We will be sending out a daily email devotional, starting this Sunday, leading up to Easter Sunday. This Easter devotional is called “Knowing Him,” and is based on the premise of Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.”
The readings will get into the story of Jesus’ last week, including the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. We will also explore the meaning of forgiveness, atonement, redemption, and other things Jesus accomplished for us.
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This is the final devotional in the series Knowing Him: An Easter Devotional (view all days)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:1-2)
How difficult was it for the one who is Lord of the universe–who had a hand in the creation itself, who is the very force of life that holds living things together–to wake up from the sleep of death and set aside the burial cloths draping his body? Continue Reading…
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42)
A small act of mercy on the part of Joseph of Arimathea meant that Jesus’ limp and lifeless body would not be thrown into a pit of a grave, but laid carefully in a rock-hewn garden tomb. Joseph was probably a man with significant conflicts. Wealthy, a prominent member of the Jewish council, he represented the very establishment that was committed to Jesus’ demise. Yet he believed in Jesus, secretly. To believe in Jesus does put one on the spot. Being a committed disciple of Jesus always upsets the status quo.
They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Matthew 27:33-37)
Now came time for the clash between good and evil, heaven and hell. The crucifixion of Jesus is both the most horrific moment in human history and humanity’s only hope. That’s why we call the Friday before Easter Good Friday. Continue Reading…
Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)
The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment (mandatum), which Jesus talked about when he told his disciples that he was leaving them “a new commandment,” that they “love one another.” There were probably so many things going on in the disciples’ minds in that upper room where they had their last supper together, including fear and bewilderment from Jesus telling them that someone in that very room would betray him. Continue Reading…
If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you…All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:14-17, 25-27)
There must have been sorrow, anxiety, and hope in the air as Jesus talked on and on with his disciples about his upcoming departure. This “upper room discourse” in the Gospel of John (chapters 13-17) was Jesus’ final word to his disciples on the night he was betrayed. Continue Reading…
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:1-5)
The final drama was drawing near. The disciples went to the upper room where they would have the Passover meal and Jesus would teach them about things to come. Jesus “knew that the time had come.” He knew that “the Father had put all things under his power” and that he was returning to God. Satan had already entered the heart of the betrayer, Judas Iscariot. With the stage thus set, Jesus chose to do a most peculiar thing. He removed his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water in a basin, and began to wash his disciples’ feet.
Foot washing was not unusual in that world of dusty paths and dry air. What was unusual was for the master to do this for all his followers at this moment when everything held in the balance.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” Jesus asked. I am Lord. I am Master. Yet if I serve you in this way, surely you can serve each other. And if you do, you will be blessed.
Love each other. Care for each other. Serve each other. Do the dirty work for each other. Humble yourself before each other. Expend yourself for each other.
One more time Jesus showed the disciples what it means to be a disciple. And he also knew that only on the other side of the cross, when they would see just how far Jesus’ service would go, would they understand it all.
Ponder This: What would your reaction have been if Jesus approached you in order to wash your feet?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-2, 14)
Oftentimes we understand the beginning of a story when we approach its end. Like Genesis the opening words of the Gospel of John are “in the beginning,” except this beginning stretches beyond the creation, back to a time when there was God–and only God. There must have been such a time, of course, because if God is the Creator, then there was a time when it was only God.
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood–to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. (Romans 3:23-27)
It is hard to overestimate the power of this one word: justified. Over the past twenty centuries Christians have periodically rediscovered this important truth. We keep forgetting it because we are so inclined to think that we can earn God’s favor if we just try hard enough. But, like the love of a good parent, God’s grace is something that we can never earn. God gladly gives it.
Justification is a word from the law courts, and what it means in the New Testament is that God, who is both Father and Judge, has said that we can be acquitted at court because of the sacrifice of Jesus.
Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised…. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. (Galatians 6:12-15)
Paul wrote this letter we call “Galatians” to certain Christians who had begun their new spiritual life with faith in Jesus, but then were told by others that Paul’s message was horribly incomplete and probably dangerous. It is not enough to believe in Jesus and follow him, you must also continue to observe those hundreds of regulations in the Old Testament. Even if you are a Gentile, you should still observe the dietary laws, the sacrifices, and circumcision, they said.
Paul saw this as a spiritual emergency and wrote this letter to warn these believers not to be bewitched by those legalists.
There is one way to God. Let things in your life that should die, die. Let strivings die, let legalism die, let love for the world die, let personal spiritual pride die. Resign it all, give it all over, let it be crucified as Jesus let himself be crucified, and then you will be free.
Then we will have something to boast about. We will brag about Jesus Christ. We will shout his name to the world around. We’ll fill up with a pride not in ourselves, but in him. And we will look at his cross and see it as a moment of glory, not of shame.
Ponder This: Are there things you have been boasting about in your life? What needs to happen for you to boast only of Christ?
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5-6)
The temple still loomed larger than anything else in the spiritual vision of Jesus’ followers. It was after all the embodiment of God’s promise and the symbol of his presence. It was the arena for the ritual and the exercise of the law. Enthused worshipers made their pilgrimages there to make their sacrifices and to admire the massive, beautiful stones that made up its walls. Jesus burst the bubble of the disciples’ admiration when he looked up at the impressive structure, this symbol of stability for the people and said, “this will all be torn down one day.”
Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.’”
David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” (Luke 20:41-44)
Jesus had many ways of saying seemingly outrageous things about himself. He said that he was the Lord of the Sabbath, and so he could decide what he would or would not do on the Sabbath. He let people bow down at his feet and worship him. He forgave people their sins. He let them use names for him that were reserved for God. One must conclude that he was either a completely deluded person, or a charlatan, or he really was who he claimed to be. There really are no other alternatives.
He was and is the Lord of King David, and, more than that, Lord of heaven and earth.
He humbled himself and took a lowly spot, even though he is Lord of all.
Ponder This: If Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, how does that make you look at the world differently?
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:27-33)
In that last week of Jesus’ life on earth he taught one day about an event of the cosmos about to happen. The day of his death would not just be a martyrdom, but “the time for judgment.” By a great divine act the Evil One himself would be driven out, and by being “lifted up from the earth,” Jesus would draw people to himself.
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:14-19)
Many theologians have thought that “reconciliation” may be as important a word as any other in the biblical vocabulary of salvation. It is a word from the world of human relationships. It is that wonderful thing that sometimes happens when people at enmity with each other steer a course toward each other to confess wrongdoing, to repair a rift, to make up, to set aside differences, to cease hostilities, to reconcile. Continue Reading…
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant…. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 9:14-15; 10:11-14)
For centuries the Hebrew people watched their priests performing the rituals of the tabernacle and then the temple. The word priest means “one who stands,” and these were indeed people who stood before the people on behalf of God, helping the people bring their sacrifices in worship. The high priest did such special things as going into the most holy place of the temple and offering the most intimate prayers on behalf of the people.
[Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:17-23)
Anselm, writing in the eleventh century, raised a question: why did God become man? This is the enigma of Christ. His answer went like this: only man should pay the penalty for his sin (because sin is, after all, a mess that human beings have made), but only God could. A prophet dying on a cross would at most be a martyr and a model. But if Jesus Christ was really human, and also divine, his sacrifice had a human face on it, but it is a divine offering.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow…. Even angels long to look into these things. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:10-23)
Years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter wrote about the mystery of Christ, things that “angels long to look into.” Continue Reading…
He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,”he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
Day 5 of Knowing Him: An Easter Devotional (view all days)
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34).
Back at the beginning, before Jesus had even called his first disciples, there had been a moment of revelation. A wild-looking prophet named John who was baptizing people in the Jordan River and preaching about God reigning as king encountered Jesus of Nazareth. He looked at Jesus (who was John’s own cousin), and God opened his eyes to see that this was the one he had been prophesying about.
Day 4 of Knowing Him: An Easter Devotional (view all days)
“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them,’ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:1-12-13).
Jesus entered Jerusalem to begin the last week of his life on earth (sometimes called Passion week) with incredible drama. What must his disciples have thought? He rode down the hillside path with throngs of people shouting his praise, and then, approaching the beautiful temple on the other side of the valley, he entered its courts and “cleansed” the temple. Sheep scattered through the courtyard, doves flew out of broken cages, coins rang out as they scattered on the stone plaza, and there was Jesus in the middle of it all, driving away the merchants who saw the temple courtyard as a great place to cash in. Continue Reading…
Day 3 of Knowing Him: An Easter Devotional (view all days)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:9-13).
Jesus said, “they hated me without reason.” He was neither the first nor the last person to be subjected to senseless rejection and persecution, but because he was the one perfect, sinless one, the hatred played out against him was the vilest the world would ever see. His haters called light darkness, they saw righteousness and called it wickedness. They even called the work of God the deeds of the devil. Continue Reading…
Day 2 of Knowing Him: An Easter Devotional (view all days)
“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’ Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life‘” (Luke 9:20-22).
It must have been a moment of extreme wonder and extreme bewilderment. Jesus had taken his disciples to a remote spot far to the north of Galilee, out into Gentile territory, and there he asked them if they understood who he was. Peter got it. Perhaps he was the first, or perhaps he was the only one to see it–their rabbi whom they had left their homes to follow was actually the Messiah of God, the one wrapped in prophecy and mystery. “You are the Christ,” (anointed one, Messiah) Peter said. Continue Reading…
Day 1 of Knowing Him: An Easter Devotional (view all days)
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
What a bold claim! Because Christ came, because he lived a perfect life and died the death that should have been ours, because he rose from the dead on the third day, we can be free! Free from what? One can think of all the things that put the human soul in bondage. Fear of death? Yes! Continue Reading…