Thorn Thursday

A few years ago, a friend sent me a very good talk by Hal Lindsey called “The Week that Changed the World”. What Hal basically says is that rather than Jesus dying on Friday, He actually died on Thursday because there were two Sabbaths in a row that week – the Passover Sabbath and the regular, weekly Sabbath. I’ve been reading Mark’s gospel recently where we have an account of Palm Sunday, Monday, and up to Tuesday night, then it jumps to the Passover meal Jesus eats with His friends. Why shouldn’t that have taken place on Wednesday, followed the next day by His crucifixion?

There’s another reason I believe this – because Jesus Himself said: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Three days and three nights? Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and on Sunday He rose again. It all makes sense, but we can witness to His death any time we like. The important thing is that we remember it. I have no problem doing that with other Christians on the Friday, even though I think it’s a day too late.

Because He wore that crown of thorns for us, maybe instead of Good Friday, we could have ‘Thorn Thursday’.

Ideas for Easter Reading

As Easter approaches, I wanted to point you in the direction of a couple of good books I read last month.

The first is Liz Curtis Higgs’ “The Women of Easter”. Before reading this, I thought Martha’s sister and Mary Magdalene were probably the same person. I didn’t realise there was a place called Magdala, and that’s why Mary was called Magdalene – because of where she was from. You might learn other things from this too, but what I liked most about it was its freshness. Some parts would bring a laugh and others had me shedding tears. If you’ve been a Christian a number of years, think how many times you must have heard the Easter story, yet Liz tells it as it is – a living reality. That’s special.

Another recommendation would be Michael Card’s “A Fragile Stone”. This isn’t 100% Easter. It’s actually about Peter from his first meeting with Jesus onwards, but chapters 9-11 cover those last hours before Jesus’ crucifixion. I had never thought so deeply about how that night must have impacted Peter. Michael did a fantastic job with this book and if I knew of any others he’d written about Biblical characters, I would want to read them.

Are there any Lent/Easter books or Email devotionals you’ve enjoyed?

Poor Zacchaeus

I feel a bit sorry for Zacchaeus. He was from Jericho and a tax collector in Jesus’ time. It’s a bit like being a banker in our time. We might think of bankers as these people who don’t do much and yet still receive huge bonuses, but I’m sure there are some honourable bankers.

Many in Zacchaeus’ profession would have collected taxes for the Romans and taken some extra for themselves. Maybe if people struggled to pay, they made the fines really steep, increasing them on a daily basis. That’s what most people seem to think of Zacchaeus – that he was a liar and a cheat, but …

What if Zacchaeus was an honourable tax collector?

Have you heard his story? When Jesus came to Jericho, Zacchaeus was too short to see over the crowd’s heads, so he climbed a tree. Jesus stopped at the bottom of the tree and beckoned him to come down, inviting Himself to his house. Zacchaeus gladly welcomes Him and hearing the crowd’s complaints, he stands there and says: “I will give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times more” (Luke 19:8).

If I have cheated anyone.

Poor Zacchaeus. All these people, even thousands of years later, thinking he lived his pre-Jesus life as a liar and a cheat, but we don’t know for sure. We know he was wealthy (Luke 19:2), but perhaps he was wealthy simply because of the salary the Romans gave him. Either way, his encounter with Jesus filled him with generosity. How many of us would give half our possessions to the poor?

What if I Destroy Their Faith?

If you’ve got any kind of long-term disability or illness, perhaps you’ve felt the same as me when it came to asking about healing. What if someone has faith to see a healing miracle, but my question weakens their faith? Or worse, what if they’ve prayed for me and when God hasn’t healed, it’s put them off Christianity altogether? I’ve been up for prayer before for my eyesight, which God hasn’t given to me. I’ve no way of knowing the reactions of other people in the room.

When recently I had some questions for my house group, several there being strong in faith, I was hesitant to say anything. Then as we worshipped, these verses came into my head: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). And another: “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

Someone’s faith is a gift that God has given them, and God’s gifts are irrevocable. In other words, they can’t be taken away, so God showed me it was all right to ask my questions. I couldn’t destroy somebody’s faith, because it doesn’t come from humans; it comes from Him.

I hope that encouraged you as it did me.

The Temple and the Spider’s Web: Part 2

Having written about the temple, I’ll now move on to the web. I’ve never taken much interest in a spider’s web, but apparently, the spider is always moving along the edge of it. Then, as soon as a fly goes into the web, the web vibrates and the spider can zoom in and attack.

“Be alert and of sober mind” (1 Peter 5:8). With the Holy Spirit in us, we can be like that spider whose feet are on the edge of the web. As soon as something comes in, it’s captured. We capture the good things from God. It’s the Holy Spirit who (as Berni Dymet puts it) lifts a verse right off the page and plonks it into our hearts, but we can also apply this to any unwelcome intrusions. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). As soon as we’re tempted, we can say, ‘No! I’m not doing that, because God says …’ like Jesus when He was being tempted by the devil. Turn these stones into bread? No! It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:2-4).

Have you ever pictured yourself standing guard at the door to your heart, like a spider on the edge of her web?

The Temple and the Spider’s Web: Part 1

There were two interesting pictures that people in my house group had of the Holy Spirit. I wanted to write them down to remember them, so I thought I’d share them with you at the same time.

First, the temple. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We were created in three parts: Body, soul and spirit. Similarly, the Jewish temple was in three parts: The outer court (where the whole assembly could gather), the inner court (for the priests), and the Most Holy Place (which the high priest could enter once a year).

Our makeup is like the temple. Our physical bodies (the outside of us) can be seen by anyone. When it comes to the inside – our soul (our feelings, our emotions), we’re more selective about what we share and with whom. It’s a more intimate relationship. Beyond that is our Most Holy Place – our spirit communing with God’s Spirit.

Before someone’s a Christian, they’re living by their own thoughts/feelings/emotions, or in the words of my friend: “The spirit has been suffocated by the soul.” When we become Christians, God makes us alive in Christ. Our spirit can connect freely with God’s Spirit and isn’t suffocated/dead anymore.

When Jesus died on the cross, we’re told in three of the gospels (I’m really surprised John doesn’t mention this) that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The barrier between the inner court and the Most Holy Place was obliterated – a picture of what Jesus has done for us. He’s made a way for our souls to come into the presence of God to find nourishment and strength. Perhaps in his own way, John does point to it because he recorded Jesus’ famous words: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

What’s the Formula?

I’ve been thinking tonight about some of the healings that took place in the Bible, and here’s what I’ve noticed:

Sometimes, they require action. In one of my favourite healing miracles, Jesus told a blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam – a word that means ‘Sent’. The man washed, and came home seeing (John 9:7). An action on his part resulted in the healing on Jesus’ part.

Sometimes, they follow an answer. In Luke 18:35-43, again before healing a blind man, Jesus asks: “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” is the response.

Sometimes, Jesus takes the person aside and works quietly. Another of my favourite healings is in Mark 7:31-37. Some people bring a deaf man to Jesus, wanting to have him cured. Jesus starts by leading the man away from the crowd, by himself – what a lovely, thoughtful thing to do. If you were deaf and you got your hearing back, wouldn’t it overwhelm you to be in a crowd of people and suddenly assaulted by all their voices? Jesus tells us He’s gentle and He really shows it here, taking the man to a quiet place to heal him.

If you’re wondering what the formula is that ties these healings together, well … that’s the whole point: They’re all very different. Interestingly, in Luke 18, Jesus doesn’t say: “I made you well because you answered the question I asked you”; He says: “You are healed because you believed.” In Mark 7, Jesus commanded the people not to tell anyone about the deaf man’s healing, but the more He commanded them, the more they told about it! In John 9, the blind man confessed his faith after he was healed and not before.

Can we learn anything from this? Are we, perhaps, too quick to try to find a formula when Jesus might just want to treat each person differently?

Best Read in Small Doses: “Gifts from Heaven” Book-Review

I might have called this “God’s Answers to Prayer”, rather than “Gifts from Heaven”. I chose it because last year, I reviewed “Jesus Talked to me Today” (also by James Stuart Bell) and really enjoyed it. This is the same format, with numerous short stories of how God intervenes in people’s lives. I found the second half more inspiring than the first; “A Precise Prayer for Healing” and “Race to the Bottom” really stood out, but a good proportion of these stories were health-related and It can be demoralising to read so many accounts of health-problems.

I looked forward to my complementary copy from Bethany House, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend reading this from cover to cover. Probably his previous offering had more appeal because it was about children.

No, Lord

We looked last time at Peter’s encounter with God, and how the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius’ household as a result. After this, Peter had to explain to the other believers what took place. Here he is talking about his vision: “I saw something that looked like a big sheet being lowered from heaven by its four corners. It came very close to me. I looked inside it and saw animals, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds. I heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord! I have never eaten anything that is unholy or unclean.’ But the voice from heaven spoke again, ‘God has made these things clean, so don’t call them unholy’” (Acts 11:5-9).

No, Lord.

Don’t those words seem incongruous? ‘Lord’ means master, and if someone truly has mastery over you, you don’t say no to them. Earlier in Peter’s life, he famously tried to do a similar thing. In Matthew 16, Jesus gives His followers a heads-up about His suffering and death, but Peter takes Him aside and says: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22).

Jesus’ response is often quoted. “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to Me” (Matthew 16:23). Peter went from support to stumbling-block because his attitude was Satanic, pushing out God’s agenda in favour of a human one.

Are there times in your life (as there are in mine) when you’ve effectively said, ‘No, Lord’? Maybe He’s asked you to give up chasing a dream and instead hand it over to Him, but ‘No, Lord; I still want to hold on’. Maybe He wants you to do something, but you know you’ll face opposition. Two quotes come to mind – one from Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”), and something my pastor said several years ago that’s stuck: “It’s never a waste if you’re doing it for the Lord.”

What if our ‘No, Lord’ turned into a ‘You know best, Lord’?

Peter the People-Pleaser

In my last post, you heard that Peter went back to his old way of living, but Jesus met him there, talked to him and restored him. You almost want to put a little sentence after that: “And they all lived happily ever-after.” Except Peter was a human being just like us, and when we become Christians, we don’t all live happily ever-after. We can have some amazing moments; Peter certainly did. I think particularly of the day the Holy Spirit filled him, he preached a sermon and three thousand people put their faith in Jesus, but he also had a deep-seated prejudice to iron out along the way.

You see, God’s kingdom wasn’t exclusively Jewish; it was open to all. We read in one of Paul’s letters that through His death, Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and non-Jews/Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). As a Jew himself, Peter would have been brought-up with all their preconceptions. Jews didn’t associate with Gentiles (they believed doing so would desecrate them). In fact, many held the view that their Messiah’s coming would herald victory for them and judgment for everyone else, so this was a big lesson God had to teach Peter. He did it by sending him to the house of Cornelius, a non-Jew, to tell him about Jesus, but first He had to prepare Peter’s heart. He showed him a vision of animals, all of which were unclean by Jewish standards, and told him to kill and eat them. “God has made these things clean, so don’t call them unholy” (Acts 10:15). Peter soon discovered his vision concerned more than food; it was about people. The servants Cornelius had sent took him to the house and God’s Holy Spirit filled them all, Jews and non-Jews alike. Peter had learnt his lesson … or had he?

Paul later wrote about an incident in a place called Antioch. Peter had been happily eating with the other believers, whatever their backgrounds, until some fellow-Jews came along. (It’d be a bit like me ambling along at my own pace, until someone I admire pays a visit and I shift myself up a gear.) Peter wanted the approval of these men and immediately conformed to their expectations, associating only with the Jewish believers. Paul saw his hypocrisy and challenged him because he was trying to follow a set of man-made rules, when in fact he already had right standing with God through his faith in Jesus Christ. Peter was being a people-pleaser, putting the approval of men before the approval of God. It’s good to have someone like Paul in our lives, who’ll put us right when we’re going off-track.

What lessons has God been teaching you? Maybe you’re a bit like Peter. He’s taught you something, but you’ve tripped up and He’s had to teach you all over again. If that’s true, don’t be discouraged. The main thing Peter’s remembered for is being a close friend of Jesus. Stay close to Him, and He’ll make sure you get to the finish. “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end” (Hebrews 12:2).