Easter Meditations


Easter Meditations – Intro

Getting straight to the point, what is this set of daily meditations and what am I hoping to accomplish? I was raised, from an infant, in a Christian church. The basics of the Easter story have long been familiar to me. Sometimes familiarity can lull one into thinking one knows what there is to be known of that which is familiar. Or see the people as scripted actors in a spiritual just-so story. Am I unique in this? I’m thinking … probably not. So I’m hoping to tear back a bit of the veneer of familiarity that might cloud our understanding of these events and people. Maybe I can help us see and understand these familiar people as real people, who had real thoughts, feelings and motives in a real historical and cultural context, showing the continuity in the flow of events and maybe get into the possible thoughts and feelings of the people as they lived events that were not at all familiar to them. And now to start …

Judea and Jerusalem in the time of Jesus’ life in Earth were not happy places. Judea was part of the Roman Empire, and the Romans were not benignant rulers. Romans considered themselves superior to those they conquered. In both the conquest and the ruling, conquered territories were seen as places to be plundered and exploited. While not particularly prosperous, Judea was strategically very important to Rome. First, it was a crossroads for trade from the east and south.Rome was dependent on trade for much that it needed and even more that it wanted. Second, Judea was in the border area with the Parthian Empire. Corresponding roughly with modern Iran and Iraq, the Parthians had stopped Roman advance to the east, and at one point briefly pushed the Romans back, all the way to the coasts of modern northeast Syria and Lebanon. The threat of war was a constant of life, with Judea being a potential battleground and an area through which troops and supplies would necessarily move in the event ofwar.

So the Roman grip on Judea and Jerusalem was not loose. Adding insult to the Jews’ injury, Jerusalem was not the provincial capital. That honor belonged to the recently enlarged artificial port city of Caesaria.

As mentioned in the Gospel accounts, the death and resurrection of Jesus happened around the time of Passover. The Jewish religious calendar,given in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16, could be roughly grouped into spring and autumn observances and festivals. For observant Jews,participation in all of these feasts was mandatory. Passover, with the week-long Unleavened Bread immediately following, started the series of spring festivals; First Fruits was observed at the start of harvest, with Pentecost 50 days later. For many of the Jewish people being scattered all over the Roman and Parthian Empires, going to Jerusalem for every feast wasn’t practical. Those so situated usually observed most religious feasts locally with other Jewish people. They had the goal, however, of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once in their lifetimes, for Passover particularly. Such a pilgrimage being a significant undertaking, the custom was not to just stay for the 8 days of Passover and Unleavened Bread, but to stay from Passover through Pentecost, 2 or 3 months. Those who could, made this pilgrimage more than once in their lifetimes. All this means that Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’s death and resurrection and on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) had tens or hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world in addition to its resident population.

From the viewpoint of the Roman rulers, the Passover season was an annual time of tension. Despite their religious purpose, people are people,and “situations” could occur. Of course, the crowds of people who came from far away carried substantial amounts of money –necessary to live during their months of pilgrimage - attracted thieves. And those people who chafed at Roman rule and sought opportunities for acts of rebellion could use the crowds of pilgrims camouflage their presence and activities.

So Jesus’s last public acts, preaching and His death and resurrection happened within a very complex and volatile context.


Easter Meditations – Palm Sunday

Today, “Palm Sunday,” is the beginning of Holy Week in Christian tradition. It is the commencement a sudden total and fatal reversal of public reaction to Jesus, under the nudging and urging of Jewish religious and political leaders. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem to loud public acclaim, including the laudatory waving of palm branches from which the holiday derives its name:

After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it.” They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting : “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD ; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest !” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:28-40, NASB)

It was, for Jesus, much less joyful. He knew where He was headed, what would soon happen to Him and what would happen in just 4 decades to Jerusalem. The coming week was the culmination of His purpose in life. But the sadness He expressed was not focused on Himself:

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”*(Luke 19:41-44, NASB)

Jesus’ weeping was not quiet tears. The Greek work denotes a painful grief, like mourning a loved one who has died! What Jesus spoke was not quiet, but a loud lamentation. Jesus knew and foretold what would happen some 40 years later, the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and the slaughter and enslavement of much of its populace. The description of this event in the account written by the eyewitness Josephus, is painful reading.

So Jesus’ seemingly celebratory entry into Jerusalem that Sunday was a grace note of triumph introducing a symphony of pain. Yet, from another perspective, that grace note led off a triumphal concert lasting into eternity.


I didn’t realize I’d done a second set of Easter week meditations. So, for the evening:

Palm Sunday: Fame & Afflicting the Comfortable

A theme commonly preached in Palm Sunday sermons is how shallow and brief popularity can be. And it’s true. How many movie, TV and pop music stars that were hot 5 or 10 years ago have self-destructed or disappeared when “their” public moved on to the next “big thing”? But Jesus was not blinded by his apparent fame. Jesus knew what was about to happen - the whole week, not just the day we call Palm Sunday. He could have - and had done so before - entered Jerusalem quietly. He chose instead to enter in a way that would and did attract lots of attention.

I believe Jesus had at least two purposes in mind. He wanted the attention of as many ears as possible. Many would just forget what they heard almost as soon as they heard it. Some would even be crying out, “Crucify him!” at the end of the week. But Jesus was planting seeds, seeds that might only germinate months or even years later. He wanted as many as possible to hear his preaching and teaching so that some would later become His followers.

Jesus was also posing a challenge to the Jewish religious leaders. They could: stand by and “watch” their following, their power and wealth, melt away; swallow their pride and join Jesus; take drastic action. They chose drastic action. Jesus knew what their choice would be - He had escaped previous attempts to seize him. This time He would not try. But the religious leaders still faced and made a real choice (and not all Jewish religious leaders agreed with the choice of the majority), they were not puppets or actors following a script.

Fame and obscurity come and go. Sometimes we seek them, more often (I think) they just happen. They can be blessings or curses. If we use either to indulge ourselves, it is a mistake (or worse). The number of celebrities who achieve fame and then quickly self-destruct demonstrate this. They arrogantly think they are all their fame makes them appear to be plus indestructible. A better approach, one that Jesus used, is to use celebrity and obscurity as opportunities – for service, for developing one’s relationships with God, family and friends. Don’t waste fame in pride and self-indulgence; don’t waste obscurity in laziness.

On entering Jerusalem, Jesus didn’t hustle off to the local Holiday Inn, settle into His room, click on the TV, and order room service. Jesus went to the temple, where even more people would see and hear Him. And would they ever! Jesus cleaned house!

As odd and silly as it seems, it was only in a recent re-reading this incident that I noticed that it didn’t end with Jesus driving the crooks out of the temple. That “house-cleaning” is such a common focus of teaching that I had a sort of tunnel vision. Anyway, on to what I think Jesus was thinking.

In driving out the crooks, part of Jesus’ intent obviously was just that, “cleansing” the temple. Thievery in the midst of God’s temple was an utter outrage! So Jesus took care of business. But even this was not that “simple”. Jesus had been in the temple many times, and doubtless had seen these crooks just about as often (and had driven out the fraudsters once before, in John 2). But he didn’t drive them out every time, so why now? These crooks were part of the religious leaders’ racket. They were allowed to perpetrate their fraud, and kicked back to the leaders. Jesus knew what was going on! So, Jesus’ purpose wasn’t “just” to cleanse the temple. Jesus chose this time - when Passover pilgrims thronged the temple - strike a blow to their racket at the religious leaders’ most profitable time of the year! It was direct challenge (not Jesus’ only one) to their racket!

Having driven out the fraudsters, Jesus didn’t dust off His hands and go have dinner. He stayed, teaching the people around Him who would listen, and healed sick people who were brought to Him (which probably caught a lot of attention and inspired interest). Jesus didn’t merely smash up the racket - He knew they would be back. He offered the people an alternative, meeting them where they were, their needs, their “warts”, and all. Driving off the fraudsters cut into the religious leaders’ profits, for a few hours. That was bad enough and reason enough to get rid of Jesus. But offering (being!) an alternative was a threat to their whole cozy system, and they decided not stand for that!

All four Gospels recount aspects of the events of Palm Sunday: Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12.


Easter Meditations – The Monday Before Easter

Later on Palm Sunday and continuing into the week a clash of authority ensued that was, for the Jewish religious leaders, a fork in the road. They could repent and “lose everything”. Or they could harden their hearts, send Jesus to the cross, and cling what they had (not knowing they would lose it in about four decades). On entering Jerusalem, Jesus launched an attack on the high priest’s family’s lucrative money-changing and animal-selling monopoly-racket:

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying ?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF’?” And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. (Matthew 21:12-17, NASB)

These leaders who should have been teaching and caring for God’s flock saw that flock as their own, to fleece, milk and abuse. When Jesus came back the next morning, the chief racketeers were still a little cowed by the high regard the people had for Jesus. Not yet ready to risk open conflict, they tried to bully Jesus into backing off by challenging his authority:

When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-27, NASB)

Jesus had trapped the trapper wannabes, using their fear of the people against them. It was like a battle of wits in which the leaders were the ones who were unarmed. Jesus well knew their authority and power and their temporal limits; He also knew something they did not want to contemplate, His own infinitely greater eternal authority. Jesus had given them, through the years, many “outs,” chances to change their course. In the end their greed, anger and hunger for power would unwittingly fulfill His chosen destiny and purpose.


Monday Before Easter: Jesus Faces Down the Jewish Religious Leaders

Challenge and Counter-Challenge of Authority, Matthew 21:23-27
This was the start of an interesting drama. The Jewish religious leaders decided to use what they imagined to be a trap that would silence or ensnare Jesus. Jesus was, in their view, an uneducated nobody. They could hardly imagine Him sensing the trap, let alone avoiding it. Jesus turned their trap on them and put them in a multi-lemma: if they said that John was sent by God they would be asked why they didn’t obey; if they said that John was speaking for himself they would be in trouble with the common people; if they answered, “We asked first,” they would look petty and childish; if they answered, “We don’t know,” they would lose the people’s respect. They chose the latter. They believed it the least damaging, but it was damaging! And they knew it!

It seems silly to say this, but don’t try to lie to, fool, or “outsmart” God. He. Knows. And as Jesus did in this encounter, God will use our lies and tricks, if we try any, to His purposes. Far better, in our relationship with God, to be honest, open and submitting to His purposes. When it comes to what is best for us, He knows that, too.

My Two Sons - Saying vs. Doing, Matthew 21:28-32
In response to their first attack, Jesus counter-attacked with a series of parables. This time Jesus isn’t “just” replying and moving on. Keep in mind that this was all done in the temple, in front of as many people who chose to listen! Jesus responded, and escalated His challenge, by the means of several parables. With this first parable, of one son who said he would obey his father but didn’t, while the other son said he would not but did, Jesus struck at the religious leaders’ hypocrisy. They made the profession that they followed God, but in their lives they did not. Meanwhile, “sinners” (which they really were!) despised by the hypocritical religious leaders would turn from their sin and follow God.

Jesus’ thinking here is pretty plain on its face. Jesus is challenging the religious leaders’ image. Specifically, this parable strikes at how the public perceived them, their public respect, and as I said above, in a very public place.

The Murderous Tenants, Matthew 21:33-46
The Wedding Feast & Unworthy Invitees, Matthew 22:1-14
In these two parables Jesus showed the real character of the religious leaders: rebellious; murderous; out for personal gain; concerned with their own business rather than God’s. Jesus’ intent, again, is pretty plain. He confronted the religious leaders with what they are. And did it in front of the ordinary people who looked to them as leaders. He gave them a choice - and it truly was a choice - they could repent, give up their racket, or they could resist Jesus to keep their racket going (though Jesus knew it would end very soon). Sadly, they made the prideful and greedy choice.

In this, Jesus went for the religious leaders’ metaphoric jugular. They had bent, spindled, folded and mutilated what should have been service to God and the Jewish people into a very cozy and profitable racket. Jesus hoped that, by rocking their tidy little world, some - people and leaders - would turn to God. Eventually and over time, many did. Jesus knew the pain all this would cost Him; He also knew that the reward was far greater.


I didn’t dig into these too deeply at first, but you’re offering some interesting insights that I’d never thought about.


Easter Meditations – The Tuesday Before Easter

The Jewish religious leaders were persistent and it is likely that they didn’t really respect Jesus, even as an adversary. And why should they? Jesus was a nobody, a Galilean bumpkin from a tiny obscure village, while they were the centers of Jewish theology. They didn’t go to “seminary,” they were the “seminary.” So they tried to set a trap for Jesus, baited with flattery:

The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor. They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But He detected their trickery and said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:19-26, NASB)

The trap, as they conceived it, was that the Law of Moses made no provision for the Jewish people paying taxes to foreign rulers. To them it was a perfect trap, as they themselves had no principled answer. If Jesus answered that it was lawful, He had gone outside of the Law and justified a much hated burden. On the other hand, if Jesus said that paying Roman taxes was not right then they could report Him to the Roman authorities as teaching rebellion against Roman authority. They thought they had Jesus in a trap! Jesus schooled them by pointing out that Jewish taxes were to be paid with Jewish money, while the money with which Roman taxes were to be paid were Roman coins. Jesus swatted the gnat they were straining using the swatter of their own fashioning; the business of the money-changers Jesus had driven from the temple was to change Roman money into Jewish money for those who needed to pay the temple tax.


so like today isn’t it. our politicians and many religious leaders. Jackson, Sharpton.


historically, today is the day that Judas was bargaining with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus. Jesus will return tonite to stay in Bethany with his friends again. Tomorrow will be a quiet day for him as he spends the day in Bethany while his disciples make preparations for the Last Supper.


Tuesday Before Easter:Challenge and Counter-Challenge; Bible Jeopardy

First Century Jewish culture had several subcultures, and we see a least three in these challenges. The Pharisees were ultra-orthodox, with many additional traditions that were intended to make breaking a law “impossible”. The Sadducees were less orthodox, did not recognize the writings of the prophets as having authority equal to the Law of Moses, and were willing to accommodate (sometimes a euphemism for “compromise”) Graeco-Roman culture. The Herodians were politically aligned with the family of Herod, and through them, with Rome. The Pharisees believed the Jews should be independent and a regional power, so they and the Herodians were basically political opposites.

Pharisees’ & Herodians’ Challenge, Matthew 22:15-22
This challenge was fishy on its face. To be sure, the issue they posed to Jesus was one over which they would have argued, bitterly. But that they came to Jesus together - so that the opponents of what they thought were the only two possible answers could give were both present, ready to react - suggests some pragmatic collusion (in other words, both parties saw Jesus as a threat to their various interests).

Jesus’ answer reflected that He understood what they were up to, yet He still answered their question. And His answer - that God and government both have valid and non-conflicting claims on people living under them - satisfied neither party, yet left them no room for retort. In delineating the proper, scriptural, relationship for a follower of God with God and government, Jesus answered the challenge, demonstrated that He understood the scriptures, and gave a clear principle to follow for believers in centuries to come.

Sadducees’ Challenge, Matthew 22:23-33
The Sadducees came with a challenge that they thought showed that the idea of a resurrection (which they denied and Jesus had taught) conflicted with the Law of Moses. Evidently they thought they could confuse Jesus with a nitpicking, detailed, hypothetical situation. Instead of being confused by or entangled in the details Jesus showed them that they didn’t understand the very scriptures they claimed to believe. Jesus’ directness in pointing out their ignorance suggests to me that Jesus knew they didn’t really care to understand the Law, except as it suited their purposes - following it outwardly when convenient, weaseling it when not, and using it clumsily as a weapon when faced with some one who disagreed with them.

Pharisees’ Second Challenge, Matthew 22:34-40
The Pharisees’ second challenge puzzles me. This was a very basic question, one a very young student should know how to answer! Did they think Jesus too educated to know? Did they think He was so deep into subtleties and details that He would not recognize the question as basic? Did they think Jesus too uneducated? Had they run out of “tough” questions but were not ready to beat a retreat? Regardless, Jesus gave them the correct answer, demonstrating both His knowledge and presence of mind under pressure. And Jesus used this and the previous questions as a springboard for his counter-challenge.

Jesus’ Poser, Matthew 22:41-46
At least part of what the religious leaders had been doing had to do with their idea that Jesus was just a semi-educated country bumpkin. The Jews in that day had a very rigorous process for selecting and training youth so that those who became teachers were the best of the best of the best. Jesus hadn’t made the grade, wasn’t (they thought) among the best. Jesus had already turned this image against them in His responses to their questions, and now He put these “educated” leaders on the spot. Jesus had hit them in their public image, for the hypocrisy in their lives, and for their real heritage and character. Now Jesus hit them in what was supposedly their area of expertise, their knowledge and understanding of scripture.

His question was deceptively simple, in a couple of ways. The particular scriptures were very familiar, but the religious leaders probably had never noticed them - or just hadn’t bothered to think about their meaning and significance. Worse still, the answer to Jesus’ question, the meaning of the two scriptures didn’t fit their image of the kind of Messiah they wanted. And that meaning was consistent with things Jesus had claimed about Himself.

That shut the leaders up! What they imagined they could do to Jesus, He had done to them! Worse, Jesus wasn’t done with them!

Jesus’ Condemnations: Religious leaders, Matthew 23:1-36; Jerusalem, Matthew 23:37-39
Jesus! Lit! Into! Them! He called them hypocrites, children of hell, blind guides, white washed tombs, descendants of murderers, a brood of vipers! Do I need to say what He was thinking? He said exactly what He was thinking! Jesus told the religious leaders exactly what they were and warned the people just who/what they were following. And Jesus warned his disciples what their future dealings with those leaders would be like. Jesus ended this drama with a further, public, lament over Jerusalem and its looming fate, and then He left the temple.

Jesus “cleansing of the temple and discourse with the religious leaders demonstrate that Jesus wasn’t the dreamy idealist flower-smeller some imagine and wish Him to have been. One can believe Jesus to have been a religion-crazed semi-lunatic (you have to ignore much of the rest of the Gospels), or one can believe Jesus acted in righteous and just anger (which is consistent with the entirety of the Gospels), but the dreamy idealist flower-smeller idea is excluded by Jesus actions and words on these days.


Dagnabbit, Pete; you’re making my open my Bible and look up some of these references…


Easter Meditations – The Wednesday Before Easter

For a couple of days the various factions among the Jewish leaders had sent their brightest and best to try to entrap Jesus and expose to the people what they imagined to be His ignorance, and possibly entangle Him with the Roman authorities. Such a challenge was the context for today’s passage. Here, Jesus turns the tables (an apt metaphor in this context!) on the Jewish leaders:

For they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything. Then He said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”’ Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord,’ and how is He his son?” And while all the people were listening, He said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:40-47, NASB)

In one “simple” question, Jesus hit them at the heart of their theology, the identity of the Messiah for Whom they supposedly waited, and accomplished with that one question what they had been trying to do to Him for days. It is rather apparent that they hadn’t thought of the curiosity about which Jesus asked, or at least didn’t know the answer. It is likely, too, that they knew Jesus was descended from David, making their answer the more perilous to their authority - they could blow off their scriptures or affirm their scriptures were supportive of Jesus’ authority. One can easily imagine their embarrassment, which Jesus swiftly compounded with His advice to His disciples. In all this contest over authority, the Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a danger to their power, their racket. They seemed to imagine that He was either a bomb-tosser, who would destroy without replacing their racket, or He would try to muscle in on their racket. They couldn’t imagine that Jesus was neither, and that, while their racket would be destroyed, He would not take it over, but would establish something greater that was not to be a racket.

It was bad enough, from the viewpoint of the Jewish leaders, that Jesus sprang a trap on them. Compounding it was Jesus’s very pointed, very public, warning against the greed, self-importance and hypocrisy underlying their pompous image of public piety. That was the last straw!


Wednesday Before Easter: Looking Toward the Near and Distant Future

Looking Forward, and Really Forward
As they left the temple area, Jesus’ disciples indulged in a bit of sight-seeing. The temple of Jerusalem, as rebuilt by Herod the Great, was reputed to have been magnificent. That a monster like Herod could create such beauty shows that creativity and moral excellence have no intrinsic connection. At any rate, there was much beauty that could be admired, but Jesus responded to them in a way they may not have anticipated. Jesus informed them that the time was soon coming that the temple would be destroyed, and even the stones would be pulled apart. This latter was literally fulfilled during the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman looters who were after the gold that had melted in the fire and flowed between the stones.

At this, the disciples asked Jesus about the time of the end, the time of His coming and when the things He had just spoken of would happen. Whether and how they understood what they were asking is an interesting question. And Jesus’ answer has been a center of much disagreement as to how much of what He said referred to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (then nearly 40 years in the future) and how much was about what we sometimes call the “end times”. I don’t have anything profound or insightful to offer on those issues. It’s in God’s hands, and I trust him concerning those matters. It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24 mixes elements that pertain to both time frames, and some elements may pertain to both.

In Matthew 24, Jesus is at least partly concerned with the safety of His people, His disciples and those who would become believers after His resurrection and ascension. He did not want them to get caught up in the destruction of Jerusalem. Similarly, He wanted believers in the distant future to know what kinds of things to expect so they also could act wisely.

Prepared, Engaged and Serving
Though delivered as parables, Jesus’ thoughts in Matthew 25 are a bit more clear. In the parable of the lamps and oil, the message is that believers must be prepared for Him to return at any time. In the parable of the talents, Jesus is instructing believers to use their talents - risking them in the marketplace of ideas and people, as it were - rather than hiding those talents and keeping them “safe”. And in the third Jesus pointed out that believers are to serve, to extend God’s love to people, to be Jesus’ hands and feet in this world. Where Matthew 24 was about future events Jesus’ followers cannot avert, Matthew 25 has to do with how we choose to live in whatever life brings.

Put together, Matthew chapters 24 and 25 show that Jesus was concerned for His followers’ safety, that they walk wisely, and that they be in this world what a believer should be. And as for prophetic speculation, besides Jesus stating that no one knows the time of His return, I think “just” being faithful to Him and being what we should be as believers is challenge enough without diving into date setting and charting out just what God “should” do in the “end times”. We should entrust to God those things we cannot control or avert and focus on what we should be.


Easter Meditations – Maundy Thursday

OK, I’ll 'fess up. Despite growing up in a traditional Lutheran church that celebrates it, I had to look up the word “Maundy” (I did know how to spell it, though). Basically, “Maundy Thursday” means “Foot-Washing Thursday”. Onward …

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, “My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.” The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. (Matthew 26:14-19, NASB))

Judas has become an almost world-wide metaphor for a betrayer. To the best of my understanding, though, Judas violated no law. He got paid what amounted to 5 weeks’ wages to identify a certain person to the authorities: there were no false accusations, no perjury was involved. It was “just” an economic transaction. Judas got something he valued; the authorities got something they valued. The greatness of the betrayal wasn’t that a crime was committed. Nor was the greatness of the betrayal in the number of people betrayed or the social position of the one betrayed. It was WHO Judas betrayed.

But why would the Jewish leaders need Judas to finger some one with whom they’d been debating for much of the past week? I don’t think darkness fully accounts for the need (it was full moon, Passover being always at full moon), though that may have played some part. My opinion is that the leaders didn’t want to risk an encounter with any crowd that might be present. I think the leaders sent minions who may not have known Jesus at sight, and they did not want their purpose frustrated or exposed prematurely by a case of mistaken identity. Also, western artworks notwithstanding, Jesus was probably a Jewish “everyman” Whose outward appearance was unremarkable. Or maybe they simply didn’t want to get their hands dirty doing their own dirty deeds (as if that made any difference!).

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.” (John13:3-16, NASB)

Hence the name, “Maundy Thursday”. Various denominations have understood this command differently. Some literally do this, annually (e.g. Grace Brethren). Others understand the command as referring to the kind of love, forgiveness and service Christians should extend toward each other in the course of daily life and fellowship. Without diminishing the practice of literal foot-washing, I think the latter was Jesus’ point, one He made, clearly, while doing the foot-washing and later that same evening. The disciples didn’t get it the first time, and maybe not even the second time. But were they so very dumb? I wouldn’t claim I’d do any better!

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing. And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” (Luke 22:14-26, NASB)

Here, as the culmination of His life approached, Jesus took the time to define real leadership. I think plaques with this passage should be hung on every wall of every pastor’s or other church official’s office and over every door into those offices! I also think supervisors and managers in the business world would likewise benefit from reflecting on Jesus’s description of true leadership.

Taken literally or metaphorically, in foot-washing Jesus had demonstrated for His disciples what real Christian leadership was to be - serving those who are being led. Having just gone through several days or conflict with arrogant “leaders,” Jesus’s demonstration must have been doubly powerful! So, we’ve had 2 millennia to practice and get this leadership concept down … how are we doing? My answer would have to be that I’ve known and know of some good servant-leaders, but lordly leaders have been too common in church history and now. Too often, this imperative from Jesus has been gamed and weaseled into near meaninglessness! Not to mention simply ignored. And I do not have any single group in mind in saying that!

I won’t go into the Transubstantiation – Real Presence – Symbols debate. Better and smarter Christians than I have disagreed and debated that issue for 5 or 6 centuries, and it would be a distraction in this context. I do think people of all three (two-and-a-half?) understandings could learn from each other. What Jesus did that night is interesting. The bread and the wine Jesus used were not brought there for His special use to institute Communion. Jesus used things already on hand for use in the Passover meal. Jesus didn’t totally break with Judaism and institute something utterly new, utterly foreign to it. He did something new, to be sure, but using what existed. The alienation between Jews and Christians these past too many centuries is a tragedy, utterly unnecessary, an estrangement (and worse!) in which Christians (and people using the name “Christian”) have played by far the larger part, in my opinion. The Christian Bible has the older Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Has anyone else noticed the curious fact that ~75% of the Christian Bible is the Old Testament? In some churches that practice more formal catechesis, the Ten Commandments are part of the core “curriculum”. Thus, Christianity is, as taught by Jesus and the New Testament writers, a fulfillment of Judaism. The bread and wine Jesus used in the now-famous “Last Supper” is a “small” illustration of this.


Maundy Thursday: Servant Leaders, Unity, and the Holy Spirit

Passover eve must have had a lot of mixed feelings for Jesus. He knew this would be His last such celebration with these 12 men with whom He had shared the past 3 years. Jesus knew what agony was ahead of Him. Jesus knew He was about to be betrayed, and by whom. Jesus knew there still were important things to teach His disciples, and some reassurances He needed to communicate. All in just a few hours!

As an aside, if it isn’t already obvious, this is not going to be a normal Maundy Thursday message. But I wanted the meditations for this year to look at what Jesus was thinking, and that is what I will try to do do in this.

These men were to become the leadership core for the church - His body. Jesus knew that the type of leadership with which they were familiar would not be right. The world around them had leaders that ordered people around and kept above those they led. Taking advantage of their host’s lapse in hospitality, Jesus showed His disciples what spiritual leadership should look like. And then He taught them.

Unlike “normal” leaders and rulers, leaders in the church are to serve those they lead. The purpose of church leadership is not to sustain and grow one’s own authority or to support and perpetuate an institution. The purpose of the church is to make disciples, to develop believers into serving disciple-makers and leaders. Leadership that helps believers learn and grow spiritually means working with them and serving them, not aloofly lording it over them.

Jesus was also trying to prepare His disciples both for His death, which, for a few days, would feel to them as if, with Him Gone, their world had collapsed, and then His ascension to heaven, when His presence with them would be real, if not visible and tangible. Toward those ends, Jesus tried to let them know of His coming death, and promised that they would not be alone, but that the Holy Spirit would be with them, dwell in them, teach them, and empower them when Jesus would no longer be visibly present. They probably didn’t understand at that point very much of what Jesus told them, but He knew they would recall it when the time came.

John 17 is commonly called Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer”, because Jesus was interceding, as their leader, for His followers, present and for all future time. One thing for which He prayed was that His followers would be in unity. It’s not exactly a brilliant observation that Christians, for more than 14 centuries, have not obeyed this imperative. Personally though, I think many believers (past and present) have a skewed vision of what Jesus meant.

Taking the New Testament as a whole, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament neither prescribed institutional authority structures nor proscribed spiritual authority entirely. The church the New Testament reveals was, to use a modern term, a network of relationships and giftings, with authority structure that was local and as needed. To use Paul as an example: most of his letters were to people he had worked with and churches he had started (direct relationship); two of his letters, Galatians and Colossians, were to churches in cities he had never visited, but the authority of these letters rested on the recognition of Paul being an apostle (his gifting, Ephesians 4:11), rather than Paul being part of an extra-local authority structure.

Paul’s MO in his ministry was to come into a town, evangelize, organize new believers into a congregation and teach them their faith, appoint leaders in the congregation, move on to the next town, and keep in touch with the church he had started. Wash, rinse, and keep repeating. When the church in a city grew large enough, there would be multiple congregations whose leaders had relationships with each other, usually with a leader who was apparently called a bishop. But regional, national and church-wide structures came later.

Getting back to Jesus’ actual point, He wanted believers to minister (the word means serve!) and fellowship in unity. This is far more difficult, meaningful and powerful than having some sort of monolithic and hierarchical authority structure. It requires people of different giftings, personalities and cultures to learn to get along and work together, using those differences for ministry rather than for carrying on personal squabbles and power plays. Think it can’t be done? The church in the New Testament exploded in the Roman Empire, reaching and uniting peoples of multiple languages, cultures and economic status. Many para-church ministries today unite the efforts of believers of similar diversity and denominational background. It can be done today. It is powerful! It is what Jesus asked for in His prayer!


You haven’t gotten to the Good Friday posts yet, but I’m reminded of a sci-fi short story about a science team who sent a professor back in time to witness the crucifixion. He was hidden by some sort of combination cloak/shield, and found himself becoming emotionally involved in the events. As the story approaches its climax, he sees Jesus looking right at him in spite of the shield, and it about undoes him. He wants to rescue Jesus and bring him inside the shield with him, and bring him back to his own time. The other scientists communicating with him from the “present” said:

"You’ve done your job! Now let Him do His!"

I’ve got the story (called The Traveller) in an anthology by Richard Matheson. It’s not biblically correct on some points, but an interesting read.


Easter Meditations – Good Friday, Part 1

*Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they kept on insisting, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place.” When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem at that time.

Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently. And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate. Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.* (Luke 23:1-12, NASB)

*Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus ), to bear His cross.

Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. It was the third hour when they crucified Him. The inscription of the charge against Him read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. [And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with transgressors.”] Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross !” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others ; He cannot save Himself. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe !” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him. When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” which is translated, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah.” Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. \When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome. When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.* (Mark 15:12-41, NASB)

As provincial governor Pontius Pilate had two basic tasks: keep things peaceful; extract money for the empire. Needless to say, accomplishing those would also aid his own considerable political ambitions. Neither was easy. Judea was not exactly rich, and the Jewish people were not exactly welcoming of Roman rule. It was common for Roman governors to be less than respectful of conquered peoples, but Pilate didn’t even know when he was treading on Jewish toes until trouble resulted. Pilate’s reflexive imperialistic pride prevented him from being effective as governor. Consequently, as Roman governors – typically political climbers – went, Pontius Pilate was a mediocrity. But he wasn’t stupid.

Pilate saw through the fluff and noise of the flurry of accusations, but he didn’t want more trouble. When the accusers mentioned that Jesus was a Galilean, from an adjacent province, Pilate thought he spotted an opportunity to pawn off a thorny decision on the ruler of that province, Herod. This Herod wasn’t Herod “the Great” who had tried to kill Jesus some time after His birth. After Herod the Great died, Emperor Augustus didn’t trust any of Herod’s children to replace him as king, so Herod’s kingdom was divided four ways, with this Herod, Antipas, getting Galilee. Herod Antipas, who was visiting Jerusalem at the time, wasn’t much better than his father, having killed John the Baptist to fulfill a rash promise to his daughter. However, Herod Antipas was a greater weasel than was Pilate. Herod toyed some with Jesus, didn’t get the amusement he wanted, and sent Jesus back to Pilate for judgment. It speaks to the character of both Pilate and Herod Antipas that freeing an obviously innocent man wasn’t on either man’s political radar screen.

In the crucifixion of Jesus, both Pilate’s disdain for those he governed and his mission of keeping the peace came into play. To be fair to him, I think the Jewish leaders pushing for Jesus’s crucifixion knew of and played on his imperative to maintain order. Pilate knew what was up, that Jesus was innocent of any crime against Rome. At the same time, here was a riot or even a revolt in the making at a time Jerusalem was filled with Passover celebrants, so his disdain for an insignificant individual subject (Jesus) and his political ambition overruled any latent sense of justice Pilate may have had and instead he tried to placate the mob.

Crucifixion, as perfected and practiced by the Romans, served several purposes. It was painful and horrible, and depending on available time, materials and the sadistic skill of the executioners, could extract tens of hours of excruciating pain from the person being executed. Did I mention the Romans were cruel and sadistic? Crucifixion was done publicly and was reserved for non-citizens, a reminder to conquered peoples of their place in the Roman world. And crucifixion served warning to would-be rebels and people inclined to make a career of banditry that the price of failure and capture would be excruciatingly high.

The crucifixion process was designed to inflict pain and use the executed person’s natural strength and survival instinct to prolong their pain. It started with what Mark called scourging. This alone would probably suffice to cause the person’s eventual death; if medical attention was received and the person survived, they would be horribly disfigured and disabled, so severe were the injuries inflicted. Carrying the crossbeam to the place of execution prolonged and broadened the scope of the public spectacle while taking the person beyond exhaustion. On arrival, the person would be seized (not gently!), arms stretched and fastened to the crossbeam; if nailed, the spike was placed at the base of the wrist (because the hands could not support a person’s weight, and would tear through), where every movement would inflame the nerves, causing explosions of pain. The crossbeam was then lifted onto the upright beam and the legs similarly fastened. The cross was then lifted upright and the base of the upright beam was slid into a hole that held the cross vertical. Needless to say, this was not done gently, and the jolt of the upright beam sliding into the hole and hitting bottom was just one more moment of agony for the person being executed. That person was now suspended in a position where the mere process of breathing happened at the cost of excruciating agony. The person could inhale, but could only exhale at the price of excruciating pain to their wrists and ankles, compounded by exhaustion and spasms in their arm and leg muscles. Thus began a slow process of exhaustion, pain, CO2 poisoning and suffocation that could last, in the extreme, 2 or more days. If time was limited or they got bored, the executioners could hasten the end with a simple, painful expedient. The one crucified was only able to exhale so as to draw their next breath by pushing against the ropes or spike with their legs; the executioners took away that ability by breaking the person’s legs. Unable to exhale, the process of suffocation soon ended the person’s agony. This was done to the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus.


Easter Meditations – Good Friday, Part 2


Mankind has this problem …

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

It’s a pretty serious problem …

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Mankind was in a hole, unable get out on our own. Foretold to our first parents, God sent - nay, became - the solution:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB)

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NASB)

Jesus, God the Son, willingly, even gladly, paid the horrific price necessary that those who believe in Him and what He accomplished could live a life in relationship with Him and spend eternity with Him.


Early this morning Jesus experienced all that torture and cruelty at the hands of humanity. He was on the cross by 9am.


FC, with the passage of time and changes of computers, I’d “lost” lost these articles. The discussion forum on which I’d originally posted them was hacked to Valhalla in 2012 or 2013. So I “recovered” them from a thread I’d posted here on RO in 2011, plus some 2013 posts on that thread. Besides going through each to make improvements, my work schedule has changed, and my evening posts - done after I get home from work - are done with poor timing for East Coast folk.

My hope, 8 or 10 years ago when I wrote some of these, is to take this part of Jesus history out of the realm of “just so” and help the recollection that these were all real people living real lives rather than cardboard cut-out angels and demons playing a scripted part.