Read It and Weep

There is no need for commentary today. Just read this scripture and let it resonate in your soul. Read it all the way through. Don’t skim or stop because it’s long. Take your place with the others in the crowd. Warm yourself by the fire. Stand at the foot of the cross and see what happens.

See you on the other side.

John 18 (New Revised Standard Version)

18 When Jesus had finished praying, he and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley and went into a garden. Jesus had often met there with his disciples, and Judas knew where the place was.

3-5 Judas had promised to betray Jesus. So he went to the garden with some Roman soldiers and temple police, who had been sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees. They carried torches, lanterns, and weapons. Jesus already knew everything that was going to happen, but he asked, “Who are you looking for?”

They answered, “We are looking for Jesus from Nazareth!”

Jesus told them, “I am Jesus!”At once they all backed away and fell to the ground.

Jesus again asked, “Who are you looking for?”

“We are looking for Jesus from Nazareth,” they answered.

This time Jesus replied, “I have already told you that I am Jesus. If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go. Then everything will happen, just as I said, ‘I did not lose anyone you gave me.’”

10 Simon Peter had brought along a sword. He now pulled it out and struck at the servant of the high priest. The servant’s name was Malchus, and Peter cut off his right ear. 11 Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword away. I must drink from the cup that the Father has given me.”

Jesus Is Brought to Annas

12 The Roman officer and his men, together with the temple police, arrested Jesus and tied him up. 13 They took him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 This was the same Caiaphas who had told the Jewish leaders, “It is better if one person dies for the people.”

Peter Says He Doesn’t Know Jesus

15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. That disciple knew the high priest, and he followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest’s house. 16 Peter stayed outside near the gate. But the other disciple came back out and spoke to the girl at the gate. She let Peter go in, 17 but asked him, “Aren’t you one of that man’s followers?”

“No, I am not!” Peter answered.

18 It was cold, and the servants and temple police had made a charcoal fire. They were warming themselves around it, when Peter went over and stood near the fire to warm himself.

Jesus Is Questioned by the High Priest

19 The high priest questioned Jesus about his followers and his teaching. 20 But Jesus told him, “I have spoken freely in front of everyone. And I have always taught in our meeting places and in the temple, where all of our people come together. I have not said anything in secret. 21 Why are you questioning me? Why don’t you ask the people who heard me? They know what I have said.”

22 As soon as Jesus said this, one of the temple police hit him and said, “That’s no way to talk to the high priest!”

23 Jesus answered, “If I have done something wrong, say so. But if not, why did you hit me?” 24 Jesus was still tied up, and Annas sent him to Caiaphas the high priest.

Peter Again Denies that He Knows Jesus

25 While Simon Peter was standing there warming himself, someone asked him, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ followers?”

Again Peter denied it and said, “No, I am not!”

26 One of the high priest’s servants was there. He was a relative of the servant whose ear Peter had cut off, and he asked, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with that man?”

27 Once more Peter denied it, and right then a rooster crowed.

Jesus Is Tried by Pilate

28 It was early in the morning when Jesus was taken from Caiaphas to the building where the Roman governor stayed. But the crowd waited outside. Any of them who had gone inside would have become unclean and would not be allowed to eat the Passover meal.

29 Pilate came out and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 They answered, “He is a criminal! That’s why we brought him to you.”

31 Pilate told them, “Take him and judge him by your own laws.”

The crowd replied, “We are not allowed to put anyone to death.” 32 And so what Jesus said about his death  would soon come true.

33 Pilate then went back inside. He called Jesus over and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own or did someone tell you about me?”

35 “You know I’m not a Jew!” Pilate said. “Your own people and the chief priests brought you to me. What have you done?”

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world. If it did, my followers would have fought to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. No, my kingdom doesn’t belong to this world.”

37 “So you are a king,” Pilate replied.

“You are saying that I am a king,” Jesus told him. “I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth knows my voice.”

38 Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

Jesus Is Sentenced to Death

Pilate went back out and said, “I don’t find this man guilty of anything! 39 And since I usually set a prisoner free for you at Passover, would you like for me to set free the king of the Jews?”

40 They shouted, “No, not him! We want Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a terrorist.

19 Pilate gave orders for Jesus to be beaten with a whip. The soldiers made a crown out of thorn branches and put it on Jesus. Then they put a purple robe on him. They came up to him and said, “Hey, you king of the Jews!” They also hit him with their fists.

Once again Pilate went out. This time he said, “I will have Jesus brought out to you again. Then you can see for yourselves that I have not found him guilty.”

Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, “Here is the man!”

When the chief priests and the temple police saw him, they yelled, “Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and nail him to a cross! I don’t find him guilty of anything.”

The crowd replied, “He claimed to be the Son of God! Our Jewish Law says that he must be put to death.”

When Pilate heard this, he was terrified. He went back inside and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not answer.

10 “Why won’t you answer my question?” Pilate asked. “Don’t you know that I have the power to let you go free or to nail you to a cross?”

11 Jesus replied, “If God had not given you the power, you couldn’t do anything at all to me. But the one who handed me over to you did something even worse.”

12 Then Pilate wanted to set Jesus free. But the crowd again yelled, “If you set this man free, you are no friend of the Emperor! Anyone who claims to be a king is an enemy of the Emperor.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out. Then he sat down on the judge’s bench at the place known as “The Stone Pavement.” In Aramaic this pavement is called “Gabbatha.” 14 It was about noon on the day before Passover, and Pilate said to the crowd, “Look at your king!”

15 “Kill him! Kill him!” they yelled. “Nail him to a cross!”

“So you want me to nail your king to a cross?” Pilate asked.

The chief priests replied, “The Emperor is our king!” 16 Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be nailed to a cross.

Jesus Is Nailed to a Cross

Jesus was taken away, 17 and he carried his cross to a place known as “The Skull.” In Aramaic this place is called “Golgotha.” 18 There Jesus was nailed to the cross, and on each side of him a man was also nailed to a cross.

19 Pilate ordered the charge against Jesus to be written on a board and put above the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” 20 The words were written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.

The place where Jesus was taken wasn’t far from the city, and many of the Jewish people read the charge against him. 21 So the chief priests went to Pilate and said, “Why did you write that he is King of the Jews? You should have written, ‘He claimed to be King of the Jews.’”

22 But Pilate told them, “What is written will not be changed!”

23 After the soldiers had nailed Jesus to the cross, they divided up his clothes into four parts, one for each of them. But his outer garment was made from a single piece of cloth, and it did not have any seams. 24 The soldiers said to each other, “Let’s not rip it apart. We will gamble to see who gets it.” This happened so that the Scriptures would come true, which say,

“They divided up my clothes
and gambled
    for my garments.”

The soldiers then did what they had decided.

25 Jesus’ mother stood beside his cross with her sister and Mary the wife of Clopas. Mary Magdalene was standing there too. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and his favorite disciple with her, he said to his mother, “This man is now your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “She is now your mother.” From then on, that disciple took her into his own home.

The Death of Jesus

28 Jesus knew that he had now finished his work. And in order to make the Scriptures come true, he said, “I am thirsty!” 29 A jar of cheap wine was there. Someone then soaked a sponge with the wine and held it up to Jesus’ mouth on the stem of a hyssop plant. 30 After Jesus drank the wine, he said, “Everything is done!” He bowed his head and died.

A Spear Is Stuck in Jesus’ Side

31 The next day would be both a Sabbath and the Passover. It was a special day for the Jewish people, and they did not want the bodies to stay on the crosses during that day. So they asked Pilate to break the men’s legs and take their bodies down. 32 The soldiers first broke the legs of the other two men who were nailed there. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, and they did not break his legs.

34 One of the soldiers stuck his spear into Jesus’ side, and blood and water came out. 35 We know this is true, because it was told by someone who saw it happen. Now you can have faith too. 36 All this happened so that the Scriptures would come true, which say, “No bone of his body will be broken” 37 and, “They will see the one in whose side they stuck a spear.”

Jesus Is Buried

38 Joseph from Arimathea was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had kept it secret though, because he was afraid of the Jewish leaders. But now he asked Pilate to let him have Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, and Joseph took it down from the cross.

39 Nicodemus also came with about seventy-five pounds of spices made from myrrh and aloes. This was the same Nicodemus who had visited Jesus one night. 40 The two men wrapped the body in a linen cloth, together with the spices, which was how the Jewish people buried their dead. 41 In the place where Jesus had been nailed to a cross, there was a garden with a tomb that had never been used. 42 The tomb was nearby, and since it was the time to prepare for the Sabbath, they were in a hurry to put Jesus’ body there.

In the Garden of Gethsemane by Nancy Snyder

All In

There was a time in the late 1990’s when the World Series of Poker took over people’s imagination. It was a clever production on ESPN, with under-the-table cameras revealing people’s cards, overhead cameras showing the entire table and chip count, flashy graphics, and lively play-by-play commentary. It was where viewers learned the phrase “all in.” All in refers to when a player with a great hand pushes all of his or her chips across the table at once, betting their entire winnings on one single hand in a go-for-broke moment.

We continue our study of John 13 today as we dive deeper into the Last Supper. The moment has arrived when Jesus decides to wash the feet of his disciples. It was a shocking moment for them. Foot washing was a common practice of hospitality in that time. Hosts would often offer this service with a basin and towel to travelers who had walked long, dusty roads. But for Jesus, their teacher, rabbi, and master to perform such an act was startling, to say the least.

What exactly was Jesus doing?

John 13 (The Message)

13 1-2 Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime. The Devil by now had Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, firmly in his grip, all set for the betrayal.

3-6 Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?”

It was a lesson in both humility and leadership. Jesus was setting the example of servant leadership by kneeling before his followers and performing this act of grace. He was teaching them that their role in the kingdom would be to do likewise…to love his followers, to care for their needs, and to never let their position overshadow the mission.

Jesus answered, “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.”

Peter persisted, “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!”

Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”

“Master!” said Peter. “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!”

Peter comes out of his initial confusion with a proclamation of wanting to be all in for Jesus. Once he figures out what is happening, he pushes his chips across the table and wagers his entire being on that single act of grace.

How about you? Are you all in for Jesus? Or are you withholding something?

Many of us want to live lives that are sold out to his mission, but truth be told, there is some withholding going on. We hold back our resources, ignoring the call to tithe. We hold back our service, busying ourselves with pleasure pursuits. We hold back our openness to the marginalized. We hold back our unconditional love and judge others who offend or frighten us. In the end, very few of us are truly all in.

Today is a day to change that. When you figure out what it is that you are withholding from God, let go of it in the name of Jesus. It is never too late to push it all across the table and give it up for the kingdom.

Jesus calls us to be part of everything he is doing.

A Gift From My Mother

Who is It?

Have you ever been betrayed by someone you loved? There are few things in life that can crush us the way that betrayal does. When you love someone deeply and have come to trust them with all of your intimate thoughts, your faults, your hopes, your insecurities, your future, etc. and then they turn on you like a rabid dog, it hurts deeply. I have known this pain. I’m sure you have, too.

So did Jesus.

As we make our way closer to the crucifixion, our text today drops us directly into the moment at the Last Supper when things came to a head. Jesus told his disciples to remember him in the future whenever they took the bread and shared the cup. As he distributed these things that would become the elements of Communion for believers, he looked around the table at his friends.

Imagine how close they all were at that point. They had worked together with Jesus for three long, hard years. They had gone without the necessities of life. They had left their homes, families, and vocations. They had suffered hunger and ridicule. They had bonded like brothers.

And then, betrayal happened.

John 13 (Common English Bible)

21 After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

22 His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about.23 One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side. 24 Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about. 25 Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”

We have to ask ourselves the same thing today. Lord, who is it….is it I? Have I betrayed you?

We betray our Lord when we dismiss the sacrifice that he made on our behalf and pursue worldly things. When we neglect worship, forget to pray, leave our Bibles to gather dust on the shelf, fail to teach our children how to be disciples, ignore his commandments, and fall short in serving the poor and the hungry in his name, we betray him. When we turn away from these things, we are just like the one who sold him out that night.

The good news is, God is always a God of second chances. It is never too late to start again. Where is God calling you back? It’s time to come home to him.

Coming Home by Vic Miles

All Things New

As we start this Monday of Holy Week, let us consider why the crucifixion happened. Today we will look back to Isaiah, who never met Jesus and never knew the son of God who taught, healed, performed miracles, and attracted followers. Isaiah could not have imagined Jesus’ birth in a manger, the twelve men who joined him to do his work, and women like Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Salome, who attended to our Lord. Isaiah didn’t know anything about Jesus, but he knew everything about the WHY of Jesus.

Isaiah 42 (Common English Bible)

But here is my servant, the one I uphold;
    my chosen, who brings me delight.
I’ve put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring justice to the nations.
He won’t cry out or shout aloud
    or make his voice heard in public.
He won’t break a bruised reed;
    he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
    but he will surely bring justice.
He won’t be extinguished or broken
    until he has established justice in the land.
The coastlands await his teaching.

God told Isaiah that his chosen one would bring justice to the nations. He taught Isaiah that his servant would be challenged, but would prevail. God instructed Isaiah to tell the nations about the savior who would come to open blind eyes, lead prisoners to freedom, and offer a covenant of blood and atonement for their sins.

God the Lord says—
    the one who created the heavens,
    the one who stretched them out,
    the one who spread out the earth and its offspring,
    the one who gave breath to its people
    and life to those who walk on it—
I, the Lord, have called you for a good reason.
    I will grasp your hand and guard you,
    and give you as a covenant to the people,
    as a light to the nations,
    to open blind eyes, to lead the prisoners from prison,
    and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon.
I am the Lord;
    that is my name;
    I don’t hand out my glory to others
        or my praise to idols.

So while Isaiah never knew Jesus, he knew that Jesus would usher in a new world order where sin and death would be vanquished. Behold! God makes all things new.

The things announced in the past—look—they’ve already happened,
    but I’m declaring new things.
    Before they even appear,
    I tell you about them.

When Jesus walked that lonely journey to the cross, he carried the words of Isaiah in his heart. Isaiah gave him strength for the task. But for today, let us rejoice in knowing that just as Isaiah foretold it, the old things no longer exist. God is declaring all things new.

Where in your life is God declaring new things for you? Have you put the past in the past? Have you left it all behind? What changes do you have to make to receive the new life God is offering?

The God who created the heavens, gave breath to his people, and offers eternal life calls you to close the door on the past and claim the new things that Jesus purchased for you on the cross.

Its time to move forward.

Holy Monday by Debby Fox

Betrayal

Think of a time when you were betrayed. It happens to everyone sooner or later. It might be as simple as a confidence that was shared inadvertently, or as devastating as a spouse cheating on you and destroying your marriage. Maybe it happened in your family, with siblings or parents. Perhaps it was a co-worker who stabbed you in the back in order to further their career. Whatever the circumstance, betrayal is a gut-wrenching experience. You suddenly feel like the floor has dropped out from under your feet and you are riding one of those centrifugal-force carnival rides that presses you up against the wall. All you can do is wait for it to stop spinning.

Imagine being Jesus, sharing a last meal with his buds, and realizing that one of the cherished twelve was about to do that very thing:

John 12 (The Message)

21 After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “One of you is going to betray me.”

This tight-knit group was confused and somewhat horrified. Who, among them, could do such a thing? You probably felt the same way about your betrayer.

Note the tender care John takes to describe his own relationship with Jesus here. I love the image of him reclining next to Jesus with his head on his shoulder:

22-25 The disciples looked around at one another, wondering who on earth he was talking about. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder. Peter motioned to him to ask who Jesus might be talking about. So, being the closest, he said, “Master, who?”

Now watch what happens with the bread. In our understanding of Jesus as the Bread of Life, and realizing that this meal is the institution of Holy Communion, it is fascinating to see how bread is used here:

26-27 Jesus said, “The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I’ve dipped it.” Then he dipped the crust and gave it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. As soon as the bread was in his hand, Satan entered him.

“What you must do,” said Jesus, “do. Do it and get it over with.”

28-29 No one around the supper table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas was their treasurer, Jesus was telling him to buy what they needed for the Feast, or that he should give something to the poor.

30 Judas, with the piece of bread, left. It was night.

Jesus broke the bread (his body,) dipped it in oil (an anointing,) and offered it to his betrayer. The betrayer took it, but did not consume it. Satan took that opportunity to fill the void.

Then Judas left, bread in hand.

This is what happens to us when we are offered the Word of God but fail to internalize it. It opens us up to all kinds of influences. Jesus is the Bread of Life, but in order for that take hold, you have to consume him by taking in EVERYTHING he taught, and by following the example of his life. Otherwise, you are simply getting up from the table and walking away unchanged, with the bread in your hand.

Jesus said, “Take. EAT. This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

So eat the bread, people. Let him fully enter in to your mind, your heart and your life. He died for it, so that you might live.

The Garden of Gethsemane by Michelle Baker

Reckless Love

The first time I heard Reckless Love by Cory Asbury was at a Youth Sunday worship service several years ago. Three teenage girls sang it, and I thought it was one of the most wonderful things I had heard in a long time. Those sincere young voices are in my heart today, as we have realized that we most likely will not have our annual Youth Sunday as a live worship experience this year.

Here are the lyrics to the chorus:

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.

Our scripture today describes Jesus’ act of reckless love as he faced his final days on earth. He was speaking to a crowd of people as his death was drawing near, and explained reckless love like a grain of wheat, which must be buried in order for it to bring forth life and multiply:

John 12 (The Message)

24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

Truly his love for us is reckless. It is never-ending and overwhelming. Here he was in his final week, feeling storm-tossed about what was about to happen. But did he think of himself? No, he thought of you. He would not ask his father to get him out of it. Instead, he invited God to use his death to display his glory.

27-28 “Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

”Father, put your glory on display.”

Jesus is committing to following through. He, who was present at the creation of the world, was willing to be falsely tried, spit upon, ridiculed, beaten, scorned, pierced, and nailed to a tree for us.

How can we possibly respond to this kind of reckless love? This is a love that you can’t earn or deserve. This is a love that chases you down. This is a love that brings the gift of eternal life.

Are you ready to stop running?

26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

Then follow him.

Following Footsteps by Elaine Walls Reed

Reckless Love

All Dogs Go to Heaven

Losing a pet is an excruciating thing. Pet owners will tell you that their pet has become part of their family, and so their death creates an incredible void that cannot be filled. My father struggled with that. He would often talk about his first dog, Tilley, and vowed to ask God when he got to heaven why pets were given much shorter life spans than humans.

Dad is in heaven now, and so he knows the answer to his query. Often when a pet dies, pastors are asked if they go to heaven. I always quote verse 6 of the 36th Psalm, which is today’s reading:

Psalm 36 (Contemporary English Version)

But your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies;
    your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains;
    your justice is like the deepest sea.
        Lord, you save both humans and animals.

It always seems like a simple question to me. As far as I’m concerned, it wouldn’t be heaven without them! Pepe, Annie, Sam the guinea pig, Muffin the cat…I am looking forward to seeing them again.

God’s saving grace is that big. God’s saving grace is that inclusive. God’s saving grace is eternal, and all encompassing.

Your faithful love is priceless, God!
    Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the bounty of your house;
    you let them drink from your river of pure joy.
Within you is the spring of life.
    In your light, we see light.

Look again at verse 7. It could not be more appropriate for Holy Week during a pandemic: “Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Under his wings, we experience the spring of life and God’s light. We need that now more than ever.

10 Extend your faithful love to those who know you;
    extend your righteousness to those whose heart is right.
11 Don’t let the feet of arrogant people walk all over me;
    don’t let the hands of the wicked drive me off.

Even with our global crisis, the arrogant and the wicked ones are still trying to walk all over us. God answers our cry for protection by saying, “Turn off your device.” Figure out where you are experiencing a feeling of being trampled to death, and turn it off.

I haven’t watched the news in over three weeks. I know some people who turn it on in the morning and don’t turn it off until bedtime. Not me. Watching the daily misery and back-biting that has become “news” today was pulling me down into a pit. No more.

So turn it off, and turn to God. He is the only thing that will save us. His faithful love is there for the taking. His righteousness overrides the latest poll numbers, pandemic projections, and the constant barrage of misinformation. His justice is like the deepest sea, and we are invited to drink from his river of pure joy.

You want to know what IS true? We are one day closer to the end of this thing. Thanks be to God.

Isolation Fishing by Wende Smith Pritchard