[Holy Week] Easter Sunday: Resurrection

Today we finally arrive at the reason for telling this story. Christ the Lord is Risen today! Hallelujah!

Each day of Holy Week 2014, I have been walking through last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry by reviewing and reflecting on a series of podcasts published at The Rabbit Room featuring contributor Russ Ramsey. These messages examine the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day.

All week I have journaled my thoughts here in anticipation of today’s Easter celebration. Today’s message, “Resurrection,” celebrates the empty tomb and everything it means. (Matthew 28:1-10)

~~~

6. resurrection lg

Easter is the central event upon which Christianity stands or falls. As Ramsey notes, “Easter isn’t just one of many important dates on the Christian calendar. Without Easter, there is no Christianity. Everything Christians profess is meaningless if Christ isn’t raised.” The entire Old Testament foreshadows the Savior’s arrival, and even when we celebrate His birth, it is because He was sent to die for the forgiveness of our sins.

He is risen, and everything about it is just as He said it would be–it was His plan of redemption from the beginning of time. As we’ve noted all week, He resolutely and deliberately offered up His life at every turn (no one took it from Him), shunning any opportunities to abandon the plan and save Himself. And it is complete; our debt was paid.

Today’s teaching has many thoughtful insights into the text, per usual. Ramsey’s commentary calls attention to often-overlooked details, like the fact that the angel rolled the stone away (with an earthquake!), but not to let Jesus out of the tomb–He was already gone. It was only to show the two women visiting the grave that it was empty. But the most amazing part is not that He defeated death, it’s that He shares His victory with us! We have life because He lives.

This is the restoration that all humans long for. Ramsey recounts the time his dog died when he was a boy, and how he felt instinctively that death was not right and wished with everything in him that the tragedy could be undone. That boy began to learn about the law of irreversibility that governs this world–one that most of us know all too well.

When we lost mom, it was not my first encounter with death, but it was the most traumatic blow I had suffered. I was ambushed by an onslaught of emotions, but what hit me most squarely was the finality of it. This was a something that couldn’t be fixed or taken back–no matter how desperate I was to just cancel it out, erase the mistake, put everything back where it was.

Ramsey poses the question: What if death feels so wrong because it is so wrong? Death is an intruder–we are made for a world where death does not prevail. But because Jesus conquered the grave, reversing the irreversible, all of our grief has a remedy. He has overcome the sin that inflicts so much pain and suffering on earth.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  ~ C.S. Lewis

My yearning for the day when God will make all things new is an indispensable part of life as a follower of Christ. But I can live with hope because I know that He has won. There is not one part of my life that is not affected by the fact that He is alive. I pray I can remember this every day, and not just on Resurrection Sunday. The empty tomb is not just a happy ending to this story; it is the beginning.


*if you would like to listen to the last two messages, you can find the entire series on the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church’s website.

*original image at bp.blogspot.com

[Holy Week] Saturday: Waiting

For the past six days, I’ve been recognizing the holy, historic events of this week by revisiting a series of podcasts I first listened to at The Rabbit Room a few years ago. The presentation is a selection of messages from a series by Russ Ramsey entitled “No One Takes My Life From Me,” which focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day.

This year I decided to listen with a bit more intention and actively engage with the messages during Holy Week by journaling my thoughts and prayers here, to prepare my heart for the Easter celebration. On Wednesday, my desire to dig deeper sent me in pursuit of the entire 26-week series on the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church’s website, which I hope to mine for more theological gold at some point.

And today (!) I discovered each audio upload is also accompanied by a PDF file of sermon notes. Gah! That would have been so helpful as I searched different Bible translations looking for the version Ramsey teaches from. (It’s ESV, in case you’re wondering.) I believe there are videos, as well.

This Holy Week exercise has turned out to be much more profound than I anticipated, in a very good way. My hope was that it would help me to be mindful, each day, of the eternal significance of this week as we approach another Easter. I expected to get to know Jesus better and understand the events of His last week more clearly, but I gained so much more. The scope of the impact on my mind and heart and life is deep and wide.

Ramsey’s dedication to building a cumulative narrative built on all the material spread across the gospels has been very helpful and meaningful for me. The process has been more complex and involved–mentally, spiritually, logistically–than I intended, but I am so glad. Because I’ve been trying to experience these scriptures in real-time, my daily post has usually not been ready until the end of each day. But today my reflection is not in response to a particular message from Ramsey’s teaching, so it’s published as the day begins!

~~~

--

The truth that has struck me as each day’s events build on the story, is the common thread of people choosing to distance themselves from Christ for silly, silly reasons. We see it over and over, from Peter’s denial and Judas’s betrayal to the dismissal of the Chief Priests and the hidden loyalty of Joseph and Nicodemus. And why? Because we are ashamed or greedy or arrogant or fearful? The disturbing part is how easy it is to relate to these momentary motives, if we are truly honest.

The past two days‘ study have been long and exhausting because they combined three messages each–and we didn’t even cover all that happened in those two days! But today, Saturday, all is quiet. The controversy and high-action that filled the week have died down and everyone…waits. His followers, filled with grief, watch expectantly to see if He will rise from the grave as promised. And his accusers bide the time nervously hoping He was a crazy as they alleged.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus said many times that He would die in Jerusalem at the hands of the Chief Priests, but rise again on the third day. Of course, the religious leaders scoffed at this, but Jesus’ claim preoccupied their thoughts on the day following His death, and they couldn’t simply dismiss it. Matthew tells how the Pharisees requested that Pilate secure the tomb–perhaps they entertained the possibility that Jesus knew something they didn’t?

I am so grateful that I do not have to anxiously await Sunday to find out if my Savior can conquer Death. We know without any doubt that He is alive!

If you’ve been listening and reflecting along with me, I hope this series has been instrumental in cultivating a grateful heart for the sacrifice of our Risen Savior, as it has for me. I’d love to hear your impressions, opinions, and insight if you care to share. Even if you have to come back to this when you have more time to dig into the teaching or expound on your thoughts. I write for my own benefit, but dare to put it out there to contribute to the conversation.

[Holy Week] Good Friday: Death

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I’ve been journaling my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for the Easter celebration. My comments are not necessarily a summary of the teaching, so they will make more sense if you’ve listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

~~~

Just as The Rabbit Room chose a selection of ten messages* for the sake of space and timing, I have combined several messages into one response both yesterday and today. Today I am responding to these messages: “Verdict,”  (John 19:16-27), “Death,” (Matthew 27:45-54), and “Burial,” (John 19:31-42).

--

The most astounding part of “Verdict” for me was not the discussion about why Pilate wanted to free Jesus (fear and duplicity), nor contemplation on why Pilate didn’t free Jesus (political manipulation), nor the conclusion of why Pilate couldn’t free Him (lack of authority). Even though the last point, in particular, highlights our main point that Jesus intentionally and authoritatively gave His life, my mind keeps returning to the part of the teaching that explores the Chief Priests’ dark and twisted motivations.

We have no king but Caesar.”

LIARS. These men, who had spent their lives anticipating the coming of the Messiah from the only kingly line they would ever honor—the line of David–disregarded their entire history as the people of God as if they were now nothing more than subjects of Rome. And for what? To manipulate Pilate to kill the man that their only True Sovereign had sent to save them!

Their spineless behavior has always gotten me a little edgy–it’s just so messed up–but Ramsey has a way of really putting the moment in perspective with the help of scriptural back story. These religious leaders didn’t just abandon their own convictions on a whim, they contradicted everything that God had ever said about who they were, and Whose they were.

Ramsey closes this message imploring Christians to take the name of Christ with everything we have. If you claim to be His follower, it is a lie to put off that name to achieve a temporary goal.

The podcast entitled “Death” is a painstaking, explicit account of the physical and spiritual torture that Jesus endured before and during His crucifixion. I think comprehending the reality of His experience is important, and I willingly explored those hours again with Ramsey, who drew on the knowledge of Biblical and historical scholars to create an accurate account. His is one of the more thorough and perceptive descriptions that I have heard. And of course our attention is continually brought back to our main thesis, the crucial assertion that Jesus chose this. The transaction of the Cross was between God the Father and God the Son, in which Jesus absorbed God’s wrath in my place. It was not the wrath of His accusers that placed Him on the cross–He planned to die. He spoke the words, “It is finished” because He had completed what He came to do.

4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53

In “Burial,” Ramsey spends some time referring back to the events of the previous days. He does this to outline the Pharisees’ refusal to acknowledge who Jesus was, so that he can contrast their deliberate blindness with the recognition of two among them who saw Jesus as the Messiah. Even though Jesus perfectly embodied Scripture’s descriptions of the Messiah, all the religious leaders failed to see Him.

All, that is, except for two members of the Sanhedrin: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Both men were waiting for the Messiah and attempted to defend Jesus on different occasions, yet remained secret disciples, afraid to confess their faith in Jesus because they did not want to be put out of the synagogue and lose the praise of men. As much as I’d like to distance myself from this type of cowardice, I have to say that I can relate to their reluctance.

These two men took charge of Jesus’ body after he died. Joseph boldly asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, and Nicodemus helped him prepare and bury Jesus. They used their wealth to provide a tomb and spices for his burial, and this act is the first time we see them making their belief in Jesus public. The death of Jesus drew them out, because this expression of love–offering His life–required them to answer the question of Jesus’ identity based on more than intellectual analysis of His teachings.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus declared that His death and resurrection would draw men to Himself. Joseph and Nicodemus are the first example of that being fulfilled. And He is still drawing people to Himself through His saving work on the Cross. I pray that decisions concerning my devotion to Jesus would be more than ideological and academic; I want to engage the Man who embodies those concepts.


<“text-align: justify;”>*If you’re listening along, then you might have noticed that some messages seem to be missing from this series of ten Rabbit Room podcasts. In one of today’s messages, Ramsey comments on teaching the series for several months. I was able to locate the entire 26-week series on the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church’s website, and plan to listen to the remaining messages as I can. Maybe I will even fill in the gaps in these Holy Week response posts in another year.

*original image by epm.org

[Holy Week] Thursday: Betrayal

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

~~~

Just as The Rabbit Room chose a selection of ten messages* for the sake of space and timing, I am combining several messages into one response both today and tomorrow. Today I am responding to these messages on Thursday’s events: “Betrayal,” which covers interactions during the Last Supper in the Upper Room (John 13:21-30); “Doxology,” exploring the time immediately following the Last Supper when the disciples accompanied Jesus to the garden. (Matthew 26:30-35); and “Reckoning,” which compares the denial by Peter and the demise of Judas (Matthew 26:69-27:10).

--

There are many nuggets to be gleaned from passage studied in “Betrayal,” but not much that I hadn’t considered before. I do enjoy Ramsey’s storytelling ability to set a scene and bind all the pieces together, and that framing is what I benefited most from in this message. Being able to connect dots and notice obscure details has really enhanced my reading.

Ramsey teaches about the events in the Upper Room from John’s Gospel for a specific reason–John offers information that is not available to the other disciples. (I really appreciate how Ramsey constantly helps us pull the thread together from all the Gospels.) John’s perspective is important because he was sitting right beside Jesus at the table. While the others were asking who the betrayer was that Jesus spoke of, John was close enough for Jesus to share that He would identify the traitor by offering the man a piece of bread.

And when Judas left, it seems that only Jesus and John and Judas understood what he was going to do. John saw the moment unfold, and writes about it with poetic flourish. As a writer, I love that Ramsey highlights how John paints a word picture with lots of texture.

“Judas went out and it was night.” I had always read this in a direct manner, thinking that it only referred to the time of day. But John is the one who writes with the metaphor of light and dark throughout his gospel, and he uses it again, here. His description portrays a man who was abandoning the Light of the World to step irreversibly out into Darkness.

Judas was under the influence of Satan, and the disturbing thing is that no one, not even those closest to him, suspected a thing. When Jesus told his disciples that one among them would betray Him, nobody pointed a finger at Judas. From every outward appearance, he was someone who had an intimate relationship with Jesus. An analysis of the why behind his actions would be complex (and Ramsey dips a toe in), but the simple truth is that none of us is above the worst transgressions against Christ.

The next message, “Doxology,” is my favorite in the series so far. Ramsey centers his teaching around just a few words at the beginning of this passage in Matthew, and the acuity he draws out of that phrase completely arrested my heart. “And when they had sung a hymn…” How had I never paused to notice these remarkable words before? This detail appears in Mark’s gospel as well, and had never once lingered long enough on the opening clause to even remember it as a part of the story.

What must that have been like? The room tense with echo of bickering disciples and predictions of betrayal, Jesus feeling the pressure of the conflict that has been building all week and the pain He knows He will have to endure, and then He leads them in singing. John tells us that Jesus was troubled when he sat down to the Last Supper and by the time He gets to the garden, Luke shares that he is sweating blood. Yet in the middle of His obvious distress, He does not let His mood determine His actions. Like I do. All the time. When life is hard, it’s tempting to give in and say, “I don’t feel like it.”

But Jesus is relentlessly faithful, unfaltering in His strength, and unflinching in His resolve to complete His mission. All week long, He never missteps or loses control of the situation. And when it comes time to sing a hymn at the end of the meal, He does not shy away because He is upset. He draws near to His loving Father and sings.

Apparently, historians and scholars think that this song was most likely Psalm 118. The refrain of this doxology is repeated throughout: “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Ramsey asks us to imagine Jesus singing these words just before heading out to be arrested.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
25 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

I just can’t even.

I feel like I could, and perhaps should, stop there and let that simmer for awhile. But the verses that follow are profound, as well. As the disciples walk with Jesus the couple of miles to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, they have a short conversation that demonstrates the heart of the Gospel.

A straightforward reading of the text appears to be a simple prediction: the disciples will all fall away from Jesus, He will die, and then when He is risen He will meet them again. And then we see their expected protests in loyalty. But Ramsey points out that Jesus is doing more than accusing them of stumbling. He caring for and preparing His followers for what will come. Instilling in them the promise that though they will fail, their failure will not be enough to overrule His call on their life. He will be waiting for them with loving open arms on the other side of their mistakes.

This is the Gospel message: our need for Him and His unconditional love.

Ramsey’s teaching includes a thought-provoking discussion on the heart behind the protests of the disciples, particularly Peter’s tacky response that reveals his conceit. The concept he introduces of “the sin of exceptionalism” is one that is too big for my thoughts to fit here, but it boils down to this: “When we imagine ourselves to be stronger than God’s Word says we are, we put ourselves in a position to reject the counsel of His Word because we expect from ourselves something that is different than what His Word says we should expect.” I may write a whole post on how that Truth has affected my approach to God, my life, and my walk with Him.

The comparison of Peter’s denial and Judas’s betrayal in “Reckoning” is an interesting discussion, and one that prompted a sincere reflection on the state of my own heart–but one that will probably remain in my handwritten journal. I think each of us might find some familiarity and conviction in the lessons found there.

Ramsey has done an excellent job, in my opinion, of connecting each message to his main thesis–that Jesus laid down His life of His own accord; it was not taken from Him–while also pulling out hard-hitting personal application that compels you to consider your own attitudes toward your relationship with Christ.

* If you’re listening along, then you might have noticed that some messages seem to be missing from this ten-podcast series. He often refers to previous passages that are not included in the Rabbit Room presentation, and from his comments about the timing and intentions for the series I deduced that the total count should be somewhere around 28 messages–meaning I was missing out on the majority of the teaching. There is so much gold in these ten episodes, and I really enjoy his storytelling and reverence for scripture, so I decided to do some sleuthing. I was able to locate the entire 26-week series on the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church’s website, and plan to listen to the remaining messages as I can. Maybe I will even fill in the gaps in these Holy Week response posts in another year.

*original image by bp.blogspot.com

[Holy Week] Wednesday: Preparation

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

~~~

Today I am responding to the message, “Preparation,” which breaks down the scriptures that tell of the woman anointing Jesus with oil and Judas’s bargain of betrayal.  (Matthew 26:6-16)

--

Jesus didn’t go into Jerusalem on this day, but instead stayed in Bethany, and in this passage He is at the home of Simon the leper. He has been very active for a days, “spending piles of words” while teaching and ministering on both sides of the Kidron Valley, but in this scene He is finally still–relaxing a bit, maybe. But the tension that has been building is still there.

When Mary (Martha and Lazarus’s sister) breaks her alabaster flask and pours the expensive perfume over Jesus’s head, controversy erupts. (Matthew does not mention who the woman is, but Ramsey draws on details from all of the Gospels to help us create a more complete picture.) Was it a waste, or worship?

I love this point: Jesus’ response to the protest of the disciples speaks to more than His appreciation and approval of her sacrifice. It is also a commentary on the merit of a thing not being based on the price it could fetch at the market. The men offer up a sensible use for the expensive commodity, but really, what is perfume for but the pleasure of our senses? The liquid is meant to be evaporated drop by drop, filling the air with a fragrant bliss for the delight of anyone nearby.

God made (impressively) functional things, but we do not serve a solely utilitarian God. While much of creation is both useful and beautiful, there are plenty of examples of beauty in His universe that serves no practical purpose. Every time I am reminded of this facet of our God, I am thrilled to be made in His image and flex my creativity to make life more beautiful.

The thing that has really resonated with me from this message comes around nineteen minutes into the recording, when Ramsey blows my mind by adding another layer onto the storyline that follows this encounter. He suggests that the effects of Mary’s anointing carried into the following days. (Listen to that part, even if you skip the rest!) Of course, I realize that perfume, by it’s very nature, has a strong aroma, but I had never held that thought in my mind as considered the events on Thursday and Friday.

The heavy dose of the potent oil-based perfume surely lingered with Jesus throughout the events of the Passion, adding a startling and discordant aspect to each scene. The fragrance was likely still present even as he was laid in the tomb. When Jesus said that the woman was preparing Him for burial, He meant it literally! Also, the high price of the perfume would indicate that it was probably an uncommon scent, typically reserved for the rich or royal. Jesus left His followers (and accusers) with something to serve as a reminder of his sacrifice every time they were in the company of kings. How cool is that?

The teaching ends with a look at the last few verses in this passage that tell of Judas’s bargain with the chief priests. Ramsey speculates on his motive and rationale for choosing to betray Jesus, then contrasts his view of Jesus with Mary’s. The stark juxtaposition really stuck with me. Mary considered Jesus more valuable than an oil worth more than a year’s wage. Judas deemed his relationship with Jesus as less valuable than a few month’s earnings. And yet they both had the privilege of spending considerable time with Him. Hmmm.


*original image by thebaidunshop.com