around your table Lord.

One of you will betray me.

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

A modern day theory purports that Judas was merely forcing Jesus' hand because he wanted Jesus to overthrow the reign of Rome over the Jews. I admit that the theory seems palatable until you read this account where Judas takes money for the betrayal. I may be wrong but when someone gets paid to betray a close friend they prove themselves to be no friend at all.. and their motives do not seem noble at all.. in fact their intentions seem a bit sleazy and not ideological at all. Judas must have been sleeping when Jesus was teaching.

Even so, I wonder what it would have been like sharing a meal with close friends and hear the Lord announce that a betrayer was seated at the table. The reactions of the disciples is so telling - none of them, save one, had a clue what that betrayal would look like. I imagine most of them felt that the betrayal meant that they would commit a sin.. but no one.. no one could imagine that one of their own would betray Jesus to the religious elders that Jesus consistently rebuked. No one, except a greedy man with bad intentions.

As the song goes, my heart is prone to wander. Lord, lead me back to you when I stray.

She has done it to prepare me for burial.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

This passage could have been one of the great teaching parables that Jesus used to illustrate and accentuate kingdom principles. A few points that I think frame the passage. Firstly, he was gather with his disciples at the home of a one time outcast leper. Secondly, they were seated around the dinner table enjoying a meal together. So everyone was surprised when a woman suddenly poured this expensive perfume on the Lord. Lastly, only one person got it right - only one focused on the Lord.

The contrast between the action of the woman and the reactions of the disciples is very telling. The woman, who probably owned the expensive perfume, could only think of ministering to the Lord. All the disciple could think of was using money for ministry - and they missed out because their focus was not on the Lord. Neither the woman or the men understood the profound significance of the act. Perhaps that is always true when we give? Maybe love is all about ministering to Jesus without knowing the consequences?

Lord, help me to be an extravagant giver and not be concerned about money.

The Son of Man will be delivered up ...

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

The contrast in these four verses of scripture are so stark when you compare the prophetic understanding of Christ to the evil scheming of the religious elders. On one hand we see a picture of light - Jesus knew what was going on.. he would not be caught unawares. On the other hand the religious elders were operating in absolute spiritual darkness and did not have a clue about what was really going on. The differences are so glaring.

I think that the lessons in this passage are so teachable for us today. When we operate in darkness, hiding behind physical and spiritual closed doors, we foster an environment where accountability and integrity are absent. And God has a way of exposing this kind of darkness in our lives. Over time this kind of scheming, both personal and corporate, always backfires on us as God sees it all and causes our dark deeds to be exposed in his light.

Shine you light on me Lord. Examine me and purge all darkness from me.

Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The way we treat people is so important to God and the way that we shut up compassion in our hearts has eternal consequences. It does beg the question though of why some let compassion flow freely while others damn it up inside of themselves. To answer I give you two Greek words that speak a bit to the human condition:
  • hamartanĊ :: to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), to err, especially (morally) to sin. [see Romans 3:23 for context] 
  • parabasis :: violation, breaking, transgression. [see Romans 4:15 for context]
These two words represent two aspects of a phenomenon that the bible describes as sin. The first (hamartanĊ ) is one that is somewhat representative of our human nature. It speaks to the idea that people who have good intentions often miss the mark, make mistakes and err in judgment. The second word (parabasis) speaks of people with bad intentions who seek to do harm. And it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two.

Yet I believe that Jesus, in this passage, speaks to those who live lives of bad intentions.. people who have suppressed compassion for so long that they no longer understand what it means to be truly human. These are those who do not simply miss the mark. Jesus' words condemn them as he speaks of the way that their hard and selfish hearts have rejected pleas for food, clothing and compassion. To these he speaks words of punishment.

Help me Lord to remember how you suffer with the poor, the sick and imprisoned.

As you did it to one of the least ... You did it to me.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

The first thing that strikes me about this passage is the ignorance of those who Jesus calls blessed. These who were going about their daily activities do charitable works seemed unaware that they were ministering to Jesus. In contrast to these I must admit that I was very aware that I was ministering to Jesus during the six years that I ministered in prisons and jails - it was why I visited inmates. As I ponder this passage I wonder about about those years and the reasons why I chose to visit hurting inmates.

When I think about the people Jesus describes in this passage I think about how the gospels report that Jesus was moved by compassion when he saw hurting people. In like manner these, who Jesus call blessed, also seem to be moved by compassion for strangers who are hungry, thirsty, sick and behind bars. Yet sometimes ministering to such people can engage a part of us that has so little to do with compassion. But sometimes compassion arises in us and we touch hurting people. And in doing so we minister to Jesus.

Examine me Lord. Drive ungodly motives from me and fill my heart with compassion.

He will separate people

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

This is the prelude to the famous illustration of the separation of the sheep and the goats. Before jumping into the judgment scene I thought that it would be helpful to make a few observations about the setting.
  • The words glory and glorious sets the scene. When I read those words I remember that I have no context and no words to understand this scene.
  • When I read the word "all" I am overwhelmed. All the angels will be there. All peoples of all times will be there. I cannot get my head around that number.
  • Mankind will be separated. It leaves me speechless. I want this to be a time when mankind is reunited not a time when they are divided.
I am comforted by the idea that a shepherd will separate the sheep and the goats. It reminds me of how Jesus speaks of the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Such is the qualification to sit on this glorious throne. He who laid down his life now sits in judgment.

Lord, you are my Shepherd. Help me to follow you like a lamb.

You have been faithful ... Enter into the joy

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.

Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

A few words stick out to me in this parable - entrusted, property, ability and faithful. Here are my thoughts on those words:
  • The word entrusted speaks to me of responsibility. We each have a spiritual mandate to care for the things that God has entrusted us with. And that responsibility is not to simply maintain but to grow. We are to invest our lives and our gifts in activities that will cause spiritual growth in the Kingdom of God.
  • Interesting that the Master in this parable entrusts his property to his servants. This is an important word because it addresses the concept of ownership. This parable paints an accurate picture of how everything we have is on loan from God. And in the end we will have to give an account of how we used His property.
  • When I think about ability I remember how unique each one of us is. Interesting that God measured out talents commensurate with each servants ability. It speaks to me of how God considered each person -  their gifts, resources and potential when he entrusted them with various responsibilities.
  • I sometimes think that faithfulness is the currency of the kingdom. We grow spiritually, and in other ways, when we are faithful with the gifts,resources and potential that we are given. This parable indicates that, today and in the last hour, this quality is all so important because faithfulness with entrusted property is rewarded the Master.
The response of the Master to his servants when he returns is so telling and instructive.
It reminds me that what we do in this life is important - to God and to us.

Thank you for the gifts you have given me Lord. Forgive me for the times I have squandered them. Help me to be faithful with the things that you have entrusted me with.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Don't you love the stories that Jesus shares as he tries to explain future events to folks like us that have no clue what such events will be like? His stories always seem to speak of both future and current day events. In this story the Lord tells us of a group where half are prepared for God's coming and half are not. He uses the imagery of oil in the story and says that the wise had it and the foolish did not. It reminds me of the verses in Proverbs that speak of foolish people who do not believe in God.

Such are people yet today who reveal their foolishness by the way they live in ways that reveal a belief that the Lord will not return and they will not have to answer to God. Jesus teaches us in this passage that living in wisdom is a way that we prepare ourselves for his return. And being wise is not about our intellect or even our biblical smarts. Being wise is a heart condition that reveals itself in humility before God and man. Such are the people who are prepared, and preparing, for his coming.

I am arrogant Lord. Teach me humility that I might be ready for your coming.

Who then is the faithful and wise servant?

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Interesting how Jesus categorizes his servants as faithful and wise. He further explains what it means to be faithful when he says that such servants consistently serve others. He indicates that such servants are wise because they understand that they serve a master who will be faithful to come like he said he would. This speaks to me of the way of a real servant.. one who faithfully serves others as they serve God.

Also interesting how Jesus targets leaders in this passage. When he speaks of those "set over his household" he is speaking about religious leaders then and now. He warns them, and us, of the consequences of mistreating others and of forsaking personal discipline. This rebuke is like those he spoke to the scribes and Pharisees. In this rebuke he indicates that such people are neither wise nor faithful.

Lord, please help me to be faithful and wise in everything I do.

Coming at an hour you do not expect.

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Recent events have been replete with predictions of rapture and judgment day. Many have responded with this passage saying that no one knows the day. But few go further and speak to the way that Jesus speaks in this passage about Noah and the ark. As a reminder I give you this passage concerning the times of Noah from the sixth chapter of Genesis:
"The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart."
In referencing the times of Noah our Lord speaks to the condition of humanity at the time of his return to planet earth. When he comes his mission will be one of judgment for a depraved humanity. Yet for some, like Noah who found favor in the eyes of the Lord, his return will be a mission of redemption and salvation from societal depravity.

Jesus concludes by telling his listeners, and us, to stay awake spiritually. He warns us that we must be ready. That, I think, is our central message - any day could be our last.. we could die or he could return much sooner than we think. In light of this we must treasure each day that we have been given and purpose to live in ways that are pleasing to God.

I confess that I am weak Lord. Help me to be ready and to honor you in everything I do.

Heaven and earth will pass away ... My words will not

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

What do you think of when Jesus speaks of a darkened sun and moon? Or stars falling or heavenly powers being shaken? And what does the sign of the Son of Man look like? Such is the mysterious way that the Lord describes his coming. He indicates that all will know who he is when he comes on the clouds.. and all will mourn when they see his sign.. all will be without excuse. Yet, in the midst of such mourning, angels will be dispatched to gather those who await his coming. It is a glorious and amazing scene.

Of that waiting Jesus speaks when he describes the fig tree in coming into bloom. He says that we will know the signs of his coming - we will know when the summer of his coming is at hand. The generation he speaks of is the one that will see the sun darkened and stars falling. The signs will be there for those who are awaiting and looking for his coming. The passage ends with words that only God can speak. In these words Jesus tells us of his deity. When he comes again it will be the second coming of God the Son.

Reading of your coming Lord encourages me. Thank you for giving us hope.

False christs and false prophets will arise

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.

So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

I believe in the second coming of Christ and in this passage Jesus tells us that he will come again in a way that is quite unlike his first coming. He tells his disciples, and us, to not pay attention to those who say they are a second incarnation of the messiah. This speaks to me about our inclination to allow those with spiritual gifts to influence our lives. I was once such a person and such a person influenced my life because they exercised spiritual gifts. Jesus warns us that such people can lead us astray.

The last two sentences of this passage really engage my imagination. What does Jesus mean when he says that his coming will be like lightening? And what is the deal with corpses and vultures? I checked out other translations and vultures is sometimes translated eagles. In the context of Jesus coming like lightning that seems to make sense. Can you imagine that day when the Son of God comes soaring in the skies? Can you visualize that day when he comes to transform this corpse of humanity?

I long for the day of your coming Lord. My hope is in that day. Hallelujah!

For the sake of the elect

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

I have to admit that these words seem so preposterous to me that I would blow them off if Jesus had not spoken them. And if these words were not spoken in the context of the close of the age I might think that they applied to the times of the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in 70 AD. Jesus describes in part a time of cataclysmic tribulation that will precede the end of the world as we know it. It is a sobering and very serious passage.

Yet, the Lord offers a beacon of hope in midst of all this darkness. He tells of how God will cut those days short for the sake of his people. I find much encouragement in that sentiment. It speaks to me of how God is sovereign and reigns even in the darkest of times. And it shouts loudly of how God considers his children in world events. For our sakes the world is a different place.. for our sakes suffering is cut short. Praise the Lord!

I do not comprehend the extent and complexity of your sovereignty Lord. Yet, I worship you.

And then the end will come.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

In these few words Jesus tells us what the last days will actually look like. Previously he spoke of birth pains - now he speaks of the delivery stage. He indicates that these times will be categorized by:
  • Persecution and Hatred: Followers of Christ will no longer live in ease and comfort. Reminiscent of attitudes in totalitarian countries where the gospel is not tolerated.
  • False Prophets: Also reminiscent of countries where the gospel is banned. People will arise with a message that perverts the image of God and his message.
  • Lawlessness will increase and Love will grow cold: As God is removed from the culture the influence of the Holy Spirit will be diminished. Consequentially immoral acts will arise while acts of love and charity ebb right up until the last day.
  • Perseverance: Those who endure persecution and do not capitulate to false prophets will see the salvation of God on that last day.
Jesus ends by speaking of a day when the whole earth will hear the gospel of the kingdom. On that day the end will come. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Lord, you are sovereign over all events - now and in the last days. Help me to trust in you.

All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”

And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.

All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Eschatology is the study of the events associated with end times and the coming age. As far back as the first century many have believed that they were living in the last days. Thirty years ago, when I was in bible college, my favorite book of the bible was Revelation. I so remember those wonderful debates around the rapture and the last days. As the new millennium dawned my fixation with eschatology ebbed. Even so, the predictions of people like Harold Camping have revived the interest in this topic.

Interesting how Jesus begins his end times dissertation with a warning about deception. It is so easy to get distracted by eschatology. Yet he points to observable events and says that they are merely the beginning of birth pangs. It reminds me of what Paul writes in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans:
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Hope, not fear, is the message of the (or our) last days. When we hear news reports of wars, famines and earthquakes our hearts go out to those who are suffering. Yet in the midst of these trying times we must embrace the hope of redemption. And in our last days we should embrace Jesus' admonition to look up because our redemption draws near.

I await your redemption today Lord. Help me to look up when things around me look bleak.

There will not be left here one stone upon another

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

In my life I have had a lot of creature comforts - nice houses, cars, clothes and other stuff. Interesting that all of those houses and cars have given way to newer models. And churches? Oh my, I have been a part of six church building campaigns - one of them eventually had to be sold at a two million dollar loss. What is it about stuff that so captivates us and garners our attention. We all know that "the stuff" is temporary.

Such is the message in today's reading. The disciples were fixated on the beauty and majesty of temple buildings - I imagine they could not even imagine their destruction in their lifetimes. Jesus jars them with a message that we all need to hear. The stuff is not important - all things will eventually be replaced because they are temporal. Yet there are things that are eternal and will survive our passing. These are the things that should captivate us.

Open my eyes Lord to see the eternal things. Help me to give my attention to such things.

Often would I have gathered your children together

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

I think that this is an odd thing for a person to say - odd unless you are God incarnate. In likening himself to a mother hen and Jews as her children Jesus speaks of his pre-human existence. His lament over Jerusalem gives us a peak into his heart of compassion towards Israel. So often when we read the Old Testament and miss that aspect of God. Too often we fail to read between those lines and see a Heavenly Father inviting us to come to him.

Such is the divine attitude that prevails yet today. The invitation is open for everyone to bow in humility. God longs to gather us under his wings. He longs to bless us. But, as in the case of Israel, our pride rises up and we often refuse to bow. And Jesus speaks to those who reject him saying that a day will come when the Lamb of God returns as a Lion. The scripture speaks of that day when every knee will bow and everyone confess Jesus is Lord.

I repent of my stubborn pride Lord. Please forgive me and help me to bow.

How are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

In this, the last of the seven woes, Jesus wraps this passage up by decrying the heinous acts of past religious leaders and ties them to the ones of his age. Interesting how he uses the phrase "brood of vipers" - this was the name that John the Baptist used to describe these religious leaders. As he speaks to them of past persecutions of prophets he most certainly had John on his mind and the way that they rejected his message. Also interesting how he speaks prophetically of the way he himself will die.

And lest we smugly sit and say that these things no longer happen, I might remind you of how the messages of a men like Martin Luther were once rejected. Also notable is the way that many in our day are spoken ill of and treated as heretics because they do not pass tests of orthodoxy. Sometimes I think that few things have changed except what is lawful to do with people charged with heresy. I wonder what our culture would look like if some religious leaders were in charge? Perhaps many prophets would be in jail?

Open up my ears and eyes Lord so that I do not reject the messages of your prophets.

You are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Jesus continues in his rebuke of religious leaders as he further explains what he means when he uses the word 'hypocrisy'. In both illustrations he compares the things that are unseen to those that are seen. In graphic language Jesus says that these leaders are spiritually dead. I cannot think of a harsher condemnation of a religious leader. Their hypocrisy is that they do spiritual things but have no spiritual life on the inside.

Sadly, such ways did not die out in the first century. Still today we hear reports of religious leaders doing despicable things that evidence an absence of inner spiritual life. These all appear to be legitimate religious leaders on the surface but on the inside they are filled with self-centered arrogance. Many of these have chosen this sort of life for all the wrong reasons. Instead of compassion for others their hearts are filled with selfish pride.

Lord, help my life to reflect the beautiful new heart you have formed in me.

You tithe ... and have neglected the weightier matters

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

When I think about this passage I am reminded of the evening that Ann and I dined with some Christian friends. There were six of us and the restaurant had a policy for such groups that automatically charged an 18% gratuity. One of the guys in the group was very upset about the extra 3% tip and complained throughout the dinner. Like the Pharisees he was neglecting weightier matters. Like them he was focused on the legal percentages.

The point Jesus is trying to make is how a fixation on religious legalities will cause a person to miss the point of faith. I submit this to you - if faith does not cause you to be more just.. more merciful.. more faithful.. and more loving.. then then there is something wrong with your faith. Genuine faith causes one go past what they owe God and leads them to live a more generous life. Real faith is not focused on tipping or tithing percentages.

Take my eyes off the percentages Lord and help me to lead a life of generosity today.

A Promise is a Promise.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?

And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

Here is the way that The Message presents a part of this passage:
What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.
Such is the strange logic of those caught up in the religious legalities. These delineate behaviors that take place inside of church from those that happen out in the world. One of my friends used to complain about how different some Christians were when he did business with them. Sadly these seem to have embraced a mentality that divorces sacred and secular behavior. Sometimes folks like these are known as Sunday morning Christians.

Jesus cuts through the religious wrangling and says that the oath or promise is not sacred because of its value (i.e. the gold backing it) but because God is present (i.e. in the Temple). This is true of everything we do. God  is ever present in our lives. Our behavior should reflect that consistency.. our word should be our bond.. our character should reflect that of Christ. A promise should be a promise.

Keep me from rash promises Lord. Help me to know when to say yes and when to say no.

You shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

These are the first two of the seven woes that Jesus speaks to hypocritical religious leaders - both then and now. These are some of the harshest condemnations that Jesus issues to spiritual leaders. In his words here Jesus describes them as people ignorant of the kingdom of God and only concerned with gathering followers for themselves. He indicates that their focus and attitude has kept people from experiencing spiritual life.

The Pharisees were all about living by the law.. more specifically living by their legalistic interpretations of the law. This phenomena remains to this day as spiritual life is robbed from many by legalistic religious leaders. These modern day Pharisees are still making rules about food, movies, television and all sorts of behaviors they deem to be inappropriate for those who follow their teachings. Like the Pharisees they focus on the legal negatives.

Help my life to be about the positives Lord. Keep me from judging others.