Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Crucifixion

Crucifixion was designed to cause death but to do so at the slowest, most torturous pace. The agony was intense as wounds tore and bled, and muscles and joints pulled from tendons and sockets. But that is not what caused death. The strain of hanging by the arms eventually caused asphyxiation as the person lost the ability to breathe.

That day on Calvary two others were executed alongside Jesus. One of them joined the Jewish leaders in deriding Jesus and cried out, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us” (Luke 23:39). But the other rebuked the first saying, “Dost not thou fear God. . . .We receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.”

Then to Jesus he said, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”

Many of the women who had followed Jesus were sorrowing at the cross including Jesus’ mother. When Jesus saw her there he said,, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then to John he said, “Behold thy mother!”

At noon darkness fell over the land, and for the next three hours the sun was hid. Finally after three hours of suffering, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

John tells us that then, knowing all things were now accomplished, Jesus said, “I thirst.”

In response someone dipped a sponge into a pot of vinegar, put the sponge on a hyssop reed, which would have been about three or four feet long, and lifted it to Jesus’ mouth. After He had sucked from it Jesus said, “It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Then bowing his head, as the Greek text says, Jesus breathed out his last breath and delivered up His spirit.

Meanwhile at the temple the new course of Levites were performing the sacrificial rituals and at this same moment the trumpets announced that the ritual service was one-third over. Inside the Holy Place the veil separating it from the Most Holy Place ripped in two. The symbolism of this incident is beautiful. Before only the High Priest, representing Jehovah, could enter the Most Holy Place which contained the throne of God, and he was only allowed in once a year on the day of Atonement. With the veil rent, the way back to God was now open for all mankind. But there is something more. Josephus tells us that according to the Rabbis, the veil was a handbreadth thick. It was woven of 72 twisted plaits, each consisting of 24 threads (24 ply yarn!). Josephus, who tends to exaggeration, also informs us that the veil was so large it required 300 priests to lift it into place. But at the moment of Christ’s death it miraculously ripped in two from top to bottom.

Wanting the ordeal to be over before the Sabbath began, the Jewish leaders implored Pilate to expedite the crucifixion. Under orders, then, the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves so that they could no long push themselves up by the small platform at their feet and would suffocate. But when they came to Jesus, He was already dead. Seeing this one of the soldiers thrust his spear into the Savior’s side and blood and water gushed out. This is significant in that it indicates that instead of dying by asphyxiation, Jesus’ heart literally ruptured making the cause of death a broken heart.

After the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathaea asked Pilate for the body and he and Nicodemus lovingly anointed Jesus with myrrh and aloes, wrapped Him in linen burial clothes and spices, and placed him in a never before used sepulcher over which was rolled a stone.

On Saturday the Jewish leaders, remembering that Jesus had said that after three days He would rise again, asked Pilate to place a guard at the sepulcher for they feared someone would steal His body and then claim Jesus had risen. Pilate consented, saying, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can” (Matthew 27:65). Given permission, the Jewish leaders sealed the stone door and set soldiers to guard the tomb.

But soldiers would not be enough to secure this tomb.

Friday, March 29, 2013

It's Good Friday

As Jesus awoke the sleeping disciples saying, “Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand” (Mark 14:42), Judas, leading a great multitude entered the garden. What we usually don’t realize is how great that multitude really was. The gospel writers tell us that the group consisted of the chief priests, scribes, elders, the captain and officers of the Jews temple police force, and a band of Roman soldiers armed with swords and staves and carrying torches and lanterns. Like all things in New Testament scholarship, how many men were in a band of soldiers is debated, but it is safe to assume there were at least 150 which shows how much the chief priest fear Jesus. In addition, it is Passover week and the city is crowded with people who hearing the commotion would have followed out of curiosity. One senses the irony as hundreds of angry men stomped through the night led by the light of their torches in order to capture the Light of the world! (See Isaiah 50:11.) As they approached Jesus, Judas cried out “Hail, master!” and kissed Jesus.

Jesus responded, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). Then turning to the crowd He asked, “Whom seek ye?” 

They responded “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus answered, “I am he” (John 18:6). But you will notice in your scriptures that the word he is italicized. This means that the word is not in the original Greek manuscripts but is a word the King James translators added to make things clearer. However, in this case it hides the meaning. What Jesus says to them is simply, “I am” which was considered to be the name of God. As Thomas Aquinas explained, the title I Am referred to the “being of all things.”

Something extraordinary happens as Jesus pronounces, “I am.” At those words the entire multitude stepped backward and fell to the ground which indicates to me that there must have been a power or spirit that accompanied those words as if to give the people one last chance to understand and repent. Instead they arrest Him, but as He surrenders His love is manifest as He asks that His disciples be set free.

At this point Peter drew his sword and lashing out cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest named Malcus. “Put up thy sword,” Jesus says to Peter. Then turning to Malcus he touched his ear and healed him. But even that fails to soften the angry mob. Now, turning Himself over to the mob Jesus said, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).

After His arrest Jesus was taken to the palace of the chief priest Caiaphas, and his father-in-law Annas, and tried for the crime of blasphemy. The fact that they were trying a man during the night and many other details of the proceedings were illegal under their own laws, but that did not stop them. A unanimous decision was reached (also illegal) and the crowd began to spit on Jesus and make a game of covering His face, striking him, and then crying out, “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?”

Outside as Peter waited, a maid who also sat with him at the fire suddenly proclaimed, “This man was also with him.”

But Peter answered, “Woman, I know him not.” Two more times people recognized Peter as a follower and both times Peter again denied knowing Jesus. After the third denial the cock crew and Peter remembered that the night before Jesus had told him, “Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” At the realization of what he had done, Peter went out and wept bitterly.

As the day began to dawn, Jesus was taken to Pilate because the chief priests wanted Him executed under Roman law. As they delivered Jesus up to Pilate in the Praetorium, the official residence of the Roman governor, they refused to enter the judgment hall themselves lest they be defiled. Curious about this man he had heard so much about, Pilate began the examination by asking, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33).

Jesus replied, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
Sarcastically Pilate replied, “Am I a Jew?” and explained that it is the chief priests that have told him these things. As the trial goes on Pilate persisted, “Art thou a king then?”

Jesus finally answered, “For this cause came I into the world. . . . Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

At this Pilate asked, “What is truth?” But without waiting for an answer sent Jesus to be judged of Herod.

Herod is equally as curious to see Jesus and questioned Him intensely, but Jesus refused to answer Herod. So Herod and his men mock “the King” by arraying him in a gorgeous royal robe and send Him back to Pilate.

Pilate can see that Jesus has committed no crime and is reluctant to pass judgment, but the Jewish leaders incite the crowd and insist on Jesus’ death. In a last attempt to free Jesus, Pilate offers the people a choice. There is to be a prisoner released to celebrate the Passover. Do they want Barabbas who is accused of murder and sedition set free or Jesus? The name Barabbas in Hebrew means “son of the father” and an early Christian scholar named Origen claimed that Barabbas’ given name was Yeshua, which in Greek is Jesus. Whether that is true or not the irony remains. The Jewish leaders chose to free the guilty “son of the father” who had destroyed lives, and condemn the innocent “Son of the Father” who would give them life.

Pilate, still unconvinced of the Savior’s guilt pleaded with the crowd, but fearing rioting from the crowd that refuses to relent, Pilate washes his hands as a symbolic gesture that he does not agree with this verdict, but proclaims Jesus as guilty and condemns Him to be crucified with the words, “Shall I crucify your King?” and the people shout back, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
Once again the soldiers mock and torture the Savior as they carry him to prison. Clothed in the purple royal robe, they now place a crown of thorns upon his head and salute him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” as they smite and spit upon Him.

Tired from being awake all night, fatigued from the atoning agony, and wounded from the scourging He had received Jesus began the walk to Calvery with the beam of the cross upon His back, but He had no strength left for the task and so a man, Simon a Cyrenian, was pulled from the crowd and forced to carry the cross. Once on the hill, Jesus was nailed to the cross beam, it was lifted into place on the permanently installed post, His feet were nailed to the post and He was crucified with a placard placed atop the cross that read in three languages, “This is the King of the Jews.” The Jewish leaders asked Pilate to change the placard to read, “He said, I am King of the Jews.” But Pilate refused to change it saying, “What I have written I have written.”

As the soldiers jeered and reviled while carrying out their duties, Jesus looked down upon them and said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

Totally clueless as to the eternally significant event taking place at the top of the cross, the soldiers at the bottom of the cross made four piles of His clothing, but instead of ripping the royal coat into four pieces they cast lots to see who would win it. Thus they went home that day rejoicing over their spoils unaware of the great gift of life that had been given them.

The crowd continued to jeer and mock. “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross.” And the chief priests cried out, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.” 
(To be continued tomorrow) 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's Maundy Thursday

As the days of the last week of His life go by, the Savior’s love for His disciples and for us becomes even more evident. On what has become known as Maundy Thursday He sends His disciples to prepare a room where they can celebrate the Passover meal together. At the appointed time Jesus begins the meal by saying, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” The Greek translated as desire has more intensity than the King James translators give it. The Greek work indicates an eagerness and would have been better translated, “With great desire.” 
It is difficult to determine the exact time line of what next occurs. John is the only writer to report the washing of the apostles’ feet, but He tells us that it was before the feast. If that is so, then the evening begins with Jesus removing his outer coat and girding himself with a towel, in other words He clothes himself as a servant would be clothed, and taking a basin of water He washes the feet of His disciples and wipes them with the towel. 
When He is finished He asks, “Know ye what I have done to you?” and then answers His own question, “Ye call me Master and Lord, for so am I. If I then have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
After this Jesus takes the cup of wine, gives thanks and the last legitimate Passover meal begins and during its course is transformed into the first Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But then Jesus grows troubled in spirit and says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” One can imagine the emotions that then afflicted the disciples. Those that loved Him were grieved and bewildered, and asked, “Is it I?” And the one who did not love Him, filled with guilt and fear that he was about to be denounced, tried to play the part of the loving and hypocritically imitated their concern, “Master, is it I?”
Jesus responded, “That thou doesn’t, do quickly.”
At these words Judas left. John reports this by saying, Judas “went immediately out: and it was night.”At least it was for Judas; he had left the Light of the world and entered darkness.
With Judas gone, Jesus proceeds to teach His disciples. Under the law of Moses the command has been to love others as you love yourself. But Jesus now says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).
Foreboding feelings must have permeated the evening and caused uneasiness among the participants, but Jesus always aware of what is needed, comforts them by saying, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2). In other words, 
Don’t worry. Trust me. I will always take care of you.
Jesus goes on to teach them the things that will guide and comfort them after He is gone; the same things that will bring us peace and comfort. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Then He explains that he is going to send another Comforter, the Holy Ghost, and assures them as the KJV reports, “I will not leave you comfortless” (John 14:18). But the Greek manuscripts say, “I will not leave you orphaned.” 
With love so deep and sincere that these thousands of years later one can still feel the emotion as if it were being spoken directly to the reader the Savior then says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, netiher let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
The time in the Upper Room ends by singing a hymn which was most likely the Hallel. Then they left and walked north-eastward, passing the Temple Mount, crossing down the Kidron valley, and finally ascending the Mount of Olives until they reached the Garden of Gethsemane. But His teachings do not end. As they walk, He continues to exhort them. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine: no more can ye, except ye abide in me . . . for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). And again, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). “When the Spirit of truth is come he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). And finally, to prepare them for what is about to happen He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy” (John 16:20). “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
After this Jesus lifts up his eyes to heaven and prays a marvelous prayer for the disciples and for you and me. It has become known as the Intercessory Prayer or the Great High Priestly Prayer. I cannot do this justice by condensing it. Read John 17 as the Savior of the world prays to the Father for you and ends with these words, 
“And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).

Finally the Savior and His followers arrive at Gethsemane, which means oil press. Jesus instructs most of the disciples to sit while He takes Peter, James and John further into the garden. At this point Jesus begins to be “sore amazed” as Mark reports, but again the Greek here is much more intense. The Greek words mean “terrified surprise or astonishment.” You and I know the consequences of sin. We’ve felt the guilt, the heavy darkness, the anguish, and the depression that are brought on by sin, but Jesus Christ had never before felt such feelings. This was new to Him—astonishing in its intensity and darkness. Thus as the sins of the world press upon Him in this place called “Oil Press” he cries out, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
But the agony continues until the anguish and pressure is so intense that blood presses through His flesh and great drops fall to the ground. 
He had instructed His disciples to pray, but instead they have slept. Three times during this ordeal He returned to them and instructed them, but the first two times, though they try, they fall asleep again. Thus the third time when He returns He says, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mark 14:41).
Like all days, this first Maundy Thursday came and went. But unlike any other day, this Thursday contained more love, concern, guidance, and admonition than any Thursday before or since. In it Jesus Christ commands us to love, but more than that He shows us love as He bears our sins so that 
"With his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
The entire day can be summed up in four words that you should repeat often this day and always: 
Jesus Christ loves me.
(The full account can be found in Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; and John 13-17)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More About Easter Week

Wednesday is the only day of Easter week that is not reported on by the gospel writers. But there are a few other things I’d like to point out today. First of all, in all the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), one-sixth of the text is used to describe the twenty-four hours beginning with the last supper and ending with the burial of Jesus. This means that if every day in the life of Jesus were this complete we would have 180 volumes as large as our whole Bible (Vincent 1:433). Oh, how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wanted us to understand the significance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

There are also many things I left out that happened on Tuesday. One I can’t neglect and that is the story of the Widow’s mite. We are told that Jesus was in the treasury which was a hall in the temple where gifts were deposited in thirteen receptacles shaped like trumpets. Jesus watched as one by one rich men paraded through the hall and cast their gifts into the trumpets, but then a poor widow cast in two meager mites. Not wanting this to go unnoticed by his disciples, Jesus made a point of it. “Of a truth,” He told them, “This poor widow has cast in more than all of the others. For they gave a little from their abundance, but she has given all she has.”
In contrast to this story we find another account concerning money. It was also on Tuesday that Judas set into motion the plot to kill Jesus. There is much irony in the very name Judas, for it means “he shall be praised.” We are told that Judas had become offended because of the Savior’s words (JST Mark 14:10) and so he went to the chief priests and asked, “What will ye give me if I deliver Jesus unto you?” And they agreed on a price of 30 pieces of silver.
Scholars and others have purported many estimates of what those 30 pieces of silver are worth in today’s money. I’ve found reports of anywhere between $7.20 to $40,000. This tells us that no one really knows for sure, but the fact that the chief priests later use the money to buy a plot of ground to be used as a cemetery tells us that it was a substantial amount of money. What is more important is that the 30 pieces of silver is fulfillment of a prophecy made in Zechariah 11:12 in which we are told, “So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver,” which in those days was the price that under the law of Moses a man must pay to a neighbor if the man’s animal caused the death of the neighbor’s slave. In other words, 30 pieces of silver was considered the monetary worth to replace a slave.
The symbolism of this slave metaphor is profound and in many Bible stories this symbolism foreshadows the “selling” of Jesus. For example, it was Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who proposed and sold his brother Joseph as a slave, and now it is Judas who proposes and sells his brother Jesus for the price of a slave.
After the crucifixion, Judas regrets what he has done and returns the money to the chief priests saying, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). But the chief priests refuse (you can almost hear them laughing in derision) to accept the money for the temple treasury because it is “blood money” and would profane and desecrate the temple. The irony here is mind boggling. They are too pious to accept “tainted ” money, but have no qualms about murdering Jesus.
When they refuse the money, Judas throws down the silver, leaves the temple, and hangs himself. So the chief priests are left with the money and since they won’t put blood money in the treasury, they buy the potter’s field. Of this part of the story Zechariah prophesies, “Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them” (Zechariah 11:13).
Pondering these stories leads all of us to the question,
“What is Jesus worth to us?”
Discovering the answer to that question is what Easter week is all about.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Savior's Teachings on His Last Tuesday

Tuesday of that last week of the Savior's life began as Monday had with Jesus and his followers passing by the fig tree. Peter, seeing the withered tree, said to Jesus, “Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.” 

And Jesus responded, “Have faith in God.” And went on to explain that with faith whatsoever they prayed for would be given, but that when they prayed they should forgive others.
Upon reaching the temple, Jesus’ authority was challenged by the chief priests and elders, but Jesus sidestepped the challenge and went on teaching the people in parables. As he told them of the wicked husbandmen who killed the master’s son in order to take over the vineyard, you would think the priests would have recognized themselves, but they were too busy plotting and thinking up questions they think will make Him look bad. 

One of them asks, if they should pay tribute to Caesar. In response he asks them to show him a coin. They produce a penny and he says, “Whose image is this?” 


He answered, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25). 

The Sadducees and Pharisees continue to ply him with questions, each hoping that Jesus will say something to incite the Romans, or the crowd, or give them cause to arrest Him. The Sadducees, who don’t believe in an afterlife, ask about marriage in the next life. And a lawyer asks the famous question, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Undaunted, Jesus turns this into a teaching moment instructing them to love God and to love one another. 

In this way He continues teaching with parables but then laments over the fate of Jesusalem. Then once more drawing on the familiar words of the Hallel, Jesus testifies of his own death. But instead of repenting they argue with Him even about that. His response is simply, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47).

Sorrow can’t help but fill one’s heart as we read these accounts knowing that Jesus Christ is offering them the greatest gift ever offered to mankind and yet their pride and selfishness blind them so that they reject Eternal Life in exchange for satisfying their vanity.

At this point Jesus leaves, but his disciples follow him and ask several questions concerning the temple. This speech is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, and is called the Olivet Discourse or by some the Little Apocalypse. He explains that there will be false Messiahs and that destruction awaits Jerusalem and warns them to beware and to watch themselves at all times. He then goes on to teach them the parables of the ten virgins and the talents and finishes by telling them they will be eventually be judge for their actions. And what will be the criteria? As always His instruction is simple and easy to understand: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

This brief retelling doesn’t begin to capture the depth and breadth of Jesus’ final teachings to the people on that Tuesday before His death. He knows what is coming and in love makes His last pleas for the people to repent and follow Him. But blinded by their sin the majority of the people refuse. Thus the irony begins to unfold; He will suffer and die to redeem the very sin they are at that moment committing if only they will repent.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Savior's Last Monday

On the last Monday morning of the Savior’s life, He and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem when the He saw a fig tree along the path. Under the law of Moses trees growing “in the way” were common property and anyone could freely partake of the fruit. In addition this fig tree was full of leaves and fig trees normally produce fruit before leaves. Being hungry, the sight of a fig tree with leaves meant food, but when Jesus approached the tree He discovered it had no fruit and said, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever” (Matthew 21:19) and the fig tree withered away.

For many this story is difficult to understand. Why would the Savior curse the tree just because it had no fruit? There are several answers. First, the fig tree that has leaves but no fruit is a symbol of hypocrisy just as people who create a self-image of righteousness but produce no righteous “fruits” are hypocrites. Thus by cursing the tree Jesus warns of the fate that awaits the impenitent and the hypocrites. Second, it was a witness to all who beheld the miracle that Jesus had power not only over life but over death. They had seen him give life by raising Lazarus from the dead, but now they saw that He also had the power to take away life. The lesson had to be taught, but Jesus teaches it in the kindest way possible by performing it on a tree and not a human being. Third, it teaches those who had eyes to see some important things about faith. On the morrow He will instruct his followers more about faith and this experience will help them understand what He is going to teach. It is also a foreboding of what is about to occur in His own life as He is about to die.

After cursing the fig tree, Jesus moves on to the temple and as He approaches discovers that it is polluted with moneychangers and animal vendors. Imagine the scene. Thousands of people have come from far away to celebrate Passover and to perform the rituals that are part of Passover. In order to do that, they need to offer animal sacrifices in the temple, but traveling with animals is cumbersome so they come intending to buy their sacrificial offerings when they arrive. To accommodate them the enterprising vendors have set up their stalls not just as close to the temple entrances as they can, but in the temple compound. Men are shouting for people to buy from them, and their competitors are shouting louder and longer to get attention for their wares. Animals are bleating, bellowing, and cawing. Animal waste is filling the air with noxious smells, and all around is the chaos and confusion of an outdoor market in the height of tourist season. But wait, there is more! The temple would not accept Roman coinage because Roman coins which portrayed the image of Caesar were profane. Thus eager moneychangers are on hand to change Roman coins for the “holy” temple coins, and of course they add to the ruckus in an attempt to attract customers so that they can also make a nice profit. In short, the sounds, sights, smells and feel at the temple that day was anything but reverent and holy.
The interesting thing about this story is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record how Jesus chases away the vendors, but not one of them depicts Jesus as angry. The anger is something we readers assume. But think about it. There are probably scores of vendors and moneychangers at the temple and yet not one of them fights back. If He attacked them with anger it would normally incite anger in them and cause them to fight back. But instead they seem to leave without putting up a fight. Could it be that because of the composed way He disperses them, their own hearts are inflicted with guilt and they leave?They know what they are doing is wrong.

During the first year of Jesus’ ministry He cleansed the temple and at that time declared to the people, “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise” (John 2:16). This time, at the end of His ministry, He calls the temple His house saying, “My house shall be called the house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13). But the next day, Jesus will condemn the people for their wickedness and because of that relinquish the temple with the words, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). This is fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, “But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, said the Lord that this house shall become a desolation" (Jeremiah 22:5).

About forty years from the time Jesus proclaimed that the temple had been polluted and was no longer His house, the Roman general Titus invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple so completely that there was not one stone left sitting upon another. This is amazing when one considers that some single stones of the temple were about 67 feet long and 7 feet high and 9 feet wide. The pillars supporting the porches were 37½ feet high. But a temple from which the people have evicted God, cannot stand.

That Monday, those many years ago, was memorable. Because the people refused to believe in Christ and bear the fruits of righteousness, their beloved temple, like the fig tree, was destroyed.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

It's Palm Sunday

On the last Sunday of the Savior’s mortal life the disciples brought to Him the donkey they had obediently obtained. As we talked about yesterday, the riding of a donkey was symbolic of the fact that He was King, but instead of a fine saddle of leather, gold and jewels that the king of the land would have had, this donkey was outfitted in humble cloaks from off the backs of the disciples—a gesture of love and esteem. 
This being the beginning of Passover week, Jerusalem was crowded with local Jews and thousands who had traveled from lands far away in order to celebrate Passover at the temple. Word that Jesus, the man who had raised Lazarus from the tomb, had come to Jerusalem spread quickly among them and curiosity impelled a great multitude to gather to see for themselves. Therefore, as Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives, crossed the wadi Kidron, and then began the assent to the Temple Mount, people thronged the streets to greet Him. Overcome with emotion many took off their cloaks and laid them on the ground to make a path for Him. Others cut palm branches, a symbol of victory, and waved them as He passed. And those that followed Him and those He approached all began to cry out saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9). Hosanna means “save now,” and these words are part of the Hallel which was used in the temple during sacrificial rituals to help the people remember that the animal sacrifices they were offering were a semblance of The Sacrifice that would occur when a Messiah atoned for the sins of mankind.

The Hallel consists of Psalms 113-118, which are recited not only during sacrificial rituals but on many other joyous occasions. The Hallel was traditionally recited as part of morning prayer services, and during the first night of Passover was part of evening prayers. Reading these six Psalms will help you feel the meaning of Easter, but there is one verse that is particularly poignant to me and illustrates the irony of what is occurring. Sunday the crowd praises Jesus and through word and actions proclaims Him their king, but on Friday they will cry out, “We have no king but Ceasar” (John 19:15). And in the Hallel we read, “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner” (Psalm 118:22).

As the crowd shouts “Hosanna!” the Pharisees call on Jesus to rebuke the disciples for such blasphemy. But Jesus answers them, “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out!”

As the procession slowly drew near to the city, Jesus wept, and said, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:42). There is much debate over the meaning of the word Jerusalem, but some have said it means “Founded peaceful.” If that is the case, the Savior’s sorrow is even more meaningful. The city was intended as a place of peace and refuge for the House of Israel, but men had turned it into a place of iniquity. Thus great destruction, pain, and suffering await the inhabitants and Jesus prophecies of that impending doom while weeping. (Luke 19:42-44).

But the message is for all of us. God will save us from destruction. Even the stones of the earth know that. And the Savior was given us to “found us peaceful” in the midst of this world of chaos and iniquity. This is the promise that is ours—this “belongs to our peace” if we will lay down our cloaks on the path of righteousness and follow the Savior crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that came in the name of the Lord.”

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Easter is Fast Approaching

If we had as much written about every week of the Savior's life as we do about the last week of His life, we’d fill the Library of Congress with just those books. So this week, the week before Easter, I'm going to recount what we know about each day.

Six days before Passover, on the day before the Triumphal entry (which is today), Jesus arrived in Bethany at the home of the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He often stayed with them and his great love for them was made evident when He raised Lazarus from the dead probably a couple months before this time. (See John 11:43.) When He arrived a supper was made for him, and as we know, Martha was chief caretaker at that event. It is easy to imagine her bustling around making sure everyone is comfortable and has enough to eat. She must have been the consummate hostess. But while Martha showed her love for the Savior by taking care of His physical needs, Mary expressed her love by taking a pound of ointment of spikenard, which we are told was “very costly” and anointed Jesus’ feet. The word spikenard in Hebrew is nard and means “light.” In Greek the word for spikenard means “pure and genuine.”

The amount of ointment is amazing. Think of a pound of butter. No wonder John tells us that the house was filled with the beautiful scent of the ointment. In a day when the stink of unwashed bodies, rotting food, waste, and debris constantly accosted people, the fact that this sweet scent filled the air must have been unforgettable. But instead of enjoying the aroma Judas Iscariot, was displeased. “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 8:5), he asked. A pence was a day’s wages for the common working man, which makes Judas’ concern understandable if one is only looking at the materiality of the event. 

But the Savior responds, “Let her alone; against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (John 12:7-8). And Mark reports that he says,“For verily she has come beforehand to anoint my body to the burying. She has done what she could: and this which she has done unto me shall be had in remembrance in generations to come, wheresoever my gospel shall be preached; Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, what she hath done shall be spoken of also for a memorial of her” (JST Mark 14:8-9).

The Savior’s words indicate that Mary knew what was coming. She knows He is going to die and is anointing Him in preparation for that death, but besides the anointing we are told that Mary wiped his feet with her hair.  The reverence, the awe, the love of that gesture sink deep into my heart. This is an event filled with significant symbolic meaning. In great reverence she anoints the Light of Life with spikenard (a symbol of light) and wipes the ointment onto His feet with her hair (anciently a symbol of life). In doing so, she is symbolically proclaiming that He will die, but His death will give light and life to you and me.

 Word spread quickly that Jesus was in the area and large groups of people began to assemble. John tells us that they came not only to see Jesus but to see Lazarus, the man who had been dead and buried but raised from the tomb. Despite why they came, once they had seen Jesus many went away believing in Him, and marveling at the things He had done. This irritated the Chief Priests so much they counseled together how they might put both Jesus and Lazarus to death and thus end all this talk of miracles and messiahs.

As the Chief Priests went about their devious plotting, Jesus walked over the mountain into Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, and from there he sent two disciples into the nearby village to bring back an ass that no one had ever sat upon. He told them that as soon as they entered the village they would see the colt tied by a door. Jesus  warned them that as they loosed the colt, they would be asked, “Why do ye this?” and they were to simply answer, “The Lord hath need of him.” Upon hearing this, the man would readily agree to send the colt with them.

The disciples did as Jesus commanded and everything happened exactly as He told them it would.

The interesting thing about this account is that Jesus knew exactly where the colt would be found and even the words that would be spoken. Looking back on this experience after the crucifixion, the disciples could not help but understand that this was part of the plan that would bring about His death. He knew, when He asked them to go for the colt, what lay ahead for Him.

But there is more to learn from this account. An ass had specific symbolism that is important here. Horses were used by soldiers for warfare, but asses and mules were gentler animals and thus symbols of royalty. While history often shows us kings who are selfish and proud, the intent has always been that a king should be someone who loves, protects, and cares for his people. Thus by His choice to ride an ass, Jesus proclaims to all who have eyes to see that He has come not as a warrior who will save them from Roman bondage, but as a King who will save them from the bondage of sin. And just as the colt had never been ridden before, this type of King had never been known before.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Challenge - Is It True?

How did you do with the "Fix it or Live With It?" challenge from last week?
We'll deal with the Live With It part of that soon,
 but the challenge today is to Question.

LIT Challenge #3

Questioning is a simple thing to do, 
but it can make all the difference in your day.
When vexing thoughts begin to stir in you, simply stop and ask the question, 
"It that true?"
And remember, "Truth is verity." 
Truth is what is.

For example, your husband is late coming home from work and you begin to think that he must have been in an automobile accident. After all, he's always home by now. 
You begin to fret, but stop and ask, 
"Is that true?" No! He is simply late. That is what is.
You laugh at yourself and go on with your day.

This works with so many things in our lives not just worrying. 
Another example:
You put on a dress and look in the mirror and think, "This makes me look so fat!"
"Is that true?" Usually it isn't. 
We are just in a picky mood and no matter what we put on we'd think we were fat. 
So drop the thought and go out not thinking about yourself, but others.

One more example:
Your child wants you to help her do something, 
but you are very tired and put her off. 
She begins to cry and you think, "I'm such a terrible mother."
"Is that true?" No! 
You are not a terrible mother you are a tired mother. That is what is. 
There is a big difference between tired and terrible.
All of us get tired and don't function at full capacity from time to time. 

Questioning works really well with any of the stories we tell ourselves.
 "She doesn't like me any more." 
"Mother favors my sister over me." 
"I'm a hopeless failure." 
"I can't speak in public." 
So this week analyze your thoughts and answer honestly, 
"Is that true?" 
 and let me know what happens.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Just Be Curious

Awhile back I discovered a new Truth Tool that I used and then for some reason forgot all about. But it is a good one--Curiosity. I discovered it by watching how children deal with negative experiences. Children are naturally resilient and I realized that part of what makes them so resilient is their curiosity about life.

I love this Truth Tool and realize that I have used it on many occasions in my life without recognizing that it is a Truth Tool. Here’s how it works. When vexation starts to swell in you, instead of being sucked into the negative feelings get curious about them. An example will best explain how this works.

Let’s say you suddenly get bad news that your company is laying off 200 workers and you are one of them. Vexation! The negative feelings start to rise in you and the Should Sharks begin to attack. “What am I going to do? I’ve got bills to pay!” “This shouldn't t be happening. I’ve been a good employee for twenty years! I’m too old to find a new job.” “This isn’t fair!” “I always knew this company could care less about employees. All that matters to them are dollars.” These thoughts cause negative feelings to knot in the stomach and choke in the chest.

But then you remember the Truth Tools and pull out Curiosity and change the way you are thinking to things like:
“I wonder what lesson God wants me to learn from this.” 
“When God closes a window, He opens a door. I wonder what door will open for me now.” 
“I can’t wait to see what tender mercies will come my way to help me through this.” 
“I wonder how this is going to make me grow.”
In short, be curious instead of worrying and stay in the Realm of Truth.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Taste of Love

Once again I am so excited to tell you what I am learning and experiencing from Living in Truth. As I explained the other day, I had an experience that a few years ago would have vexed me very, very much. But this week I recognized it as simply the truth of what had happened. It was nothing I could fix and so I had to live with it and to live with it I choose to just laugh at myself for being so stupid and the situation as being rather strange. It worked and I made it through without being vexed and without taking on any Unnecessary Pain.

But the exciting thing is what happened yesterday. I was simply walking along the sidewalk and an image of the person who had talked to me passed through my mind--no thoughts or feelings just her face, and as the image began to fade I suddenly was blessed with a powerful feeling of love for her. No, I take that back. It wasn't just powerful, it was overwhelming, warm, and extraordinarily beautiful feeling that I can't begin to explain to you, and now when I think of her I feel this same sense (but not as powerful) of love for her.

I know this was a gift from my Father in Heaven, and I know that if I had given in to the negative feelings and become vexed or vengeful or bitter or angry or in any way fallen into the Pit of Illusion, I would not have experienced that beautiful feeling.

I think I was given a taste of what the scriptures call charity or the "pure love of Christ."And that taste has made me hungry for more.

There are so many blessings to be discovered by Living in Truth!

Monday, March 18, 2013

I'm Learning

Yesterday I had one of those interesting moments when Living in Truth saved me. Our ward is doing a Passover Seder this coming Saturday to help us prepare for Easter. While the Passover is traditionally a Jewish festival, God commanded the people to observe it in the book of Exodus which is part of our Old Testament. So to help our ward members understand the significance and why we as Christians are doing it, the bishopric asked me to speak about it in Sacrament meeting. They told me that there would only be two speakers, me and the high councilman so to plan on 20 to 25 minutes. So I did.

Well, I got to the meeting and they had added a speaker. And to make a long story short, I left the high councilman very little time which I feel very bad about. I cut a lot of my talk out, but it wasn't enough. I apologized profusely to the high councilman, but what was done was done. I really did feel bad about it.

Then as I was leaving Church a woman stopped me and said, "I really wanted to hear that high councilman speak today, and then when you went on and on and on." I wasn't sure how to respond to that except to say, "I'm sorry." She had poured salt into an open wound. But could I fix it? No. But I could learn from it.

I pulled out the Truth Tool humor and laughed at myself. I was in the wrong. There was nothing I could do to change it. Other people had noticed and wished I hadn't gone over time. Could I change that? No. So, I had to cry or laugh, and I choose to laugh. What can I say? I make mistakes. I hope I've learned from this one. And I should be thankful this good sister helped me learn my lesson. Bless her little heart!