My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Darkness has descended and the Son of God hangs between heaven and earth. The gospel of Mark reports that Jesus breaks hours of silence with these gut wrenching words of forsakenness. The Lord of Glory has passed through these many hours alone feeling forsaken by his friends and now revealing a deeper forsakenness. And the onlookers mock him without pity. He who was compassion incarnate experienced no compassion in death.

In the midst of a sober and dark moment in time Christ cries out and the history of mankind is changed forever! The centurion saw it in his face. The temple veil could not stay in tact. Existence on planet earth was taking a radical turn upwards. A divine seed was being planted and forsakenness was being turned inside out. No longer would mankind be alone in suffering. He who is compassion incarnate would transcend death and be with us forever!

Alleluia! Death could not hold you! I am not forsaken! Compassion is with me today!

Jesus made no further answer ...

And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

The silence of the Son of God is deafening. Accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death the Lord makes no defense to either the religious or civil leaders. In fact, in Mark's gospel, the next words he utters is from the cross. The Lamb of God is being led to slaughter, has said all that he will say and has no further words for mankind. His silence haunts humanity.

Yet God was speaking as Jesus kept silent. From his refusal to speak we learn that God is greater than man and does not answer to us. We understand that the actions of incarnate love speak louder than fleshly words. Jesus' silence reminds me that spoken words are not needed to hear the voice of God in my heart. His peace in my heart speaks volumes.

Help me to be a listener today Lord and hear what you are speaking to my heart.

You will deny me ...

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

In the still of the darkest of nights two men stand listening to the testimony of witnesses. As Jesus stands before the religious court Peter faces a servant girl. The mettle of each man is being tested. In Christ we see a blazing example of courage under fire. In Peter we see a total capitulation to the forces of cowardice. The difference is starkly compelling.

Jesus had been preparing for such a moment his whole life. For years he had done the things that gave him the strength of heart to resist the temptation to capitulate to the high priest. Peter on the other hand was a man of fleshly strength and did not possess the inner power to stand under temptation. One man went to the cross and one wept bitterly.

Help me Lord to do things that strengthen my heart so that I will be able to resist temptation.

Seated at the right hand of Power ...

And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.

In the middle of the night court is convened, Jesus is dragged before the religious elders and "witnesses" with conflicting testimonies are brought forth to accuse him. Darkness has descended on Israel and the prince of darkness has seized control of the court. You can sense the self-righteous anger and profound frustration that is present as Jesus refuses to participate in this mockery of justice. Then, in the midst of darkness, the Lord speaks.

Christ's response to the high priest is majestic and chilling. In a few words he settles the question forever as he tells them, and us, that he is Israel's long awaited Messiah. The reaction of the high priest and the court is telling. Understanding that Jesus claims to be God in the flesh the high priest calls his confession blasphemous. The events that follow are absolutely appalling as the darkness further descends on backslidden Israel.

You are the Christ, the Son of the Blessed! Once again I surrender my life to you.

Have you come out as against a robber ...

The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand. And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled.

There is a tendency, especially for those of us who have read this passage many times, to gloss over what is really happening to our Lord. A man who has daily shared meals with him and walked at his side for many years has turned his back on him and done something unspeakable. I wonder if his heart was breaking as one disciple betrayed him with a kiss and all the others fled from his side? It was such a sad prelude to the cross of his suffering.

Jesus responds to Judas' kiss with words that point to the dark cowardice of the religious leaders. Instead of engaging Jesus in an open forum these come in the darkness of night to seize him. It speaks so clearly of their dark motives and spineless actions. Yet, in contrast to their actions, we see in Christ an example of courage and brilliance. Betrayal could not quench his light. He remains for us an example of courage under extreme pressure.

Praise you Lord Jesus. Help me to embrace your light and your courage today.

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.

And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come.”

The phrase that I have used in this post title is often used to explain moral failures and the capitulation to fleshly temptation. While that is probably an appropriate explanation of events like that, I think that it is interesting to note that Jesus uses it to describe a failure to persevere in prayer. Three times the Lord chided the disciples for their failure to pray. It makes me wonder why, after seeing their friend so troubled, they could not prevail with him.

The underlying foundation of prayer is the idea that God wants to help us and He is able to do so. Yet sometimes this deep truth is forgotten when we our flesh is tired and weary. In times of testing it is good to remember that a prayer can be a simple as Peter crying out to Jesus "Lord save me!" when he began to sink as he walked on the water. A good reminder to us that our Father cares and wants to hear the cries of our heart when we pray.

You are listening Lord. Help us to remember to pray throughout our day.

My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” [Mark 14:32-36 ESV]

My first wife Ellen suffered heart and kidney failure when she was 39. My kids and I watched her slowly die the following four years. Every day I fervently prayed for her healing. Yet a month before she died I found myself praying a prayer of both acceptance and release. I committed Ellen into the loving hands of Almighty God and said that whatever He wanted was OK with me. It was one of the toughest prayers that I have ever prayed.

Such is the prayer that we see Jesus praying in the garden. He was visibly distressed and troubled. His disciples could actually see it on his face. Sorrowful, painful and troubling words come from his mouth as the Son wrestles in prayer with the Father. As he prays we begin to understand what it is like to pray in impossible times. When he ends saying "not what I will, but what you will" he paints a glorious picture of what it means to pray.

I offer my sorrows up to you again today Lord. Not my will but thine be done.

You will all fall away ...

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

The path of humility often looks more like humiliation. I know that Peter, and the other disciples, truly believed that they would fight to the death with Jesus. Yet they were totally unprepared for the testings that would soon come. Within an hour or so these tough guys would see Jesus surrender to the religious authorities. These who wanted to do fleshly battle were not ready to wage war on their knees. Humility was knocking at their door.

To these the Lord Jesus speaks of how they will all fall away and run when the shepherd is struck. I think that Peter speaks for all of them when he vehemently denies what the Lord predicts that he will do. How could it enter his imagination that he would deny his friend? Such is the way of boastful bravado. Such is the path of humility. Peter is never the same after the rooster crows. His humbling is one that we must understand and take to heart.

I am nothing Lord. You are everything. Help me to walk in humility today.

This is my body. This is my blood.

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; Eat.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Throughout time many have argued about the meaning of the words "This is my body. This is my blood". In doing so they make something natural out of something spiritual. I believe that there is something spiritually significant when we come to the Lord's table - regardless of the nature of the bread and the wine. The act of coming is an act of the heart and this act transcends the natural and crosses over to the spiritual. It always has.

So when we are tempted to argue about such things we must not let the physical trump the spiritual. We must remember that we are cherishing the broken body of Christ on the cross when we eat the bread at communion. And when we drink we celebrate the covenant that the Lord Jesus consecrated with his spilled blood. Lastly, when we come to the table we look forward to that day when we shall, with one heart, share a meal with our Savior.

I remember, honor and hallow your sacrifice Lord Jesus. Emblazon the cross in my heart.

One of you will betray me ...

And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For 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.”

A few verses back we learned that Judas, offended at Jesus' rebuke, went to the chief priests and set his betrayal in motion. Exhibiting a great cowardice he goes behind Jesus' back supposing that he will take the Son of God by surprise. I wonder what was going on in his head when he heard the words "one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me". Could Judas have been so deceived by Satan that he did not know he was the one?

As the disciples begin to question themselves asking "Is it I?" the Lord repeats the revelation saying that it is one of the twelve. These simple men could not fathom betraying the one who they walked with for three years - perhaps even Judas did not see his acts in a bad light? Yet in just a few days the weight of his actions would come down on him and, in a hopeless act, he would commit suicide. It would have been better if he was never born.

Help me to always stay true to you Lord Jesus. Cleanse me of any hint of betrayal.

Leave her alone.

There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. ... Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Judas' reaction to Jesus' rebuke revealed a deep misunderstanding of the Lord's mission and message. I cannot imagine how someone so close to Christ could have responded with such betrayal. The disciple's reaction reminds me of the one that Cain had to God's rejection of his offering of grain. Listen to what God tell's him:
“Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Perhaps Jesus' rebuke was the proverbial last straw for Judas? Perhaps Judas had a fleshly value system that did not understand how the Lord could defend the "wasteful" use of something that could have been used to help the poor? Either way, his response communicates an anger similar to the one Cain had.

I think that anger and disappointment drove Judas to the chief priests. Strong emotions like these can cause people to take action - especially when they are directed at God. Truthfully I had such anger and disappointment when my first wife died. Yet the sin crouching at my door was arrested by the love of God. I looked past my pain and embraced the cross.

Help us to embrace the cross today Lord - especially when our prayers are unanswered.

You always have the poor with you ...

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

I think compassion is at the very heart of this passage. Consider how Jesus says:
"For you always have the poor with you,
and whenever you want, you can do good for them."
It is odd how many people often quote the first half of this verse and rarely remember the rest of it. It is as if they forget that the message that Jesus proclaimed was good news to the poor. In truth God's people can do good for the poor whenever they want but rarely do deferring to do good for buildings and religious leaders much in the ways that the Jews back then did. It is as if the gospel message has been twisted to eliminate the poor.

In contrast the Lord speaks encouraging words for the woman who gave lavishly and generously. He says that she has done a beautiful thing. Perhaps we would do well to understand the beauty of this kind of worship? Reminds me that King David once said:
I will not give that which costs me nothing.
The nard used to anoint the body of Christ was pure and it was costly. Perhaps the message in this story is two fold: firstly, we should do good for the poor; secondly, our gifts of worship can only be measured in the currency of heaven

Show me the nard in my life Lord. Help me to not hold back.

My words will not pass away.

“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 these things taking place, 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. “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake.

For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

The words of Christ are eternal in that he speaks truth that is not specific to a specific time or a place. The things that he taught two thousand years ago are as relevant today as they word back then. It is incumbent on each of us to take his words to heart and be vigilant in our daily activities to discern the times that we are living in. It speaks to me of the priorities that I set and the prayers that I pray. In truth our lives may be required of us any day.

It is in this light that the Lord speaks to each of us as living in such a way that we would not be ashamed if this was our last day. Yet many are caught up in a spiritual slumber walking each day ignorant of God's presence and plan for their lives. These are not concerned with spiritual things and live as if they will never die.. as if they will never have to give an account for their lives. To these, an to us, the Lord warns to be on guard and keep spiritually awake.

Help me Lord to discern the times, to be on guard and stay spiritually awake.

The Son of Man coming in clouds ...

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

All I can think of when I read these words is that God is sovereign in all of creation. I think that there is a spiritual aspect to this passage that we can miss if we focus too intently on the physicality of it. When Jesus speaks of celestial bodies darkening, stars falling and heavens shaking my mind wonders to what is going on in the invisible realm. Could it be that our Lord is speaking to us about a shift in spiritual realms that is invisible to our eyes?

The majesty and glory of the second coming is painted with such simple words as Christ speaks to us of a day when that which is invisible manifests into something physical. In truth the Son of Man has been coming and gathering his elect for ages when they pass from this age to the next. Yet we do well when we understand that each day He comes to us with "great power and glory". Such is the gospel message of the resurrected Christ!

Help me to sense your presence today Lord. Cause that which is invisible to become visible.

I have told you all things beforehand.

And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

Jesus continues to paint a terrifying picture of a cataclysmic future where desperate people are looking for a messianic figure to rescue them from the horrors of the day. I think that he felt a need to warn his disciples, and us, of such things because he knew how humanity so often looks to itself, rather than God, in times of confusion and of crisis.

"Elect" is a very interesting word. Theologians have built theologies around it supposing that it means this or that. The word simply means chosen - the elect are God's chosen people.. those who has been spiritually born. For these God put a time limit on tribulation. To these he speaks a word of warning. In all this His love and concern is great for the elect.

Thank you Lord for loving and saving you people - both today and in that day.

Pray that it may not happen ...

“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (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, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 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 it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.

These warnings remind me of the movies I have seen of London during the Nazi air strikes in World War II when the sirens were blowing and everyone was running for cover in the shelters. Like one of those sirens Jesus warns his disciples, and us, that we are not immune from the terrible things that happen in the world. When Tsunamis hit Japan God's people were affected. And Christians were not exempt from harm when the earth shook in Haiti.

Interesting how Jesus speaks of prayer. It is as if he is saying that God factors in the cries of our heart before he allows tribulation to come into our lives. This is a comforting thought to me and encourages me to fall to my knees. Trials and tribulations are a part of life. Bad things happen to God's children. Yet in the midst of calamity God hears our prayers. He weighs in the cries of our hearts before and after a crisis hits. He is with us always.

I am in awe of you Lord. You, who shake the earth, hear me when I pray.

You will be hated by all ...

And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

I do not think that I have ever heard these verses quoted by a preacher giving a gospel invitation. Jesus words are alarming and troubling. In truth most of us do not want to live out our faith in this way. And in America most of us probably will not. But I am reminded of stories that I hear in the news about people in other countries that experience this kind of persecution simply because they bear the name of Christ and will not recant.

People like them throughout the ages have given us examples of what it means to endure to the end. In truth the walk of faith is a walk of faithfulness in good times and in bad. The betrayals of family members and friends that the Lord mentions in these verses point to a need for endurance. When we read of being hated for His name we begin to understand that endurance is not a word for the weak but for the strong of heart.

I am weak Lord. I ask for strength of heart today. Help me to be faithful and endure.

It is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever spoken to some one or heard words from another that seemed like they came from heaven? I can recall several times how a person spoke a truth to me that I did not want to hear. I could not shake their words. Deep within me I knew that they were telling me the truth. Such is the utterance that Jesus speaks of when he tells his disciples not to worry about what they will say when they are confronted by intellectual accusers.

Many read of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and understand a gift like prophecy through the lens of the Old Testament - and I am certain that God often speaks though people in that manner. Yet there is a New Testament sense of prophetic utterance that is greater than a prophet proclaiming "thus says the Lord". Such is the sense that Jesus is teaching here when he says that the Holy Spirit will speak through us even when we are not aware of it.

Speak though me today dear Spirit of God and encourage those who are hurting.

The gospel must first be proclaimed ...

These are but the beginning of the birth pains. “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.

Since Jesus first uttered these words there has been a plethora of speculation concerning the timing of the events. Some hold to the idea that he was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem some thirty years later and others feel that he was predicting events that are yet to come. Either way, it seems that many since then have experienced persecution for their faith. Many, like the apostles, were martyred for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

The admonition to disciples then and now is that this persecution was foreseen ages ago and is but a part of the birth pains of the kingdom of God. In reality God has determined, in ages past, that the proclamation of the gospel is worthy of this kind of maltreatment. When we witness this sort of prejudice and violence we are to understand that a new age is being born before our very eyes. God wants everyone everywhere to hear the gospel of Christ!

Your message is worthy of proclamation Lord Jesus! Help me to be a witness today.

See that no one leads you astray.

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Interesting how Jesus begins his discourse on end times by warning his disciples of deception. Many have been deceived since then by well meaning, and not so well meaning, last days prophets. In the 1980s teachers taught and many believed that Jesus would return at the turn of the century. Many times back then I would listen to hours of teaching on the book of Revelation. There is just something in us that longs to know the future.

As the Lord begins to answer their questions and describe the tumultuous times to come he stops and he says "do not be alarmed". Sometimes there is a fear that grips us when we hear of future wars, earthquakes and famines. In response Jesus stops us and tells us that these things have not caught God by surprise. His foretelling of these events is meant to comfort us and teach us to trust the one who knows all things - even the future.

I am persuaded that you know all things Lord. I will trust you for today and for tomorrow.

Not be left here one stone ...

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Throughout the ages humanity has had a strange preoccupation with brick, mortar and stained glass. Mostly the criticism in these areas falls to more of the mainline churches that specialize in ornate cathedrals - the one just a few blocks from where I live has a steeple covered with gold leaf. Yet this obsession is by no means limited to those types of buildings. Many congregations who started meeting in school cafeterias have spent millions to build.

To his disciples, and to us, Jesus gives a warning about being attached to buildings. I can hear him instructing us to be careful and not to consider these buildings as sacred but understand that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is why that I think that we err when we refer to our religious spaces as sacred and our meeting rooms as sanctuaries. Truly these will not survive the test of time but we who have the gift of His Spirit will live forever.

Help me Lord to remember that I carry your sanctuary with me wherever I go.

Put in everything she had ...

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Many today would do well to hear the message contained within this passage. In a few words Jesus honors a widow who lived in poverty yet was so very rich in her heart. It begs the question of why someone would give all that they had. I think that those who are poor know what it is like to be in need and how to trust the Lord to meet their need.

The truth is that most of us do not understand this kind of poverty. Most of us who believe in Jesus have been taught to give from our excess. Many religious leaders have led us to believe that God wants a percentage. Yet, from this passage, it seems that God is impressed more in an outrageous gift of a penny than gifts of large sums of money.

Teach me Lord to have the heart of a poor widow. Help me to be outrageous in my giving.

Beware of the scribes ...

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

When I think of the scribes I reflect on the modern day religious leaders who hold to a very literal and legal interpretation of the scriptures. These modern day scribes can give you the Greek definitions of biblical words but often do not really understand the essence of what those words mean. These reduce life to knowledge living life from their own understanding and not really understanding that life is all about trusting the Lord with all of their heart.

I wonder if the Lord is subtly warning us about the dangers of becoming scribes in our hearts? Maybe it is the scribe within us that desires honor when we serve the Lord that we should most fear? I have been on both sides of that religious coin. I have found myself loving the attention of being a spiritual leader and I have seen the bad affects of leaders who do. It makes me want to pray short prayers and live a simple life of serving the Lord.

Help me to defeat my inner scribe Lord. Help me to live from my heart and not my head.

So how is he his son?

And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

Many well meaning, and sometimes religious, people acknowledge the wisdom and power of Jesus by calling him a great teacher or a divine prophet. The scribes themselves perhaps believed such when they saw their Messiah merely to be the ancestor of King David. Yet no one back then really understood the divine nature of the Christ. How could they really.

Even with all of the evidence of scripture many scoff at Jesus' divine origin and discount his miraculous birth by the virgin Mary. Such cannot grasp the wonder of that manger in Bethlehem when God came into the world in the humblest way. These cannot envision how God the Son could trade heaven for earth. But for us, we hear this news with gladness.

Blessed are you Lord Jesus Christ. We worship you who came from heaven to save us.

No other commandment greater ...

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered,
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The simplicity of these words is so majestic yet they can become so rote because we have heard them over and over. Throughout time the Jews heard these words regularly as they were read and spoken of in their assemblies. Yet those who supposedly knew the scriptures the best were planning to murder Jesus. How was it possible that they were filled with hate?

The answer to that question has puzzled humanity for ages. How is it that religious leaders could do such things. Even in our day the news is filled with stories about such leaders that abuse children and others who cover up such acts. Like the elders of Christ's time these have forgotten that there is no commandment greater than loving God and each other.

Lord help me never to forget that now is the time for love.

He is not God of the dead ...

And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

Another day, another test for the Son of God at the hands of a different group of religious people. The debate between the Pharisees and the Sadducees reminds me about the ones I frequently witness online between Calvinists and Armenians. Each group is entrenched in their own intellectual theological understanding of the scriptures. I wonder if Jesus would also say to them "you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God"?

The phrase "He is not God of the dead, but of the living" speaks to us of the nature of those who have been born of the Spirit. In truth, Jesus is sovereign over all of the universe, but in reality He is God of those who have been born again and are spiritually alive. Reminds me of how Paul, the apostle, instructs us to "consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus". Speaks much to me of why the world is the way that it is.

Help me Lord to live today as one who is spiritually alive.

Why put me to the test?

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”

But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him.

The wisdom of Christ blows me away! I too often read the gospels and marvel at what he says. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be constantly assaulted by hypocrites trying to trip you up? Such is the setting here when people who are purported experts in the law ask him a question about paying taxes. Do you find it odd that these leaders did not have the answer to their question? I wonder if they had a different answer in mind?

The question of obligation to fleshly governments is a complex one for sure but our obligation to God is even more complex. Some would reduce our responsibility to God to something similar to paying taxes. Some like the idea of reducing our debt to God to ten percent because it is something that can be discerned with our minds. Yet, unlike taxes, our obligation to God is a matter best discerned with the heart and not with the mind.

Help me to be a man who is generous of heart Lord and not fleshly minded.

It is marvelous in our eyes ...

Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

Jesus ends the parable of the treacherous tenants by quoting this prophetic passage from the book of Psalms. The religious leaders understood what Jesus was saying about them.. that they were the wicked renters that killed the landlord's son.. yet they refused to repent of their treachery. These leaders were too arrogant to hear what God was speaking.

Yet it was so different for the many who walked with Jesus, saw the miracles, heard him teach and felt his compassionate touch. To these this man, rejected by the religious elders, had become the cornerstone of their faith. The ministry of Christ was a marvelous and magnificent thing to behold. Yet the person of Christ was even more marvelous.

You are beautiful beyond comprehension. Too marvelous for words. I am in awe of You!

What will the owner of the vineyard do?

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.

This is a somewhat troubling parable and our Lord's ending to it is a bit frightening. A few simple thoughts, in the light of this passage, for we who live today:
  • Our possessions, like those in Israel, are on loan. We are managers and not owners. We tend to forget that God holds the title to our homes, our cars and to our souls.
  • Our obligation to God is to return the fruit of our labors, our resources and our beings. This is not an unreasonable request for we who are renters and not owners.
  • God sends to us people and things that remind us of who we are and who He is. It is here where the coming of Christ is so important - both to the the ancients and to us.
There has never been a greater reminder, or more chilling example, to us of this parable than when they nailed the Son of God to a torturous cross. May we live remembering it.

I am a renter and not an owner Lord. Help me to live a life that reflects that truth.

Neither will I tell you ...

And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

The contrasts of authority in this passage are so amazing. In the chief priests, scribes and elders we see the dark and fleshly side of authority. It is the type that is external and filled with ego. I understand this kind because I once embraced this image of power. But in Jesus we see an authority that has a foundation of love. This kind is spiritual in nature and often does not come with titles or fleshly positions. It's motive is love and it has great influence.

Interesting to note how cowardly the religious leaders reacted when asked a simple question about John the Baptist. Their answer revealed a dark process on intellectual rationalization. Such is the way of those who seek and hold on to fleshly power. Instead of processing the Lord's question with their heart they chose to lean on their own understanding instead. A reminder to us about how we are use our heart and not our head in these matters.

I bow to your authority Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to influence others with love today.

You have made it a den of robbers.

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.

A new idea or a revolutionary teaching can be a fearful thing for those who love tradition and the comfort of old ideas. History is replete with people who have persecuted revolutionaries and killed prophets because they were afraid of their messages of change. Such is what we see in this passage. Within a matter of days the fear of the religious leaders would come into full bloom. Soon they would condemn their Messiah to death on a cross.

Do you read Jesus' indictment of the religious leaders and wonder how a house of prayer could have morphed into Walmart? How could leaders turn something spiritual into something so carnal. It is like these had traded their faith for profit. Sadly  these kinds of activities have never stopped. Popes sold indulgences a few centuries ago and many today are demanded to sacrificially give to support the excesses of carnal religious leaders.

Help us Lord to return our gatherings to the heart of worship and the heart of prayer.