I Am With You Always

Reading

Matthew 28

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

11 As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. 12 A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. 13 They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ 14 If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” 15 So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Reflection

I Am With You Always

And so the moment comes, the miracle Jesus had foretold but which remained a mystery to the hearts of His followers until now. As two devoted women return to the grave of their beloved, a startling visitation occurs. Heralded by an angel, the tomb of Jesus is opened, the grave is ripped wide, and Jesus stands before them in His glory, radiating with the light of His salvation.

Over the following hours as Jesus appears to His followers they are again unprepared for the magnitude of the moment they inhabit, at first afraid and then confused, and finally overcome with the joy of their risen Lord. Even at this moment they don’t fully understand what’s happened. Soon the Holy Spirit will be unleashed in their lives and nothing will ever be the same again. From here on out their ministry becomes a continuous unfolding of the events they’ve witnessed, as they begin to understand Jesus’ own words and the prophecies of old, and bear witness to the astonishing moves of the Holy Spirit. Their lives are sold out to the cause of telling the world about the One who is the Son of God, the bringer of life and eternal salvation to all who believe.

Our commission is the same. To spend our days walking out our own salvation, our lives one continuous revelation of Jesus’ love for us, of His character and His perfection and His true identity as the saviour of all the world. The story of Jesus’ ministry and His relationship with His disciples is a complete picture of our own walk with him. And because of His perfect sacrifice, the veil of separation between us and God is removed forever, and we walk in complete intimacy with our Creator through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Such things are almost too great to comprehend – that we would have fullness of life because of the love of one man. Even more, that we would not only be recipients of His gift of life, but in turn become bearers of the waters of healing, bringing life to all the world.

Lord God, there is only one response we can offer in the presence of such awesome grace. That we too would devote our lives to the cause that You commissioned to Your followers, and go into all the world to tell them of the miracle of Your love.

 

Come Lord Jesus

Reading

Revelation 22

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets, has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.”

Jesus Is Coming

“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw all these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me. But he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book. Worship only God!”

10 Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. 15 Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. 18 And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

20 He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

21 May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.

Reflection

Come Lord Jesus

Through the passing of this day they believed that He was dead. Darkness had triumphed and the Messiah was defeated. But all that was about to change.

Beyond the curtain of mortal life a battle was raging. The perfect blood of the Son became the gateway to the king of heaven. All power and authority was loosed upon him, the very keys of death were in His hand, and He broke upon hell with thunder, destroying the hold of the king of darkness, releasing the captives and leading them to their rightful place in His kingdom. The river was unleashed.

In the final chapter of Revelation, John delivers the complete picture of this river of life, “clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (v1), bordered by trees of healing and fruitfulness. And because of the sacrifice of One, the fate of the world is transformed forever.

What is the meaning of this river? No more curses, no more night. Instead a kingdom of light that will reign forever and ever (v3-5).

John concludes this book with the same urgent message that Jesus repeated to His followers in the days before His death: that He will return, and soon. That the final days are already here, awaiting the return of the Saviour, and that every day is precious, imbued with eternal purpose, even the mundane moments touched by the miraculous unfolding of God’s plan, His river flowing through our hearts in an unending narrative of His great and glorious love.

John opens up the same invitation as Jesus: Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (v17) Touched by the water, we soon find ourselves immersed in an ever-growing abundance of His grace and love, bearing us along on its glorious tide, birthing in us a spring of living water, ordained to bring healing to a lost and broken world. As Jesus himself so passionately demonstrated, if we can lift our eyes above the present needs of our earthly bodies and remain fixed on the perspective of the eternal, we will see the great healing power of His river flowing through our hearts and transforming the world around us.

Darkness Fell Across The Whole Land

Reading

Matthew 27:11-54

11 Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him.

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

12 But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. 13 “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. 14 But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.

15 Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted. 16 This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. 17 As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)

19 Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”

20 Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 21 So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”

The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”

22 Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

23 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

24 Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

25 And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!”

26 So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

27 Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. 29 They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. 31 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

32 Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. 33 And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). 34 The soldiers gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

35 After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. 36 Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. 37 A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

39 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. 40 “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

41 The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. 42 “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! 43 He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.

45 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

47 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 48 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. 49 But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

50 Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, 52 and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. 53 They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

54 The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

Reflection

Darkness Fell Across The Whole Land

What can we say about this day? The darkest day in history, when not one of us could be counted among His followers, but all abandoned Him to death. The crowds of people who only days before welcomed him with such adulation and triumph were now stirred to a frenzy, demanding the execution of a man who’d done no wrong, against whom not a single conviction could be laid, who had healed and saved and delivered and loved, and who now was condemned by the very people He came to save.

Pilate was the local authority of the conquering empire of Rome. All final convictions rested with him. He had no emotional investment in the events of his subjects apart from maintaining order. Yet even he could not understand their hatred of Jesus, repeatedly asking them the cause of their actions and for evidence of the crime Jesus had committed, and why he should release the murderous criminal Barabbas. Pilate’s wife is visited by a nightmare that convinces her of Jesus’ innocence, and in another account, Pilate even asks Jesus the meaning of truth. This hardened military governor was thoroughly disturbed by what was unfolding around him. He knew there was something different about Jesus. Indeed, in his heart, he knew the truth.

The word of God alive in Jesus was so powerful that even a gentile oppressor of his people could feel it. So what drove these people to do what they did? The same thing that drives us into sin, to relive every day the very curse that put Jesus on that cross. Our guilt. Our shame. Our complete humanity. Our utter hopelessness. The sin in our hearts would rather cling to rebellion than accept the life-changing conviction of Jesus’ truth. That is why we crucified Him.

And yet through it all, the beatings, the whippings, the mocking, the humiliation and degradation, the pain and the abandonment, Jesus was driven by love. Even as the heart of His own Father was turned against him, separated by the unthinkable weight of sin that He willingly received, He forgave us because He did it for us.

As He died the earth was shaken by the incredible transaction that was taking place in the spiritual realms. Darkness hit the ground and the rocks split open and in that moment even the Roman soldiers realised what they’d done: “This man truly was the Son of God!” (v54).

But what now? It was too late. He was dead. All was lost. The king of love was cursed by our sins and left to bleed out on a criminal’s cross.

Praise God that this was not the end.

My Soul is Crushed with Grief

Reading

Matthew 26:14-46

14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

18 “As you go into the city,” he told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus told them and prepared the Passover meal there.

20 When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the Twelve. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”

22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”

23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

25 Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”

And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”

26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

30 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

31 On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,

‘God will strike the Shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

33 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

35 “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.

36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Reflection

My Soul Is Crushed With Grief

In Matthew’s account we see the act of betrayal that will bring about Jesus’ condemnation in the eyes of His own people, as Judas follows the hardened greed of his heart to forsake the One who loves him most. This is a powerful reminder of the tragedy of those who turn from Jesus, not understanding that His love is the greatest they’ll ever know, strong enough to withstand any trial and to overcome any passing struggle or need.

Through Matthew’s beautiful depiction of the first Communion, Jesus refers again to His body as the bread of life, another step in the revelation of the words spoken in John 6. Gradually His metaphors and illustrations clarify in the minds of His disciples as they take on greater and more significant meaning. Soon they will truly understand the wine as the symbol of His blood “which confirms the covenant between God and his people…poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.” (v28)

As they leave the Passover meal and move on to the Mount of Olives, Jesus reveals that the betrayer is not the only one who will turn his back on Jesus, but that all of them will desert him that night. At this moment the disciples know something significant is occurring, and yet because of the limit of their understanding it is all to easy for them to be confused by the circumstances and swayed by their physical needs. How often this is the case with us! Even Peter, so adamant in his conviction to stay with his Saviour, in only a few hours time is denying him repeatedly out of fear and confusion. Like the disciples our lives are a constant parade of moments, both significant and mundane, and often we’re not aware of the truly transformative turning points until we see them in hindsight. In contrast Jesus lived His life at all times in the very centre of what was happening right then, listening at every step to the will and direction of God. His example is a strong reminder to us of the ever-present power of God stirring at the centre of our lives, ready at any moment to bring about complete miraculous change.

Even in the face of desertion and death, Jesus is present, ready, willing, submitted to the hand of God. Here is the moment of His greatest emotional anguish, staring down a torturous and gruesome fate, and yet wholly sold out to His higher purpose: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (v39)

How humbled and grateful and broken are we to know the love of such a Saviour, a man who could do for us what none of us would, and become the perfect sacrifice for the sins of many.

Since I Live, You Will Also Live

Reading

John 14

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. 11 Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.

12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. 18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. 19 Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. 20 When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

22 Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?”

23 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. 24 Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. 25 I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. 26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 28 Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. 29 I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

30 “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, 31 but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.

Reflection

Since I Live, You Will Also Live

In another day’s time the Last Supper will occur, the final moment of peace and intimacy for the disciples before Jesus is betrayed and the hours pass swiftly to the time of His death on the cross. No other account places so much significance on this gathering than John, the disciple Jesus loved. He takes six chapters out of the twenty-one in his gospel to recount the last moment of communion Jesus shared with His best friends, and almost every word of those chapters are Jesus’ own, speaking freely and passionately of the incredible mystery that is about to unfold. He talks of His love for them, of the Father’s love, of His true identity and the path He must take to bring about their salvation, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the power of God to sustain them through anything that may come because of His victory in overcoming the world.

These chapters convey the power of desperate intimacy, of Jesus’ yearning for them to understand the fullness of His love and of the wonders they are about to experience. At the same time we hear in His words the breaking of His heart. He knows the sorrow and the pain they will endure in just a few hours’ time, and the horror He himself will have to bear. These chapters reveal a conversation of perfect and beautiful friendship, the love of our Saviour and also our best friend poured out in heartfelt communion.

Here Jesus unfolds more of the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Advocate who will lead His followers into all truth. This is the same Spirit He spoke of in John 7 when He first proclaimed the message of rivers of living water flowing from His heart. Jesus knows that if we can stay connected to Him and His river, obeying His voice and following His lead, the Holy Spirit is available to us as the great river of life, poured out from the throne of God and flowing through our hearts. And all of this is only possible because of His death and resurrection.

Even as He speaks of these things He is modelling the very obedience He knows will bring about this freedom, choosing to do the will of God so that we can understand the love of the Son and of the Father: 30 “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, 31 but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father.” (v30-31)

In response to such an outpouring of love, let’s allow our hearts to be overcome with gratitude and wonder at the miracle that is about to unfold.

 

The Olivet Discourse

Reading

Matthew 24:1-44

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?”

Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. 10 And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. 11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. 12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.

15 “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.”(Reader, pay attention!) 16 “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 17 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 18 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 19 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 20 And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. 22 In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.

23 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 25 See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.

26 “So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! 27 For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. 28 Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.

29 “Immediately after the anguish of those days,

the sun will be darkened,
    the moon will give no light,
the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

30 And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

32 “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left.41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

Reflection

The Olivet Discourse

After the clearing of the Temple, the gospels recount a startling series of parables Jesus told to the people in Jerusalem, mostly depicting what it means to live a life of true faith and obedience, demonstrating how many will be deceived in the last days by following their own wisdom instead of remaining true to the direct authority of God.

Jesus leaves Jerusalem for the Mount of Olives where His disciples gather around Him and begin to question the meaning of His dramatic illustrations. This prompts the delivery of what many theologians call the Olivet Discourse, so named because of the unique power of its tone. Again we sense the building urgency of His purpose, and hear emphasis in His words as He explains the trials and wonders that will unfold on earth as His return approaches.

In response to His disciples’ question, Jesus’ first entreaty is to not be deceived by those who come in His name but bring a message of rebellion disguised as truth (v4-5 and v23-25). His commands here are not for the lost but for the people of God, His chosen people, who like the Jews of His time will let themselves be turned from the truth as it defies their rational expectations.

Jesus goes on to warn of war, famine and earthquakes; of persecution and martyrdom; of false prophets and rampant sin; all of which we bear witness to in our present times.

But His descriptive warnings are merely a backdrop for the true passion of His heart: that throughout all this we would remain one with God, connected to Him above all, remaining in Him so that our lives could become a living sacrifice.

Even His response to the disciples marvelling at the temple buildings in the opening verses underlines the grand scope and far-reaching vision of these chapters. Jesus is lifting our gaze from the immediacy of our lives and elevating our hearts to the perspective of eternity, knowing that such a view will transform our understanding of present struggles and loose our hold on the material gains of this life. Let the magnitude of the truly eternal fill your heart and throw all other concerns into shadow. This is the way of true life in Him.

 

The Fig Tree and the Temple

Reading

Mark 11:12-25

12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit.14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.

15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.

19 That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.

20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”

22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

Reflection

The Fig Tree and the Temple

In the days leading up to Jesus’ death the controversy around His true identity gains momentum at the same time as we hear an increasing urgency in His words. As His time approaches, the burden of what He must impart grows stronger and weights His words and actions with the sincere desperation of His love.

As the Pharisees gather evidence to use against Him, instead of being intimidated by the prospect of rejection and certain death, Jesus becomes ever more passionate in His demonstrations of God’s perfect holiness and His true plan of salvation. While so many were wondering if He would even show up in Jerusalem, He walks into the Temple and, grieved by the debasement of God’s holy place, speaks out against the greed and depravity of these people and drives them out, knocking over tables, scattering money and caged doves and other wares across the temple courtyard. We’d be shocked to see such a display of anger and disruption in a public place today. But passion for God’s house consumed Jesus beyond rational convention.

God’s temple had lost all sanctity for these people. The love of God had grown cold in their hearts, replaced by pride in the conformity and safety of rules and rituals. Image and personal gain had become more important than a broken heart, and so they were deceived into using the practice of Holy sacrifice as a means for financial gain. It’s impossible to read the narrative of Jesus’ final days without being reminded time and again of His grief for the hardness and blindness of so many who’d replaced true faith in God with a protocol of religious pride. Even the story of the fig tree carries this weight, demonstrating that a fruitless tree has no value in the kingdom of God, and emphasising the power of true faith and relationship with the Creator.

Let the same passion that motivated Jesus stir in your hearts this Easter, and grow only more powerful and compelling in the days to come. Be so consumed with the need to know and love God that the opinions and actions of the godless bear no weight for you. In this way, true faith will be evident in your life, allowing the river to flow through you, bringing life wherever it goes.

Palm Sunday

Reading

John 12:12-19

12 The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, 

“Praise God!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
    riding on a donkey’s colt.”

16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

17 Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. 18 That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

Reflection

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday traditionally commemorates the time of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Despite the division His words had caused and the plots and threats of the Pharisees, He didn’t stay away from Jerusalem for Passover, but continued along the path of God’s plan, entering into the very place that would see His death in only a few day’s time.

Again Jesus breaks convention by choosing to ride through the streets on a donkey, a lowly animal that symbolises His humility and references His entry into the world as a baby born in a manger. This was not the king the Jews had long been expecting, hoping for a mighty ruler to destroy the Roman Empire and restore Israel to its former glory. Everything about Jesus turned the world’s perceptions of authority and success upside down. It wasn’t through defeating the rulers of the time that Jesus would gain the ultimate victory. It was through the opposite: His death on a cross.

In another act of unexpected and seemingly irrational worship, the people of Jerusalem respond with great joy and adulation, shouting “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” (v13). Those who had been so confused and uncertain about His words only months before were now experiencing an incredible move of God. They could feel His presence even without understanding it, and as with any whisper of God’s glory, the only response they could offer was that of worship and honour. They took palm branches, a symbol of nobility and authority, and laid them on the ground as He passed. No one stopped to question why He was on a donkey, or why He was even riding through the streets in such a manner. In that moment there was a unity of revelation and response to His glory.

Today let Jesus be elevated to His rightful place in your heart. Don’t stop to think about the circumstances of the moment, fix your eyes only on Him and let the whisper of God stir your heart to His revelation. Find an opportunity today, on Palm Sunday, to be united with God’s people in honouring the arrival of the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

 

Anointed at Bethany

Reading

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. 10 Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, 11 for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

Reflection

Anointed at Bethany

As the time of the Passover drew near, people began to gather in Jerusalem, wondering if Jesus would stay away because of the threats from the Pharisees and religious leaders. A week out from His death, on the way to celebrate Passover, Jesus and His disciples return to the house of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Though they’d been around Jesus many times before, on this occasion Mary is moved to a unique act of incredible worship. She breaks a jar of perfume to anoint Jesus, wiping her feet with her hair in an intimate display of reverence and humility.

By this time Judas Iscariot’s heart is already hardened, and he scorns her act of worship by rationalising it against practical need. This is the same attitude we saw in the people’s response to Jesus’ statements about himself earlier in John. Unwilling to let go of their material focus, they couldn’t comprehend the truth of His words about rivers of living water and the bread of life. In the face of an offering of intimacy and revelation, they retreated to the safety of legalism and religious thinking. How tragic that so many had come so close to Jesus and yet missed the whole point.

Mary’s sacrifice was immense and it disturbed Judas because his own heart was held back from offering the fullness of honour that Jesus deserved. It’s hard to comprehend that a bottle of perfume cost a year’s wages, tens of thousands of dollars by today’s standard. Yet Mary was stirred by something far beyond the realms of practicality. Something in her heart called her to anoint Jesus, even if she didn’t understand then that she was actually preparing him for His death.

By responding to the present call of God we position ourselves to be caught up in the incredible story of His love and redemption, just like Mary was, without even knowing the greatness of the purpose he has in store. Let’s be people who, in response to the movement of God’s spirit, open our hearts like Mary did, despite what our comfort or reason might tell us, and pour out extravagant worship to our saviour.

 

I am the Resurrection and the Life

Reading

John 11

A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha.This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.

14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.

30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

Reflection

I am the Resurrection and the Life 

Jesus’ most astonishing miracle occurred not long before His own death, serving as a prelude to what would occur through the wonder of His sacrifice. Jesus was a close friend of Lazarus, and it would have grieved him to learn of Lazarus’s sickness. Nevertheless He stayed where He was for several more days so that by the time He was ready to leave for Judea, He knew Lazarus was already dead.

His disciples feared for Jesus’ life because of the threats against him in Judea, but Jesus knew they had to go, even though it was technically too late for him to heal Lazarus. Despite the pain of allowing a dear friend to become sick to the point of death, Jesus was committed to following God’s plan. He knew that “it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” (v4)

At face value His decision to delay His visit is confusing. He had the power and the desire to heal His friend, yet He held back, knowing only that God would receive glory through whatever was to occur. Our desire to respond to other’s needs out of our own strength or love for them is great, especially for people we care for deeply. So how much strength would it take to say no and allow someone to experience pain simply because God had told you to wait? Jesus’ great faith in the simple act of not going to Lazarus is a profound statement of His utter submission to the authority of God. In His own strength He could have helped His friend. But He knew there was a higher purpose.

The raising of Lazarus is a stark revelation of the words Jesus spoke in John 7, that “rivers of living water flow from his heart.” Not only does He give us life in abundance, but He has the power to restore life to things that are dead. As we reflect on Jesus’ final days on earth in the lead up to Easter, let His river of life work a resurrection miracle in your own heart.