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“’Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him’” (Mark 16: 6)

As we enter the week of Easter it is important to remember the one critical fact that marks Easter as the single most important event of Christ life. Easter is NOT about the death of Jesus Christ!

It is true that in dying he became the perfect sacrifice for our sin. It is also true that in dying, he took on his body all of our imperfections, sicknesses and diseases. It is also true that when he died the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom, signifying that the ‘holy of holies’ – the very throne room of God – was now open for business to everyone, not just the chief priests.

In Jesus death we see our sins forgiven, and in addition to that we see physical and spiritual healing, and we see a complete restoration of our relationship with God. Jesus himself said at his death that his work was now finished. “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)

So given all this, how can I possibly say that Easter is NOT about the death of Jesus Christ? It’s simple really. It’s about his resurrection not his death. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15: 14)

Why? Because if Christ is did not rise from the dead then – although we can experience all that Jesus achieved on the cross – it has no long term benefits to us. If the Son of God did not rise from the dead then nor will we, and if we don’t have eternal life then Jesus sacrifice has a used by date. It is only good while we are still on this earth.

God is about restoration and new life. Nothing about him is temporary. Hence the greatest work of God is in the resurrection of Jesus and new life God gave him, and offers to us. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1: 3)

On Monday I was diagnosed with severe and advanced Ankylosing Spondylitis. I feel like I am walking around in a graveyard at the moment. All I seem to be aware of is the decay of my body. I am meditating closely on today’s passage and although I can’t begin to comprehend it, I can’t help but feel that in all this disease and illness, I am alone.

But this passage tells me not be afraid. Yes, in all this I am trying to find Jesus, but I am looking in the wrong place. He is not in my death and decay, he is in my health, my new life, and my wholeness. He is risen. He is calling me to rise too.

This Easter I will not remember Jesus on the cross. I will not remember the tomb where he was buried. I WILL acknowledge his sacrifice, but my largest focus will be on his resurrection power, the same power he has given me.

Like Jesus I choose not to wallow in my pain, humiliation and death – although Jesus has been there – I can see where he lay – he is there no more. Instead I will remind myself of his resurrection life, eternal, whole and full of power.

This is Easter! This is my new life! This Sunday I will shout for praise because he is risen, and therefore so am I!

God Bless,

Matt.

“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15: 39)

I find this proclamation so odd in many ways. Firstly from my perspective there seems to be nothing remarkable about how Jesus died. The centurion would surely have seen thousands of crucifixions and there didn’t seem to be anything remarkable about this one. Secondly how is it that a centurion could recognise a Son of God when those who knew – the chief priests and teachers of the law – had clearly said he wasn’t? Thirdly, why would he even care?

Here is a man who is paid handsomely (at least twice that of a normal soldier, and some sources claim as much as 20 times). His job is to follow orders rather than to make decisions. He works for the invading army. The sworn enemy of the Jewish people. Many Jews expected that the messiah would in fact rise up against this very army and set them free.

So here he is watching over a rebel who, if he is indeed a king as he claims, is a very threat to the Roman Empire. The very fact that he is standing in front of Jesus means we can safely assume he was the commanding officer who carried out the orders to crucify Jesus. He was the one who watched over his soldiers as they drove in the nails into Jesus hands and feet, and hung him up for public humiliation.

Sure he was just carrying out orders, but he DID carry out those orders without hesitation. It was what he was paid to do, and it is unlikely he would have felt any compassion towards any of the others he was ordered to crucify. If he had I cannot imagine he would have ever been promoted to the lofty position of centurion. All of this, and a gentile too.

Yet in this passage we see him recorded as one of the great witnesses to the events that changed history. Somehow he managed to recognise what everyone else seemed to miss, this was a moment in history when the Son of God had appeared, and they had rejected and killed him. It is no wonder that in Matthew’s gospel he is recorded as being terrified (Matthew 27: 54). It had suddenly dawned on him what he had done.

What was unusual about how he died? Matthew’s Gospel give us a bit more detail. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.” (Matthew 27: 51-52)

This is truly amazing, and it is difficult to understand what it all means, but clearly this was not a normal death. Luke’s testimony describes it this way “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Luke 23: 44) and then goes on to say “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.” (Luke 23: 48)

If you have been spending your life like the centurion – a man of power and wealth, content to make a living carrying out orders and doing what he is told – then it is time to take notice. It is as if the centurion himself is begging you to understand ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’, and then asking you to see what terrible things you have done in ignoring Jesus up to this point, then be afraid, beat your breasts in sorrow, and ultimately return to him with a new understanding.

Whatever you do as you read these words, do not ignore this man! Do not fall into the folly of the centurion, but listen to his testimony. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him…” (2 Corinthians 13:4)

See how he died for you. See what he achieved on the cross, and take note of all that happened. If no other part of this journey we have taken through the gospel of Mark has convinced you that he is the Son of God, then let this most unlikely testimony be the final words that convince you. If you can manage to change your mind-set in the same way the centurion did, then you too will find life in all its fullness, the truth about the many mysteries of life, and the best way to live.

God Bless,

Matt.

“‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate. ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.” (Mark 15: 2)

So who is Jesus? Throughout his ministry many people asked him this question. Since these words have been spoken many more have also asked similar questions. It is fair to say that some people just don’t care what the answer is, but he just might be the single most important person in the history of the world, and if that is the case then shouldn’t we at least give a few moments to ponder the question for ourselves.

I believe the answer to this question is simply that Jesus is the way we should live, the truth about how we should live, and indeed life itself. But this statement is of absolutely no use to me if I haven’t first established his authority. Is he my king?

It is easy to ignore Jesus as a King. He certainly didn’t act like a king. Most of the time he was walking around among the poor and ill and outcast from society. He rarely, if ever, laid his head in a comfortable bed. His loyal court was the dust and sands of Israel, his courtiers were fishermen, tax collectors, and an odd assortment of other people.

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53: 2b-3)

But does this make him any less of a king? “This is what the Lord says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: ‘Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49: 7)

Indeed it is his very behaviour, his humility and silence toward those in authority – his gentleness and compassion towards those in need, and his fierce anger and aggression towards those who thought they knew but had got it so wrong – it is these things that help me to see he was truly King of Kings and had nothing to prove to those in authority except to say ‘You have said so’.

Jesus is not going to deny his position just to save his life, but neither is he going to shout it from the rooftops. It was not up to him to claim the title he was due, he knew his Father would do that in his own time. Jesus only compulsion was to keep the commands God have given him. And in doing that it is clear to me that he truly is the greatest of all kings.

“In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6: 13-15)

What was the command that we are instructed to keep in this verse? “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6: 11-12)

This is what it means to be a Christian. If you believe that Jesus truly is the King then, as I mentioned in the last devotional, stop analysing and looking for deeper meanings and proper interpretations. If you do that you are just as likely to completely miss the very thing you need. Accept Jesus at his word, and having taken on board his Spirit, understand what he has asked you to do and then just do it.

God Bless,

Matt.

“They all condemned him as worthy of death.” (Mark 14: 64b)

We saw in the last devotional that everyone left Jesus at his greatest hour of need. Today we see clearly that Jesus was also condemned as being worthy of death. The religious leaders of the day, those in charge of the people of God, the chief priest, had decided not just to ban him, but to kill him!

He was without sin. He only did what was right and was totally obedient and committed to his heavenly father. He had followed all of the law, and even interpreted that law correctly. In regards to his spiritual state there was nothing more he could do to be the best person he could be, yet they said he is not even worthy to stay alive.

It reminds me of a short story I read once were a time-traveller brings Shakespeare back from the past and invites him to attend a course on Shakespeare’s plays. When it came time to sit the first exams he fails miserably and is told not to come back again! It seems that Shakespeare’s ideas about his own writing didn’t agree with everyone else’s ideas about what he wrote, and he was kicked out!

God is the author of life, and he has told everyone the best way to live it, but we as humans think we know better. We take what God has written and we interpret it the way we want to. We delved deeply into the words, analyse the meaning, cross reference it with other passages, tie it back to cultural times and then re-examine it in the light of current social norms.

It is no surprise then that when the Author returns, the people who are most dedicated to know about him, and spend most of their time thinking, discussing, and analysing his words, are the very ones who end up completely rejecting him when he says things that don’t agree with the way they have interpreted them. This is what the chief priests and teachers of the law did.

God comes down to earth in human form, gives the correct interpretation of the law, and shows them the way God really wanted them to live, interpreting the scriptures using the Spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law. Then when the exam comes, as we see in this passage, he is deemed to have failed and not worthy of living!

The only person who could ever truly changed lives, told us the truth, and showed us the way, is now rejected in the worst possible way by ignorant foolish people who have made up their own minds about God. “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’” When we read this we can come someway to understanding the depths of this rejection.

The amazing thing is that it was us who deserved this rejection and death. When you read through the scriptures it doesn’t take long to realise how badly astray we have gone. Even the first of the Ten Commandments challenges us not to make up any kind of idea or image to replace the true God. Yet here stands a man condemned to death who is more worthy of life than any other.

Even the Roman authorities acknowledged he had done nothing deserving death “Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.’” (Luke 23: 13-16)

Sometimes the best things in life are found by those who don’t think of themselves as experts and who aren’t necessarily searching behind every nook and cranny and looking into the deepest details. Let’s not spend so much time trying to work everything out, and analyse everything in our head. This is the time when we have to go with the Spirit, accept what Jesus says, and just do it!

God Bless,

Matt.

“Then everyone deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14: 50)

There would hardly be a human being on the planet who hasn’t felt abandoned, betrayed or lonely at some point in their life. For some of us it only happens a few times, for others it seems to constantly surround us and taunt us and make us feel useless and unloved. As we saw in the last devotional, despite the fact that Jesus was the truth, the life, and the way, he also went through everything we have been through. After all how could Jesus claim to be the way if he hadn’t walked in our footsteps? How could he claim to be the life, if he hadn’t experience what life is like for us?

One of the most debilitating illnesses is in the mind. It is the illness of loneliness. Humans can suffer many amazing things, both physical and emotional, but the one torture that is the most devastating on a human being is solitary confinement. I remember understanding this vividly when I experience the isolation cells at Port Arthur historical museum in Hobart. It is well worth the visit to see how the early convicts lived, and having experienced the isolation cell they used for the worst offenders, I understood why they had built a mental hospital right next door.

We are all meant to be social creatures, this is why Jesus had twelve disciples, and 72 other followers that he sent out. It is also why he sent them out in pairs. This is why, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2: 18) He made us, and he understand we need others, especially in our time of need. This is also why he founded the church. Yet here we find in Jesus time of most need, that he is alone.

If it happened to me I know I would be asking, ‘Was it something I did?’ ‘Was it something I said?’ ‘Is it me?’ Jesus is the way the truth and the life, and people are frightened by those who are radical in the way they walk, what they say, and how they live. This is the very reason the chief priests came to arrest Jesus because they felt threatened by what he did and said, and how he lived.

When we truly live as followers of Christ and have his Spirit in us then it should not be surprising we get the same kind of response. Our enemies will attack, and our friends may abandon us. This is devastating. Having to face crucifixion would have been bad enough, but doing it without the support of those he had helped and taught and invested the last three years of his life in, well I can’t really imagine what that would feel like.

When I feel lonely and abandoned I try to remember this passage. It reminds me that Jesus has walked this path before me. He is the trailblazer and I am merely following in his footsteps. He knows what I am going through, and he is the one who can show me the way to turn all my loneliness into something great, something that will give glory to God.

Since Jesus has been through it, you know he won’t say ‘everything’s going to be okay’. Being left by yourself does hurt, it hurts big time, and that is the truth! But it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is that there is a way out, and you can have a life that is worth living. Jesus will never say ‘It will be okay’ but he will say ‘we will turn this around and make it something worth going through’. His promise is not that we will not experience life, but that we will experience life at its best. The pain is simply something we have to go through, but this pain will make the final goal that much more rewarding. Nothing worth having can be gained without some kind of sacrifice.

Fortunately Jesus has already made that sacrifice for you. He has paved the way. Now he is seated at the right hand of God the father, and has a placed reserved for you, his faithful servants, in eternity. He lifted Jesus up through his loneliness and gave him all glory and honour, ask him to do the same with you.

God Bless,

Matt.

“He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14: 33)

Having read a lot about who Jesus was, we might be tempted to believe that Jesus wasn’t really a man at all, just God with some kind of fleshly body. We picture Jesus in the Gospels as a man of faith, and then think that this means there was no sorrow, no pain, no trials and tests, no rejection. But this not at all true.

Jesus was called Immanuel, meaning God is with us, but this did not make him any less human. He was human, he suffered what humans suffer, he could bleed and he could die. He was tempted in every way that we are. When it comes to his humanity there was nothing special about him.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4: 15) His only advantage was that he was born of the Spirit as well as of Mary, so God’s Spirit was with him from the beginning. We have access to this same Spirit, so there is nothing that was available to Jesus that is not available to us, so none of us have any excuses.

Jesus was both fully God and fully human. This is a mystery that I find impossible to understand, but which I know is true. We know that he was God. He made that very claim himself, and if we believe he is the truth, then there is no room for doubt. But if we don’t believe because he told us so, then at least we should believe because of what we have seen and heard. No one could do the things he did without God being with him.

Yet we also know he was a man. He felt hunger “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:2). He felt thirsty “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’” (John 19:28) He cried, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35). He got angry and distressed, “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts …” He was in every part human.

Now here in the garden we see Jesus deeply distressed and troubled. In fact it is more than that. “‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’” (v 34). We are not told what he was distressed and troubled about. It would not be unreasonable to think he was concerned about himself, but from what we have read this isn’t consistent with who Jesus is.

He certainly did pray ‘Take this cup from me’ (v 36). But during this time he also said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14: 38). Given the prayers we see in John’s Gospel (John 17), it is possible that he was distressed on behalf of his disciples, and was concerned for their well-being when they came to face the hardship of his death.

Whatever is the case, it is comforting to know that Jesus was someone who shared our pain, who knew what it was like to suffer, and be rejected by those who he thought loved him. He knew what it was like to suffer public humiliation, and most importantly he knew deep distress and trouble. Never feel guilty about being troubled or in deep distress. Jesus felt these things too, and yet he did not sin. Instead he fell to his knees and brought all his troubles to his heavenly father.

In times of distress this is the most wonderful thing we can do. We can confide in someone who understands our grief. He can stand with us as a high priest when we bring our concerns before God. We are human as Jesus was human, and yet we can also have the power of God on our life just as he had, even in his darkest hour. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4: 16)

God Bless,

Matt.

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Imagine for a moment if you were watching the offering going around the church and looking carefully at what everyone was putting in. You see people putting in hundreds of dollars for the building fund and your heart rises. You see someone else putting in thousands, and you can’t believe it. But when someone comes in with a briefcase containing millions and lays it at the alter…

Surely God must be impressed with these kind of donations. It is the sort of contribution the church is sadly lacking, and it would go far to further the Kingdom of God and the various ministries that this church supports. Surely these kinds of gift are wonderful. Why would God not be pleased with this kind of offering?

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 7-8)

“For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you that it may go well with you.” (Jeremiah 7: 22-23)

So God is not interested in our sacrifice? That is not what these scriptures say. What they say is that sacrifices are no substitute for obedience. It doesn’t matter how much we give if we are living in disobedience. There is no price we can put on living in accordance to his commands.

It is laughable to think God needs anything from us. We offer God a lifetime supply of fish and bread, and he shows us that all he needed was five loaves and two fish. We offer God our best wine, and he shows us that all he needed was some water. We offer God five thousand worshipers, and he shows us that all he needed was twelve obedience disciples to change the world.

What God needs from us is faith and obedience. If he then asks us to donate a million dollars, then we must obey. If he asks us to donate five cents then we must do that. And when we offer that gift our attitude should be one of a servant, ‘I have only done my duty, nothing more.’ In this way we can walk in humility.

So when Jesus saw the widow put in two cents, what made him so excited? The two cents she gave wasn’t going to change anything, and left her vulnerable and without enough supplies for the rest of the week. This was true faith and obedience.

She didn’t ask ‘But what will I live on?’, nor did she say ‘But my two cents won’t make a single bit of difference to anyone’, she didn’t even make any kind of display about it ‘Look I’m giving my last cent everyone!’ In fact I get the feeling she might have been embarrassed that this was all she had to give. But whatever the case, she gave it anyway.

There was no way she would have done this if she didn’t trust God to supply all her needs. She gave not just the first fruit, the best of what she had, she gave ALL she had, every last cent. Jesus didn’t suggest to his followers that they should follow her example, but he did praise her in front of them.

Giving out of her poverty, in obedience to God, made her very rich indeed. If God is commanding you to give out of whatever you might have, even down to the very last thing, then you can be assured that Jesus will give you all due honour when he sees your obedience, and you will also be very blessed indeed.

God Bless,

Matt.

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