The Significance of Saturday--A Lesson I Won't Forget by Sarah Burkhardt

To paraphrase the words a wise teacher said to me as I sat in his office, “We often forget that it wasn’t Good Friday and then Easter Sunday. There was Saturday in between. God often does bring some healing, but we may not fully understand the reason for our suffering or find full healing for some things until we get to heaven.”

I had been struggling with intense anxiety that week, overwhelmed by all the unknowns of my future. I felt like I was taking shots in the dark at job applications and even more worried about how I would get through another semester. This teacher, whose class I enrolled in at the last minute, turned out to be a godsend. I have sat in quite a few other offices, getting through various situations, but this lesson is one that I won’t forget.

Have you ever wondered what exactly Jesus' disciples did on that Saturday, he was in the tomb? We know what happened to Christ’s body, and that the temple veil was torn. But what were Jesus’ followers doing? What questions were they asking? Pastor Josh Moody asked this in a sermon last Easter, and I think it’s a good question. I know I could probably read a book on the subject. I also think that it’s okay that we don’t know. But, as often is the case, I thought that C.S. Lewis would have some insight into it.

As a young girl, I watched the movie, “Prince Caspian.” It took multiple viewings for me to understand because, typically, the movie plot line was not done as well as the book. Scenes ran together, and it was hard to understand how they were cohesive, especially to my young mind.

Now when I watch it, I understand. Prince Caspian depicts what it is like to live on the Saturday in-between, making choices amid unknowns, when we haven’t seen God for a while but need him to come through. It’s a depiction of faith while waiting for answers, combating doubt and learning to have eyes to see, kind of like Saturday.

In the movie, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”, Lucy is a character to watch closely. She sees Aslan and ends up leading her siblings in the right direction, after a dangerous detour. At one point in the movie, her older sister Susan asks “Lucy, why didn’t I see him?” Lucy replies “Maybe you weren’t looking.” It is at the last minute--when the Narnians have defeated half the Telmarine army and the undefeatable half is upon them, when their shelter is collapsing on itself, and Lucy is almost shot by a Telmarine soldier--that Aslan is found.

The scene that follows has enough meaning for the whole story to me. It is probably my favorite scene from the Narnia series. Here is a clip.

The beauty of film is that it can depict a lot more than words on a page. However, it takes some insight and imagination to fully understand what’s going on. Lucy is hesitant because she doesn’t know if this is a wild lion or Aslan. When she realizes who it is, she lights up with a radiant smile, rushes to hug the lion and soak in his lovingkindness with a playful hug. She talks to him like a close friend, asking:

“Why didn’t you show yourself like last time?”

“Things never happen the same way twice, dear one,” he responds.

“If I had come earlier, would everyone that died, could I have stopped them?” she asks another question. And after a brief pause, he answers.

“We can never know what would have happened, Lucy. But will happen is another matter entirely.”

And with that, Aslan roars, and Narnia begins to come back to life. The army is defeated, only with Aslan’s help. The ending is beautiful, and there are lessons to learn from many of the characters’ journeys. (It's worth watching, or better yet, reading [again].)

We all have chinks in our armor: things that cripple us, losses and hardships we experience, and we try to persevere through all of it. Sometimes we are continually hit with trials and don’t know what to do but fight on, waiting for rescue and redemption. Other times, we have so many questions and are not sure we can find answers to our doubt, or ever be assured in confident faith.

We all have Saturday moments, grasping for understanding of truth in the middle of the suffering we see. Saturday is the time in-between the seeking and the finding. Like Lucy, we may have faith but still want answers. We know Aslan is there but are afraid to find him, to go alone. And we want to ask why he wasn’t here earlier? Why did this have to happen this way? Could I have done something differently? Or even, simply, as it was for the children and Narnians and has been for me at times, how do I survive?

In one of his devotional writings on the Cross and suffering, Dr. John Stott says that “the fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge of the Christian faith.” Can suffering possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love? Stott says more, but goes on to quote from his own book, The Cross of Christ: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, row bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his” (From his devotional, Through the Bible through the Year, p.269). Stott clarifies the difference of other religions from Christianity through a suffering Christ, seen through imagination.

What is the lesson of Saturday? I am learning it more now. We don’t know what the disciples were doing. Perhaps they were planning an attack, like Peter. Perhaps they were waiting, like Lucy. Probably a bit of both, between personalities like Peter and Thomas. What we do know, as John Stott and others before me know, is that our God is a suffering God. Scripture tells us this not only in the New but also the Old Testament.

The Chronicles of Narnia help me understand it more. Saturday teaches us that it is only the cross that justifies the suffering of this world. The cross is our only hope for salvation and our one confidence, because only through it can we find strength to face the wounds and battles of this world. Our questions and reasons for suffering may not be fully answered until we reach heaven, but Christ allows us to know the lovingkindness of the Father through a relationship with Jesus, through knowing him and sharing in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).

I recently heard this quote: “If we seek, we will find, but we do not want to find, so we do not seek.” Saturday fills the space where we struggle with our unbelief, the place where we seek but are afraid to find. It helps us learn to still have eyes to see and to live despite the questions that we just can’t have answers to this side of heaven.

The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:12-13

The Wondrous Cross by Wallace Alcorn

The warden saved the gas chamber for the last. I was in San Quentin State Prison only by our Chapel Choir being on on a west coast tour and I having writing ahead for a personal tour on the basis of taking the Wheaton course on criminology. (I guess I presented my request rather presumptuously because he seemed to presume upon my letter that I was the professor.)

The choir had made our way down from Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland to the Bay area. My appointment came between our church concert in Oakland and another in San Francisco. I rented a car and taking three guys with me, we drove north across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County and to San Sausalito. (I tried to act professorial, and let him assume these other choir members were my students.)

The assistant warden kindly gave us a surprisingly thorough tour and answered our earnest questions thoughtfully. In the gas chamber, now, he pointed to the one-way glass window beyond which witnesses sit. He rehearsed the protocol and demonstrated the procedure.

A chemical capsule is placed on a lid beneath the seat in which the condemned prisoner is strapped. When the warden gives his signal, the lid drops and the capsule falls into a vial of another chemical. A reaction results, which generates the lethal gas. And that’s it.

With this, he studied our facial expressions and bodily motions. I don’t know what he saw, but I remember how I felt. As if this weren’t enough, he concluded: “Cute little gas chamber we have here, isn’t it?”

A “cute” gas chamber? I had already visited the electric chairs in Cook County and Statesville. Earlier, were gallows. There have been firing squads, the guillotine, and various devices of execution—none “cute” or any other euphemistic or dismissive adjective.

That evening, back in a pleasant San Francisco church, we sang ever so sweetly, as we had throughout the tour, a beautiful choral arrangement of Isaac Watts’ already lovely “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” What had previously been routine struck me profoundly: a wondrous cross? A cute gas chamber, a wonderful electric chair?

When I survey the wondrous cross,

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride…

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down;

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet

Or thrones compose so rich a crown?

A monstrous incongruity, this: a wondrous cross. An oxymoron, as they like to say, “of biblical proportions.” Indeed, biblical; precisely biblical.

One day in all of history on one ordinary hill in the midst of many hills, one man who appeared no different from any in the gawking crowd hung on a cross exactly like those thousands erected all throughout the Roman Empire to execute the vilest criminals. On this one cross that one day two thousand years ago, a promise was kept and lives were forever changed on that — here it is — wondrous Cross.

On this one cross, on this one man there was laid forever all the sins of every man alive on every continent and all the sins of every man who had ever lived anywhere and all the sins of every man who would ever yet live wherever—and everything changed.

Never a “cute” gas chamber, but forever the wondrous Cross. Now George Bennard:

…And I love that old cross…
has a wondrous attraction for me…

a wondrous beauty I see…

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

Till my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

And exchange it some day for a crown.

Beholding Glory by Lois Krogh

They didn’t come
to see him die.
They came to see a miracle.

Drawn by a desperate curiosity,
moved by a perplexing need,
they quietly hoped
what the leaders scoffed,
“He saved others.
Let him save himself.”

They left
filled with deep sorrow
from all they had seen.

Hearts heavy.
Thoughts darkened.
Eyes blinded
to the dazzling drama.

The apex of history.
The culmination of prophecy.
The reconciliation of God and mankind.

Days, weeks, years later
some would come to know
and wonder at the glory
they’d been privileged to behold.

Open my eyes that I may see
truth in the midst of deception,
grace in the midst of despair,
beauty in the midst of destruction.

Sleeping in Gethsemane: Reflections on Mark 14 by Cheryl Warner

I would never do that, I tell myself.

Or would I?

That’s what Peter thought too.

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” The shepherd was just about to be struck.

“Not me,” Peter said. “Maybe everyone else, but me? Never!” He was so sure of himself. Just like I am so sure of myself.

But Jesus knew Peter. “Tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

And Jesus knows me. I wonder, Before, this day is done, how will I have denied Jesus in three ways—in thought, word and deed?

Peter was emphatic: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. I’ve said the same.

They only got as far as Gethsemane. Jesus was deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he told Peter, James, and John. He asked only one thing of them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Would they? Would I?

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them . . . sleeping—not watching, not praying, but sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, using his old name. “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Once more Jesus went away and prayed, pleading with the Father to let the cup pass. Again, he returned to find his friends sleeping. Their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

The scene repeated itself for a third time, right up to the arrival of the betrayer. Judas and his band of thugs hadn’t been sleeping.

Three times, Jesus prayed. And he resolved to obey the Father, rising to meet his betrayer.

Three times, Peter fell asleep. Three times he fell into temptation. Three times he denied even knowing Jesus. He had been so sure he would stay by Jesus’ side. He had been ready to die with him. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. His eyes were heavy. He couldn’t stay awake. He didn’t keep watch. He didn’t pray. He didn’t know what to say. He said he didn’t know Jesus.

Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ And he broke down and wept” (Mark 14:72, NLT).

The guilt. The shame. The shock of it all. What just happened?

How could he?

How could I?

Am I any different than Peter? How do I deny that I know Jesus? Does my life show that I belong to him?

When do I do anything but watch and pray? Just a minute, Jesus, as soon as I send this text . . . finish this chapter . . . make this call . . . take a nap . . .

Do the cadences of this world lull me to sleep?

Do I yawn in the face of temptation?

Am I sleeping while sin is crouching at the door?

Or am I keeping watch, expecting his return at any moment?

“Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42, NIV)

Peter learned the hard way and warned the rest of us: “ Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

Paul’s last words to the elders in Ephesus also warned them to keep watch. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock. . . . After I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. . . . So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:28-31, NIV)

Lord Jesus, wake me up. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. May I by your Spirit watch and pray so that I do not fall into temptation. And when you return, may I be found searching the skies, watching for you.

A Puritan prayer*

I come to thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,

to leave every concern entirely to thee,

every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood. . . .

Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,

from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.

Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities,

burning into me by experience the things I know;

Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,

that I may bear its reproach,

vindicate it,

see Jesus as its essence,

know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;

unbelief mars my confidence,

sin makes me forget thee.

Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;

Grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to thee.

* Excerpt from “Resting on God,” The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 234-35.

A Decluttered Heart for Easter by Laurel Aulie

Set aside the hollow chocolate bunnies wrapped in foil for a moment and ask yourself: Am I prepared for Easter? I mean, really, are you ready for the holiday? I can do the table setting pretty well. I can pick up the house; but when it comes to inward preparation, that is far more challenging. If you have little kids at home, you probably are running over to Walgreens right now to grab some malted eggs or colored jelly beans. I get it. But what about your heart? This is much harder to ready—either for a holiday or on a daily basis.

If it’s business of the heart, I often find solace in someone else’s words. Godly words prompt me to forget about self-focus and turn to my Savior. Hosea says, “Take with you words and return to the Lord. Say to him, take away all iniquity” (14:2a). This prophet tells me that God my Savior is able to take away all my sin and give me a clean heart, a decluttered heart (see the rest of Hosea 14). How I need that cleaning to create room in my heart for his grace and light! Remember those seedlings you would bring home from school in a Styrofoam cup and leave on the windowsill? And it wasn’t about the beautiful container. But oh how those little seeds would grow, embedded in the soft cotton, watered a bit daily. That’s what I want my heart to be like—exposed to the sun, drinking up his Word. Let me not be like the house temporarily swept clean and put in order only to find more evil enters than at first. Nor let me be like the fig tree that should be promising fruit but is cursed because of the lack of it. (Note to self: A heart, even one familiar with Scripture, without forgiveness from God or toward others, does not produce real fruit.)

Yet God is able to do the deep cleaning. His Word and his work by the Spirit plow my heart to make room for fresh growth. The plowing inevitably hurts, feels painful, but is worth it. And he wants me to work alongside him in this task: “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD that he may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12).

Reading the gospel accounts of events surrounding Easter is a wonderful way to prepare personally for the week leading up to Easter. Begin in Matthew 21 and go all the way through Matthew 28, reading a chapter a day. The account in the Gospel of Mark roughly covers the same ground from the Triumphal Entry to the Resurrection, but is a bit shorter and found in chapters 11-16. It is still packed with last events leading up to the cross. If you are doing devotions as a family with young kids, choose episodes to act out. Drama and stage directions are considerably more memorable than merely reading it—even for adults!

I also like to prepare by reading Easter poems. And, yes, I realize this suggestion isn’t for the masses, but over the years I return again to poems that provoke me to think, feel and find illumination for the Easter season.

Here’s four for good measure, and this first one is for the road. Why read it? John Donne makes me imagine I am in an uncomfortable saddle, having a soul-searching ride at the hour of sundown. (If you are planning to skip it, at least read the last seven lines of this poem/prayer. Then go back and read the whole thing!)

Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward

Let man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this

The intelligence that moves, devotion is,

And as the other spheres, by being grown

Subject to foreign motions, lose their own,

And being by others hurried every day,

Scarce in a year their natural form obey,

Pleasure or business, so our souls admit

For their first mover, and are whirled by it.

Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west

This day, when my soul’s form bends towards the east.

There I should see a sun, by rising, set,

And by that setting endless day beget:

But that Christ on this cross did rise and fall,

Sin had eternally benighted all.

Yet dare I almost be glad I do not see

That spectacle, of too much weight for me.

Who sees God’s face, that is self-life, must die;

What a death were it then to see God die?

It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink;

It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.

Could I behold those hands which span the poles,

And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?

Could I behold that endless height which is

Zenith to us, and our antipodes,

Humbled below us? Or that blood which is

The seat of all our souls, if not of His,

Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn

But God, for His apparel, ragg’d and torn?

If on these things I durst not look, durst I

Upon His miserable mother cast mine eye,

Who was God’s partner here, and furnished thus

Half of that sacrifice which ransomed us?

Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,

They are present yet unto my memory.

For that looks towards them; and Thou look’st towards me,

O Savior, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.

I turn my back to Thee but to receive

Corrections, till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.

O think me worth Thine anger; punish me;

Burn off my rusts and my deformity;

Restore Thine image so much, by Thy grace,

That Thou may’st know me, and I’ll turn my face.

Next is Easter Wings by George Herbert. That term “imp” comes from falconry, and refers to mending the damaged wing of a hawk by grafting to it feathers from another bird. We are all damaged birds. Our Savior gives us wings.

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,

Though foolishly he lost the same,

Decaying more and more

Till he became

Most poor;

With thee

O let me rise

As larks, harmoniously,

And sing this day Thy victories;

Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did begin;

And still with sicknesses and shame

Thou didst so punish sin

That I became

Most thin.

With Thee

Let me combine,

And feel this day Thy victory;

For, if I imp my wing on Thine,

Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Christina Rossetti often uses nature imagery to describe spiritual growth. In Long Barren she gives words to the heart of every struggling believer as she makes Easter a personal event.

Thou who didst hang upon a barren tree,

My God, for me;

Though I till now be barren, now at length,

Lord, give me strength

To bring forth fruit to Thee.

Thou who didst bear for me the crown of thorn,

Spitting and scorn;

Though I till now have put forth thorns,

Yet now

Strengthen me Thou

That better fruit be borne.

Thou Rose of Sharon, Cedar of broad roots,

Vine of sweet fruits,

Thou Lily of the vale with fadeless leaf,

Of thousands Chief,

Feed Thou my feeble shoots.

Finally, Christ is Arisen, a surprising one from the poet J.W. Von Goethe—full of triumph and promise. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Christ is arisen.

Joy to thee, mortal!

Out of His prison, Forth from its portal!

Christ is not sleeping,

Seek Him no longer;

Strong was His keeping,

Jesus was stronger.

Christ is arisen.

Seek Him not here;

Lonely His prison,

Empty His bier;

Vain His entombing,

Spices and lawn,

Vain the perfuming,

Jesus is gone.

Christ is arisen.

Joy to thee, mortal!

Empty His prison,

Broken its portal!

Rising, He giveth

His shroud to the sod;

Risen, he liveth,

And liveth to God.

Poems like these? Well, they make me pause, they make me praise; they make me ponder the meaning of Easter and its implications for my heart… in all seasons.

A Salvation Story by Carolyn Litfin

Let me tell you a story. It's a good story, a true story. 

In the beginning, God created all things—the heavens and earth, the far-flung galaxies, the deepest oceans, the highest mountains, the farthest lands, the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and the animals of the land—and he did so with precision and order. And then this wholly other, indescribable and perfect God also created you and me. So vast and big; so personal and near. This Creator God cared about relationship with us. 

Right from the start, in our humanness, all of us have found ways to be suspicious of his love and goodness. We believe the lies presented to us about God from the world, the devil and our own flesh. "All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way." (Isaiah 53:6) 

Yet, when we rejected him, when our relationship to him was broken by our sin, he stood in our place at the cross, bearing our sin on his shoulders. As we will remember on Good Friday, this Suffering Servant was despised and forsaken, stricken and smitten of God, afflicted, pierced through for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, chastened for our well-being, scourged for our healing, oppressed and afflicted, crushed and cut off, anguished in soul and poured out to death (Isaiah 53). What love is this? 

This Resurrection Sunday, this Easter, we will celebrate that death did not have the final word. Jesus rose again, conquering sin and death, and making a way for the restoration of relationship with us! Hallelujah! And each of us can be raised again to new life, resurrection life, in Christ by believing on Him and trusting in His sacrifice for our sins at the cross. 

What is your response to this story? Faith? Wonder and worship? Amazement at the love of God for you? Or perhaps boredom through the familiarity of its message? Doubt at how it can really be true? Struggling to believe because of some personal difficulty or suffering? Where are you today? 

Wherever you are, as you prepare to come to church on Easter, ask God to awaken your heart and mind to the true reality of who he is and what he has done for you. Ask God to give you fresh eyes to see him. Ask him to give you renewed faith to know him and the power of his resurrection. It is when we believe that we begin to truly find him to be wholly true, even and especially amidst the pain of a broken world. It is there he has entered into our suffering and sin to redeem us and give us hope. 

And as you seek him, we invite you to join into the body of believers at College Church. Perhaps you feel on the periphery, unnoticed and disconnected. Perhaps you are unsure where to begin. Talk with the pastors; they are here for you. This is why they do what they do. Join a small group with other people to explore God and the Bible. Come to a Bible study, an Adult Community, a Men's Gathering, an upcoming summer forum, and begin to invest more in the life of the church where together we spur one another on to love and good deeds. Let the new life God intends to give you be not only in your heart, but in your ongoing growth in community and discipleship around God and his Word in the body of the church. 

This Easter, may we together worship Jesus Christ, our Creator and Savior, the Risen Lamb of God, and give him all praise and glory!

What a Week! By Pat Cirrincione

The week began with a donkey ride. In the ancient world, donkeys were all purpose animals. To own many donkeys was a sign of wealth. In the Old Testament, Saul was looking for some of his father’s lost donkeys right before he was chosen to be Israel’s first king. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, he affirms his messianic loyalty as well as his humility.

After the hoopla of the cheering crowds throwing palm branches before him, the first thing Jesus does is go the temple, where he proceeds to clear it out. He overthrows the tables of the money changers and merchants. Why? Because they were crowding out those who had come to worship God! The temple area was always crowded during Passover with thousands of out-of-town visitors. The money changers and merchants rationalized that setting up their booths in the temple was good business. Jesus thought otherwise. He was right to be angry as He encountered unbelief. He was angry at the dishonest, greedy practices of the businesses, and He disliked that the religious leaders didn’t care that they made it difficult for people to worship. God’s temple was being abused. The merchants didn’t care about God. Their greed made them forget that God’s house was a place of worship, not a place for their fortunes. What did Jesus do? He made a whip and chased them all out. Jesus took their evil acts (depicted in Matthew and John} as an insult against God, and any practice that interfered with worshipping God was brought to a stop.

What about today? Is God’s house a place of worship? Is his house being revered in every way? We should come to church to worship God, the Creator of all things. Our attitude toward the church is wrong if we view it as a place to advance personal agendas or business deals. Our attitude in attending church is to worship God.

Now let Holy Week begin, with our Messiah arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey and clearing out his temple, and our hearts, for true worship of him alone.

After Jesus’ exciting entry into Jerusalem, he spent the night in Bethany. The next morning, on his way back to Jerusalem he became hungry. Jesus saw a fig tree along the road (Matthew 21:18-22). His mouth must watered at the thought of those sweet figs, but when he got closer, se saw nothing on the fig tree but leaves. At this point, I don’t know if I would have done what Jesus did when he declared, “Let no fruit grown on you ever again!” (Matthew 21:19), but when you are hungry and discouraged like Jesus was maybe I would have said the same thing. However, I think there’s a lesson here. The fruit tree may have looked good from a distance, but it was fruitless. Sort of like people who appear to have faith but are spiritually barren. How strong is your fruit tree? Jesus had to be thinking about the fruitless Pharisees, knowing that they were not only plotting his demise, but also bearing no fruit.

Throughout his last week on earth, Jesus was challenged religious leaders by who wanted to know from whom His authority came. They didn’t really want answers, they only wanted to trap Jesus, and support their own views and causes. Instead of answering them, Jesus begins to tell stories: about two sons, one who obeys and one who doesn’t; about a wicked farmer; and about a wedding dinner. The religious leaders knew that Jesus was really talking about them and exposing their murderous plot, and still they did not repent. They continued to try and trap Jesus. They asked him about paying taxes, about the resurrection and about the greatest commandment. And Jesus answers kept exposing their evil motives and embarrassing them. They were more interested in defeating Jesus than in learning the truth. They were more worried about what they should not do rather than on they could do to show their love for God and others.

And then Jesus did the unthinkable. He asked the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees this question: Who did they think the Messiah was? Unless they believed that Jesus was who he said he was, they were lost. These men knew the Scriptures but did not live by them. They did not care about being holy, only looking holy. People easily say they know the Bible, and you might be fooled by their façade of knowledge when speaking about God’s Word, but it doesn’t change their lives. Their actions don’t match the beliefs they are proclaiming. And we need to do is to look in a mirror to see how dangerous our love for position and power can overshadow our love for God. Jesus also accused the religious leaders of losing sight of God, which caused God’s people to become blind to fulfilling God’s directives as given to Moses.

How Jesus grieved, yet there was still more Jesus needed to do before Good Friday.

After chastising the religious leaders Jesus told more stories about the future, his return and the remaining watchful (Matthew 24: 1-51). In Matthew 25, he talks about ten bridesmaids, loaned money and the final judgment. He clarified what it meant to be ready for his return and how to live until he came back. And in case you may not realize this, all of this was taking place before Maundy or Holy Thursday. If you ever think you are busy, remember these final days before Good Friday. And remember—Jesus did all of this in a town where the religious leaders were plotting to kill him! As Pastor Moody said recently: “These people hated the guy who was exposing their sins!”

By now, I tell you that I was feeling exhausted. What bothers me about saying this is that Jesus has repeatedly warned us against unbelief and rebellion against God. That the fake church is the greatest danger to the true church, as Pastor Moody reminded us. Yet, we continue to betray our Lord by not obeying and submitting to his will for our good. Why do we, like Judas, continue to betray Jesus? For money and status? Is that truly worth forfeiting eternal life with Our Creator?

Yet as exhausted as I felt in reading Matthew 21-28:10, I could not stop. I kept reading about how Judas agreed to betray Jesus; about the beautiful, sad last supper Jesus had with the disciples; how Jesus predicted Peter’s denials, and how Jesus agonized in the garden when he asked his Father to “if possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 and 42). I continued to read about Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, how Caiphas acted out a phony judgment, and how Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. I read how the counsel of religious leaders condemned Jesus; how Judas hung himself; how Jesus stood before Pilate and was handed over to be crucified—and I am devastated.

Did you notice that Jesus never retaliated against the evil that assaulted him. How could the crowd that loved Jesus on Sunday, hate him on Friday? And Pilate caved to the religious leaders out of fear that if he didn’t hand Jesus over to be crucified the religious leaders would complain to his bosses in Rome, and his cushy job would be in jeopardy. And Jesus, the Son of God, was led away to be crucified.

I am now beyond exhausted as I sit here weeping and grieving, that the only way we could be saved was that God had to give his only Son to die for us, upon a cross, so that if we believe we may have eternal life. That kind of love for his children goes beyond anything I could ever do. Yet this is not the end.

God had planned for his Son to come the first time, and a time for his Son to return. To quote Pastor Moody again: “in the meantime, we are called to witness that Jesus was born, died, and rose again according to the Scriptures!” You have two choices: To believe that Jesus was born, died, and rose again so that we who believe may have eternal life; or to be closed to the truth. If you deny this happened or ignore it or trying to explain it away, it means you are denying that Jesus is Lord and king, and that de died for the sins of people from all nations.

What will your choice be?

From the Hearts of Many to the Heart of God by Vikki Williams

Dedicated to a prayer group at her church

Why should it be given to me
that I should know the tones in which this one old man
cries, "Thank you, Jesus!"?
And how he prays that everybody we know will become
"Jesus boys and Jesus girls!"?
It is as though he has become
almost translucent with age,
and as the Light shines through,
it is beautiful to behold.

And I see the exuberant brother
who will welcome the day's newcomers
as though he was "shot out of a canon"
(to use an expression my children are fond of)
by God, straight at each visitor,
most particularly and specifically for them that day.

I remember the verse that one dear brother
prayed week after week:
"You are a God
who sits up high
and looks down low."
And the first few times, that verse was unfamiliar,
but he helped me make an acquaintance with it.
One week, he spoke a verse from proverbs,
("When a man's ways please the Lord,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him")
and that was a very great gift to me,
though he knew it not.
It was as if I was meeting that verse for the very first time,
and he had introduced me.

I know my sister who calls God "Abba" with such pleasure,
and which brother cannot prevent himself
from praying for people's babies who are ill.
I know the strivings of heart of my close friend,
and which voices I've heard strong in hope,
and voices I've heard speak gratefulness in low tones,
and I know the sound of voices voicing regrets.
(including my own)

I do not know
how much pressure
and how much responsibility
has been laid upon the shoulders
of some of these men with families
by their workplaces.
But to hear them pray for friends and family,
for closeness to God,
for holiness for us all...
oughtta make me know something.

For how long have I forgotten
that the bearing of the names
of the sons of Israel upon his heart
to bring them to remembrance before the Lord
was an honor given to Aaron?
And then when our forever-High-Priest had come,
he bore our sins upon his body,
and bears multitudes of men and women
upon His heart before His father.
And why should this honor be given to us,
that we should be little priests interceding?
For men and women everywhere can be borne upon our hearts,
and borne upward: brought before our God, our Father.