1. CURIOUS ABOUT THE GOSPEL
[They wanted to find out about] the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow. 1 Peter 1:11
As we sense from today's reading, Peter wants us to be convinced of the salvation
he writes about, and he wants us to respond in faith to it. After all, this
is not just salvation in general but "the salvation of [our] souls."
To drive home his message, Peter could have mentioned that he actually participated in exciting events of Jesus' ministry - events that all Christians were still talking about. But he doesn't do that; instead he concentrates on the divine testimony of the Holy Spirit. He reminds us that through the prophets the Holy Spirit predicted the two very contrasting experiences - the suffering and the exaltation - of the Messiah who was going to home. He alsoreminds us that the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles who preached the gospel in the first century.
Then Peter mentions angels. The gospel message is so striking and important to them that they listen in rapt attention whenever it is told; they "long to look into" the way God saves sinners through the death of his only Son.
Are you - like the angels and the prophet - curious about the gospel?Will you compare the message of the prophets with that of the apostles this month as we study the suffering and exaltation of Christ?
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She . . . placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2 : 7
Those who have lived in and have studied Near Eastern culture inform us that Joseph and Mary's difficulty in securing lodging at the time of Jesus' birth was not as serious or humiliating as we might think. Jewish people commonly offered their stables to travelers who were in trouble or who could not find a place to stay for the night.
Nevertheless, the difficulties of the journey to Bethlehem, the temporary nature of shelter, and especially the flight into Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod remind us of what Jesus said about his own life as a wandering preacher: "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Luke 9 : 58).
The lowly circumstances of Jesus' birth are actually the setting for the cosmic event described in Philippians 2 : 6,7: "[Christ Jesus],being in very nature God . . . made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." His humiliation did not consist in the time and place of his birth - it consisted in the fact that the eternal Son of God took on human nature.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die. (C.Wesley)
But Jesus' humbling was utterly glorious. Angels and wise men have spoken of this glory, and we, with them, adore him; he is our Saviour, the very Son of God!
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3. IDENTIFIED WITH SINNERS
Jesus was baptized too .. . Luke 3:21
When he was eight days old, Mary's infant son was circumcised and given the Hebrew name Joshua (Jesus in Greek), which means "the Lord saves." This rite was a sign of the covenant - it was a sign that Mary's son was a part of the people of God. As Jesus received the covenant sign, he shed the first drops of blood that would take away the sin of the world.
Now, at age 30, Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. John objected because he felt that it should be the other way around: Jesus should baptize him, he thought. But Jesus explained, "It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3 : 15). So John consented.
John's difficulty with this made sense, however: if John's baptism was for repentance and the washing away of sin, Jesus did not need it. But just as circumcision, the sign of the Old Covenant, showed Jesus' oneness with all believers in the "new and better covenant."
By his baptism at the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus identified with all sinners and showed that he had come to bear the sins of the world. As the author of Hebrews says, "He had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order . . . that he might make atonement for the sins of his people" (Hebrew 2 : 17).
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He . . . suffered when He was tempted. Hebrew 2:18
We know that suffering can lead to temptation. It did for Job when his wife told him to "curse God and die" because of the pain that he suffered (Job 2:9). We also know that when people are tempted and fall into sin, their temptation can lead to suffering. This happened to King David of Israelwhen the child born of his adulterous relation with Batsheba died (2 Samuel 12 : 18).
When Jesus was tempted by satan, he had been without food for forty days - and he suffered, as Hebrews 2:18 tells us. But his suffering at this time was not related to his hunger; it came from the sting of Satan's hatred.
Jesus' experience with temptation was totally different from many people's experience with it today: they seek it out and play with it. James 1:14-15 describes the process:"Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. then, after desire has conceived,it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death."
I once knew a bedridden woman who was never without pain. Satan's temptations were extremely difficult for her - and that brought suffering. What brought her relief, though,was the assurance that Jesus understood: "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
All the people in the synagogue were furious. Luke 4 : 28
Jesus had returned to his hometown, and expectations ran high. "All spoke well of him," Luke says.
But how quickly their attitude changed from admiration to hatred! What caused this change? Jesus quoted the proverb "No prophet is accepted in his home town." That may explaqin some of their questions, but it does not explain their murderous anger.
What made the people so furious was that Jesus used the prophet Isaiah to show them that the salvation of God would finally go to gentiles as well as the Jews. Jesus referred to incidents from Israel's history that showed that already in the Old Testament, God had shown his mercy to Gentiles. This was God's grat plan for the world. And Jesus' countrymen found this very idea hateful.
I have sometimes seen outlines os Jesus' ministry that call his first year of work the "Year of Popularity." It certainly wasn't like that in Nazareth. The prophet Isaian described Jesus' ministry more accurately : "Many . . . were appaled at him . . . he was despised and rejected" (Isaiah 52:14, 53:3).
The same message that Jesus brought to his townspeople,however, has brought hope to millions throughout the centuries. Salvation is for every nation, not just one group. It is for me. It is for you.
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They . . . began to discuss . . . what they might do to Jesus. Luke 6 : 11
In Jesus' day, the Jews were very interested in the law of God. They had special teachers of the law who were called scribes and who had the religious and civic duty of studying the law carefully and interpreting it for the people. Another group deeply interested in the law were the Pharisees, who dedicated their lives to living according to God's law with great precision.
Jesus acknowledged that the aims of both of these groups were legitimate. Once he said, "The teachers of the law and the Phaaarisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you." Then he added,"But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach,' (Matthew 23:2,3)
Jesus knew that their hearts were evil - he was "deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts" (Mark 3:5). He knew they had no concern for suffering people. He also knew that they were plotting to destroy him.
It is easy for us to despise the hard-hearted scribes and Pharisees. But we would do well to ask, "What about me? Am I concerned about my neighbor? Do I love my enemies? Sometimes we even think we have the right to decide what we are going to do with Jesus. Instead of trying to control Jesus - and,in turn, make him angry - let's ask him to do something to us that will make a difference for time and eternity.
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7.THE SUFFERING OF A FRIEND
Herod said, "I beheaded John." . Luke 9 : 9
When Jesus learned of John's death, "He withdrew . . . to a solitary place" (Matthew 14 : 13 ). Undoubtedly he poured out his heart in prayer to the Father.
Christ knew that others suffered because of him. The children of Bethlehem had been slaughtered because of him. His mother had been told that a sword would pierce her soul because of him (Luke 2 : 35 ). He was bringing death and suffering to those closest to him. When Jesus headed toward Bethany one day, the gloomy disciple Thomas said to the other disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11 : 16 ).
But Jesus also brought new life. Doesn't it seem contradictory that the Lord of life was attended by so much death? Some years ago I lived in an area were people spoke of "the living in the dead." They were referring to a beautiful white birch tree, which had taken root in the decaying stump of an ancient white pine - new life in the midst of death.
Even Herod the tetrarch recognized that there was a source of new life working in his territory. Even though Herod had put people to death because of Jesus, Jesus was healing people everywhere and bringing them "good news."
Do you know this caring Jesus, whose promise of life above the threats of death and suffering?
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"The Son of Man must suffer many things . . . " . Luke 9 : 22
Worry has been described as "borrowed trouble." Statistical analysis shows that most of the things we worry about ahead of time never come to pass. Sometimes we tell one another that worry doesn't help;one cartoon character has said, "It does help - what I worry about never happens."
Jesus said, "Do not worry about tomorrow . . . Each day has enough trouble of its own." We must admit that if we don't know the future, worry is useless.
Jesus, however,did know the future, and though he did not worry in the ordinary sense of the word, he did have feelings that grew out of his knowledge of the future and what it held for him. "Everything that is written . . . about the Son of Man," he said, "will be fulfilled . . . . [the gentiles] will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him" (Luke 18:31,32). All during his ministry, he knew that the day would come when he would pay for his words and deeds with his life.
Certainly if any one of us knew such details about his or her future, anxiety aaand agony would begin immediately. Jesus, though, lived with the anticipation of suffering. This is another way he suffered for his people. If we love him for dying on the cross for us, we should love him even more as we think of how he knew the cross was coming.
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"By Beelzebub . . . he is driving out demons," (Luke 11 : 15)
We are hurt and perplexed when others misunderstand us. Think how it must haaave pained Christ to be accused of cooperating with the devil when he performed his miraacles. But he did not allow his hurt to overcome his concern for the spiritual well-being of those who accused him. He pointed out, very logically, "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined." Anyone should have been able to figure out that Satan would not destroy his own kingdom.
It's striking that in reponse to the insulting charge leveled against him, Jesus, in love, also offered forgiveness to his accusers. Even before they acknowledged their error, he declared, "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven" (Matthew 12 : 32).
What concerned him most in all this was the hardening opposition of the Pharisees. Something was happening deep within them as they resisted the testimony of the Holy Spirit of God, who empowered Jesus to work his miracles. This is why Jesus warned them about their spiritual danger by adding, "But anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." (Luke 12:32).
We must believe that Jesus did his work in the power of the Holy Spirit. With the same power, he works in our hearts today.
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"Do you think I came to bring peace on earth ? No,I tell you, but division." Luke 12:51
Most people feel that they have a right to be happy. The Constitution of the United States expresses this when it talks about the "pursuit of happines."
Jesus' life, however, was no pursuit of happines, even though all who believe in him experience the most beautiful happines there is. He was involved in what we might call a "pursuit of suffering." He referred to his coming death on the cross as a baptism and said that he would be in distress until it was actually accomplished. He also realized that his own suffering would result in suffering among his followers.
Perhaps the most painful suffering for Christ's followers is the division that sometimes comes into families because of him. This happened often in the first century, when all who came to Christ had to change their religion. John 7:5 tells us that even Jesus' brothers did not believe in him for a time.
If you suffer family division for jesus' sake, it may help you a little to know how much the Savior suffered during his ministry here. Peter goes so far as to say, "If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed . . . . Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ" ( 1 Peter 4:13,16). It also helps to know that many families that become divided because of Christ eventually come together again through the power of his Spirit.
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"All men will hate you because of me." Luke 21 : 17
Some of the noblest chapters in human history have been written by people who were objects of hatred. Many of us have been deeply impressed, for example, by The Hiding Place, written by Corrie Ten Boom, who suffered persecution at the hands of Nazis.
Christ's followers are often the objects of other people's hate. When hated by others because of their Savior, however, Christians share a special fellowship with Christ. The apostles Paul (who previously called Saul) learned of this fellowship when he was persecuting Christians. Christ himself said to him "Saul,Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4). Chris wanted Saul to know that the persecution of Christian is also a persecution of himself. The apostles then grew to connect the sufferings of Christ and Christians so closely that he later said, "I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions" (Collossians 1:24).
The assured result of suffering with Christ is glory with him. Paul says so in these words: "We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8 : 17). The book of Revelation, as well, gives us the messaage of our risen Lord: "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev.2:10). What a glorious promise!
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often I have longed to gather your children together . . . " Luke 13:34
When,just days before his cruxification, Jesus crested the Mount of Olives
and saw the entire city of Jerusalem below, he wept over it and expressed his
full concern for it. Shortly before, he had wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.
Jesus was deeply emotional, and the Bible tells us often the way he felt within.
For whom was Christ weeping? What did his tears mean? Were they tears of anger against the authorities, tears of sorrow for the crowds who would demand his execution, tears of dread for his certain doom? We cannot know for certain.
Jesus' tears over Jerusalem were like the look he gave Peter after Peter had denied him. And, today, when our ascended Lord looks down on our cities, does he not weep again? Does he not weep at what he sees in Pretoria, Belfast, Washington, and Moskow?
Or are his deepest emotions reserved for those the knows best? Does the church in its harmful divisions and pride cause him the deepest pain? Or how about you? Does the Lord weep over you?
John Newton gives a proper response to Jesus' tears:
Did Christ o'er sinners weep,
And shall our cheeks be dry?
Let floods of penitential grief
Burst forth from every eye
"Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" Luke 22: 48
Many words can be used to express the cruelty Christ suffered: he was despised, oppressed, mocked. As we sympathize with Jesus in his sufferings, however, no word stirs us as much as the word betrayed. One can be mocked and despised by enemies; one can be betrayed only by his friends. The fact that someone from Jesus' inner circle collaborated with the forces of darkness to cause Jesus' cruxifixion is very unsettling for those who are in his circle of friends today.
Betrayal, sad to say, is common. David, the king of Israel who typified Christ, also experienced it. As Jesus ate with his disciples, he quoted David's words from Psalm 41: "He who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me" (John 13 : 18). Then he omitted a part of the verse that refers to the betrayer as a "close friend." Did he omit this part purposely? We don't know; he did address Judas as "friend" later, when Judas came to betray him (Matthew 26:50).
More important, why did Judas betray Jesus? Some people have tried to explain his behavior and even tried to refurbish his bad image. But the Bible's only explanation is that Satan entered him (Luke 22 : 3 ).
It frightens us to think that who knew Jesus so intimatedly could fail him so completely. we must ask our Lord to pray that our faith may not fail (Luke 22 : 32).
"I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." (Luke 22:15).
"This is my body." "This is my blood." How often these words have been repeated in celebrating the Lord's Supper. Althouh Christians have disagreed about the exact meaning of the words, no one can fail to be impressed with the picture. Christ ate the Passover with his disciples, and he used the setting and two of the meal's elements to "show forth" his death.
As the Passover was a time to be reminded of and to relive the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt, so the Lord's supper (also called Communion and Eucharist) brings us back to the night when Jesus reclined at the table with his disciples.
The institution of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper on Passover night points to the uniqueness of Jesus' suffering and death. Here, before his betrayal, trial, and conviction, Jesus set before the disciples the symbols of his death and instructed them to continue the ceremony thereafter "in remembrance" of him. His death was not murder; it was a voluntary sacrifice.
Thy body, broken for my sake,
My bread from heaven shall be;
Thy testamental cup I take,
And thus remember Thee. (J.Montgomery)
One of the rewards of church membership is that it gives us an opportunity to benefit from this sacrament.
15. DARK GETHSEMANE
He learned obedience from what he suffered. Hebrew 5 : 8
The hill with the ancient olive trees is a reminder - for Christians who travel there - of Jesus' prayers in the garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed. No wonder people crowd around when they visit. They wish to enter this sacred precinct, for here Jesus' suffering, except at the cross, is brought closest to them.
The book of Hebrews reminds us of the scene when it says, "He offered up prayers . . . with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death" (5:7).
And it is ironic that pilgrims now flock to Gethsemane, for it is the very place where Jesus' abandonment began. Jesus was in earnest need of companionship. And he pleaded, "Stay here and keep watch," and again, "Could you not keep watch for one hour?" Then he spoke a word not only for that night but for all time: "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation" (Mark 14:34-38). But the disciples slept on.
We know that we have much to learn from the disciples' experience. But the amazing thing is that Jesus also learned. "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:8-9). For Jesus, Gethsemane was the prepatory school for Calvary. For those who have learned obedience, he is the source of salvation.
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Luke 22:61
Luke gives a revealing snapshot of what happened between the time of Peter's denials of Jesus and the time of his bitter weeping - Peter's conversations are recorded in some detail. But Luke's record is sparing when he tells about the look that Jesus gave Peter.
What was conveyed by that look? Reproval? Warning? The Master had reproved and warned Peter before:"Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:23). He had also ministered to Peter in mercy: "Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.But I have prayed for you, Simon, That your faith may not fail"(Luke 22:31-32).
Perhaps both of these incidents flooded Peter's mind when the
Lord looked straight at him. We do well to put ourselves in Peter's place, as
Bach does in these words from "St.John's Passion" (Transltion A.Raeburn)
Peter,faithless, thrice denies
That his Lord he knoweth
When he meets those earnest eyes,
Weeping, when I will not turn,
Look on me in kindness;
Make my heart within me burn,
Rouse me from my blindness.
They crucified him . Luke 23 : 33
In Paul's list of the steps of Christ's humiliation, the last is death, "even death on a cross!" One expert describes the cross this way: Of all the devices of cruel imagination, crucifixion is the masterpiece . . . . The process of nailing was exquisite torment, and yet worse is what followed . . . . The spikes rankled, the wounds inflamed . . . but the misery of miseries to the sufferer was, while racked with agony, to be fastened in a position which did not permit him even to writhe."
Even so, the cross, horrible as it was, now represents the greatest power in the world. Throughout the centuries its meaning has changed people totally and has made the least likely candidates into believers.
Captain Mitsuo Fuchida led the Japanese planes that attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After the war he was embittered by Japan's defeat, but he was deeply moved by a friend's account of how, as prisoner of war, he was nursed to health by a daughter of missionaries whom Japanese soldiers had shot in the Philippines. He also read about an American prisoner who hated his captors until he learned of Christ's love and redemption. Fuchida bought a Bible and began reading. "When I came to Luke 23 . . . " he said, "I understood. I met Jesus that day. He . . . changed [me] from a military officer to a warrior for Christ."
18. GOOD FRIDAY, AGAIN
"This man has done nothing wrong . . ."
"Surely this was a righteous man." Luke 23 : 41, 47
We Should look once more at yesterday, the day we call Good Friday.It is said that the name for this day developed from the term God's Friday, much as goodbye developed from God be with you. In any case, it is true that the darkest day in the history of the world, when God's Son was crucified, was at the same time God's good day.
One of the reasons that day was "good" is that is was the day Christ's exaltation began. Jesus had predicted as much when he said," I,when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself" (John 12:32). The thief and the centurion were the first tokens of his worldwide success.
The centurion grasped correctly that there had been a terrible miscarriage of justice. And
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