Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 April 2017, Maundy Thursday

Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Hebrews 10, verses 2-4.

Today is Maundy Thursday 2017.   Today is the reason why animal sacrifices became unnecessary.  Today we commemorate God giving Himself up so that they would no longer be necessary.   That sacrifice we commemorate tomorrow, on Good Friday. But for now, today is a sad day of celebratory mourning, a time when we remember Jesus instituting the miracle of communion and forgiveness while facing the spiritual torment of Gethsemene, then Golgotha tomorrow.

As part of my own remembrance, yesterday I watched “The Passion of the Christ.”   I try to do this every year during Holy Week because it keeps my faith edgy.   The movie is so graphic and rightfully so since it portrays the most graphic murder ever perpetrated on a man.  I kept it on the TV in my office while I worked, and glanced over at it throughout the afternoon.  The more I watch the movie, though, the more I reach the same conclusion.

I feel sorry for Judas.

I’ve written this before but I feel sorry for Judas Iscariot.   He brought his woes on himself.   Nobody forced Him to betray the Son of Man but Judas did it willingly, even enthusiastically.  I know:  he was a greedy, selfish, sinful, detestable bastard.   Conniving, evil, deceitful; sounds like many of my friends and fellow sinners, actually.  No, I’m not equivocating because I’ve never sold out the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver.   My sins are my own and they have denied Jesus as surely as did Judas, Peter, or any of His other best friends who abandoned Him in His most desperate hours.

Yet I feel sorry for Judas because he is pathetic.

When Judas absorbed the guilt of his sins, he forgot all about Jesus.   Maybe it was that he couldn’t bring himself to even think about Jesus or what he had done to his friend and savior.   Perhaps the guilt was too crushing and he simply gave in to the worst temptation.   It’s possible that Judas didn’t understand the new covenant that Jesus had just explained to him in that Passover supper that first Maundy Thursday evening.  Or how it would supersede those sacrifices that dated back to the days of Noah or before.

Whatever happened, Judas snapped and killed himself.   He was cold and dead before Jesus was even nailed to the cross that Good Friday.  I feel sorry for him, have pity on him, and I honestly hope something in him turned back before the life snuffed out of his body.   It isn’t up to me, but I hope there’s a place in heaven for Judas.   If there isn’t a place for people who do things as supremely reprehensible as what Judas did, then there isn’t a place for any of us.   The key is belief.   Judas lost his belief, his faith, in Jesus if he ever really had it in the first place.

He lived in a time when people still fully believed that animal sacrifices atoned for human sins.   The whole purpose of the Jewish temple was to worship Yahweh, the almighty I AM.   Integral to that worship was the Mosaic sacrificial system where doves, lambs, and bulls were slaughtered and brought to the altar.   There was even an annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, which is still commemorated by Jews today) in which the high priest took that animal blood and sprinkled it on the articles in the Most Holy Place.   By the time of Jesus and Judas, the Ark of the Covenant (God’s mercy seat) was long gone from the temple, having disappeared hundreds of years before.   Yet the Temple still contained a Most Holy Place – a Holy of Holies – where worshippers thought God was still present.  Once a year, the priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled animal blood.

And it did nothing.  Yes, I said that.   It did nothing.   Even from the start of sacrifices it was only faith in God that would bring atonement.   Only God could fully atone for man’s sins because imperfect man could not.   The sacrifices were an expression of that faith, not the actual atonement.  Thus, when Jesus died, He and only He fully atoned as a true sacrifice for the terrible sins of His most cherished creation, man.

This was the world in which Judas lived and from which he committed suicide.   Even as a disciple closely walking with the incarnate God for years, he never made the connection between Jesus and sacrifice.  I feel sorry for him.   “The Passion of the Christ” shows him to be mentally anguished up to the end, tortured by demons, tortured by his sins.   The Bible doesn’t insist that people who commit suicide are damned, though it does paint suicide as a sin.   If Judas felt such terrible anguish that he couldn’t go on, I sincerely hope that, in his final seconds here, he found comfort in repentance and a place in paradise beyond.   That isn’t up to us:  it’s up to God.   Someday, hopefully many years from now, we’ll learn what happened.

For further reading:  Hebrews 9:9.

Lord, I praise You in mourning and celebration for the sacrifice You gave of Yourself.   Have mercy on Judas and others, and .

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 March 2016

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. Mark 15, verse 1.

You have to start early in the morning if you want to make a full day out of something. Wanna catch the big fish while they’re biting?   Gotta get to the lake early in the morning, before they feed.   Want to finish a bunch of Saturday chores?   Get up and get going early.   Want to put in extra hours on the job?   You guessed it:   up and at ‘em already.

So it was with the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council. They’d been up all night, conspiring and working out this little charade for Jesus’ mock trial. When Judas came to them with his idea of how to betray Jesus, they probably convened a quiet emergency meeting to decide what to do about it. It took planning, scheming, communicating to make the arrangements so that all would be ready when Judas gave the signal.

That Thursday night, the Sanhedrin, like Jesus, probably stayed up all night. They weren’t sure just when Judas would show up, so they met, ate and drank together, and walked through their plan.   It wouldn’t do to have anything go south, so they rehearsed who would say what and what they would say.   I bet they practiced their lines, talked about the best ways to box Jesus into rhetorical corners.   When Judas showed up and said that his Master would be vulnerable in the garden just outside the city walls, they put their plans into motion.   Summon the guards; pay off the gullible; lie to save face.

A few hours later, the guards bring a tired but determined Jesus to meet with the council and they begin to interrogate Him. The plan is unfolding as expected except for one small detail.  Jesus won’t play along.   He doesn’t answer their questions; He doesn’t meet their scolding, their threats, their violence with the reactions that were predicted. Jesus says nothing, doesn’t act out.   Indeed, His countenance looks like He’s not even angry with His accusers.   Jesus looks like He actually feels sad for them, that He feels worse for how THEY feel that for what they are doing to Him.

This only makes them furious.

Their plan now thwarted, the Sanhedrin elders move to Plan B.   If Jesus won’t talk to them, He’ll definitely talk to the Roman governor.   The goal in this unfolding end-game is for Jesus to die.   The priests know they don’t have that kind of muscle, that only the Roman overseers can order the death of a Judean. Even though He has done nothing to physically intimidate them, they tie up Jesus as if He’s some kind of physical threat, and then they (literally) drag Him off to the governor’s palace.   There, they believe, Pontius Pilate will extract from this ‘Messiah’ the proof needed to sentence Him to death.

That is, of course, if Pilate agrees to cooperate.   That is, you know, if Jesus decides to talk.   Was there a Plan C if Plan B failed?

When you’re conspiring against the King, you need to get up very early in the morning.   Even then, things might not turn out the way you expect.

Lord Jesus, have mercy still on those who conspired against You.   Forgive them and me for our sins.

Read Mark 15, verses 1-15.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 February 2016

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Mark 14, verses 43-45.

There are a few ways to look at Judas.   You could look at him as one cold fish.   That makes sense because it would take a really cold soul for someone to kiss you and betray you, knowing you’re going to face some kind of persecution.   You could look at him in pity, wondering if his voice didn’t crack when he said “rabbi” (meaning ‘teacher’) to Jesus.   You could think of him as someone naïve, swept up in something bigger than himself, as if there was some unfulfilled part of him that had looked for Jesus do say or do something that didn’t happen.

When you boil it down, does it really matter how we view Judas? We’re no better. Judas spent years learning from and praising Jesus, then at the very last of his life, using his words and actions to send Jesus to His death.   Don’t we do the same?

No matter how we view Judas, one lesson we could draw from today’s verses is irony. As I mentioned, Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends.   He was a man who gave up everything to follow Jesus, then somehow saw the real cost of following Him as too high to pay. For whatever reason, Judas sold out Jesus, then found out that it was actually he himself who was sold out. How ironic.

Then there is the fact that Judas wasn’t actually in the garden of Gethsemene with the other apostles all night.   When Jesus told Peter that he would betray Him, Judas wasn’t around.   It turns out that Judas Iscariot, whom we think of as Christ’s betrayer, wasn’t actually first at all.   Sure, we could debate this, but I suspect that debate would lead us to this point, namely that, as participants in eternity, we all originally betrayed Jesus with our sins…just like Peter and Judas. How ironic indeed.

Finally, consider the irony of those ways in which we might view Judas.   You could look at Judas and think you’re simply looking in the mirror.   Awhile back, I mentioned that I felt sorry for him, and I do.   Judas let sin take control and it took him to dark places from which he couldn’t recover; I’ve done that. He did sorrowful things that left him pathetic and abandoned. Don’t we each sometimes feel abandoned?   If our Savior was willing to die for us and everyone who lived thousands of years before we were even born, aren’t we also original sinners? The betraying sins of Adam and Eve might be just as timely today for us, in the one-second-here-and-now of our lives, as anything we have ever done.   In that light, when I look in the mirror, Judas Iscariot stares back at me.

Much to think about indeed.

Lord and Savior, I pray forgive me for my sins and my betrayals of You.

Read Mark 14, verses 43-52.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 February 2016

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Mark 14, verses 17-21.

“Every weld is different.”   My son told me that just yesterday.   He attends a small college in Sherman, TX where he’s learning to be a welder. We were talking about his classwork and he remarked that every weld is unique; like fingerprints, no two are the same.   The best a welder can do is to be able to say “that’s a good weld,” then go on to the next one.

Profound.

Really, it truly was a profound statement and I’m proud to be the dad to a son who connects those particular dots (and pieces of metal). Re-read his quote, then consider it in the context of today’s verses.

We’re all different; God made each of us individually and “very good” in His perfect eyes.   Each of us has things that are unique and can serve God’s purposes. Even those who are disabled, dying, downtrodden, no-damn-good-dirty-dog-sinners, and, yes, even politicians have unique abilities and talents that are just as valuable as those of the beautiful people and sanctimonious churchgoers who assume they have it all together. Everything we have is a gift from God, and Jesus as God gives to each of us beautifully.

Even to Judas Iscariot.

It wasn’t that Judas’ gift was his place to betray Jesus.   It wasn’t that Judas was pre-ordained to be a sinner, to be the betrayer of Christ.   That simply isn’t true, and an honest study of these verses and others that corroborate and explain them will lead you to the inevitable conclusion that God never creates us to sin.   God didn’t create Judas to betray Jesus, but when Judas did so, God used it for His redemptive plan.   “But if Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus then who would have?”   Answer:   I don’t know.   Neither do you, or your pastor, or the pope, or Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, or Barack Obama. The only thing we can assume is that God would have found a different way to redeem His people because that’s what He promised to do.

Jesus loved Judas.   Judas had unique abilities, and was a very good weld. Is it any wonder, then, that such a devoted God would mourn the woe that would come to the man He had created as an individual to love but who would send Him to a cross instead?

Every weld is different and God is a master welder. My son taught me that the way you test a weld is to try to break it.   You drop your welded metal onto the floor and if it breaks, then it wasn’t a good weld and you need to re-do it.   At the Last Supper, Jesus dropped Judas on the floor, and Judas broke.   How unfortunate for him that there wasn’t time for a re-do.   How fortunate for us is the same.

Lord, I pray for the soul of Judas Iscariot.   And I thank You for making me individual, and for loving me that way.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 February 2016

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over. Mark 14, verses 10-11.

Just after witnessing the woman anoint Jesus, Judas went to the Jewish priests and betrayed Jesus. Maybe he was PO’d that Jesus had encouraged the huge ‘waste of money’ that came with dumping the priceless nard over Jesus’ head.   Maybe he had had enough of all the pussy-footing goody goody do-good nature of Jesus and His “love everybody” message.   Maybe Judas had a bad day.

In reality, he had a really bad day.   One of the other Gospels refers to the betrayal by saying “then Satan entered” Judas.   The day Satan enters you is the worst in your life because only terrible things flow from that.   To be honest, I think Satan entered all of us years ago, as babies.   Ever heard a two-year old say “no?”   Yep:   sin.   They learned it somewhere, and they applied it because Satan had already taken up residence.

A bad day for Judas, indeed, when you betray the Son of Man for a sack of coins.

But do you want to know a secret?   I’ve always felt sorry for Judas; Pontius Pilate, too.   My sorrow for them is (obviously) tempered by my after-the-fact knowledge they didn’t have.   I know Jesus was resurrected.   I know He is the Son of God.   I know the history of the faith and what it means to have His Spirit working in my life.   Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate had to experience events in real time.   What we read as history are events through which they lived as they were happening.   They didn’t have Bible concordances and two thousand years of interpretive Christian perspective. We can look down on their terrible choices and we should, yet don’t lose sight of knowing that they made those bad choices without applying any fore-knowledge of just who Christ said He was. They lived through it; we didn’t.

I feel sorry for Judas because he became even more destitute and pathetic than he was before.   I’m betting he was the smartest of the disciples, that he had canny sense and was both analytic and street-wise.   He made a choice to cast his lot (pun intended) with those who sought to kill Jesus.   He knew what the priests had in mind, and he knew that his action was risky.   Perhaps he calculated that he would somehow benefit from this choice, from this betrayal.   Otherwise why do it?   Don’t forget that Satan had entered into Judas, though. With Satan indwelt, all bets would be off.

Yet I feel sorry for Judas because that choice brought him only misery, death and (I assume) damnation. Jesus loved Judas.   Let that sink in.   Jesus Christ loved Judas Iscariot.   Jesus didn’t want Judas to be further deceived by the great deceiver. Jesus wanted Judas to live a life in praise of Him, sharing His Spirit with Judas so Judas could share it with others. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of Judas Iscariot just like He did for yours, mine, and Adolf Hitler’s. And Judas betrayed Him anyway. By Good Friday afternoon, when Jesus died, Judas had already hanged himself.   I feel sorry for him, that the consequences of his choices were so dire and awful.

Lord, forgive all who sin, who betray You with our sins, who let You down.   Forgive and rebuild us, Savior Jesus.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 January 2016

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me”. Mark 14, verses 6-7.

You know, if these words were uttered in 2016, I suspect some of us would jump to be offended by them.   “How dare Jesus insinuate that we don’t do enough to help the poor!”   “How rude of Him to insinuate that there will always be poor people!” “How dare Jesus say He’s better than us because He says He deserves to have a priceless bottle of perfume poured on Him!” Pretty shrill, don’t you think?

Yet I truly do think that we, as a society, really do sound that shrill.   Our tone wouldn’t be about Jesus:   it would be about us…just like that of Judas and the Apostles who were dissing the woman with the perfume. After all, social media is ‘all about me.’   The best description I’ve ever heard about Facebook is that “it’s an inch deep and a mile wide.” That plays well for the shrill age of offense. If you troll online boards, you’ll find that complaints about being offended are a common and recent topic. With so many factors bombarding our lives, it seems as if folks today find all kinds of reasons to be offended.   Turn those around and you quickly see that being offended isn’t about Jesus:   it’s about me and you.

Don’t be surprised, then, to hear that it’s nothing new.   Whatever Judas’ motive, both he and the other Apostles were offended by the woman who anointed Jesus with the expensive perfume.   Is it surprising, then, that Jesus would rebuke them on it?   What’s more, He not only rebuked them:   He told them to back off, then reminded them of why she was doing it. Doesn’t that still happen to you and I?   Aren’t we offended when someone rebukes us with things that we don’t want to hear, especially if those things are true?

What’s more, Jesus gave them a dose of reality.   To paraphrase, “I’m the Son of God and my human life is almost over.   Poor people aren’t the Son of God and they’re going to be around for a very long time.   Get with the program, boys.”   Jesus not only shamed Judas (and anyone who agreed with him) for his sin of pride, but He schooled them (read ‘taught,’ not ‘humiliated’) on why it was important that this woman’s act of faith be honored.   Millenia down the road, it’s easy to see that we need the schooling as well.   We need to be reminded that the Son of God is worth setting apart, worth honoring, worth dedication and remembrance with the best things this life has to offer.   That’s a very real thing to recognize because it brings the real Jesus of AD 33 into the real world of AD 2016.

Knowing all that, I wonder how many people are still offended.   Call me skeptical, maybe even cynical, for predicting that countless folks are still looking for a reason to be offended by the Son of God and the very radical ministry He performed. Go ahead and blow up my email for this.   It’s ok.   I’m not offended.   If it means you’re focusing on Jesus in your heart, then offend all day long.

Lord, may any offense in this world bring You glory and spread Your Word.

Read Mark 14, verses 1-11.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 January 2016

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. Mark 14, verses 4-5.

Mark doesn’t say it but he’s most likely talking about a conversation led by Judas Iscariot.   Judas was responsible for carrying the Apostles’ money, and he used to frequently dip into the purse.   Thus, it makes sense that he was indignant that the expensive perfume was being ‘wasted’ because it could have been a huge windfall for the taking.

But tell me something:   do you and I act like Judas with our treasure? You bet we do.

Huh?   “You’re insulting me by comparing me to the man who betrayed Jesus Christ?”   Yes, my friend, that’s exactly what I’m doing.   I’m doing so in love; please let me explain.

Just a few days ago I was sitting in the sauna praying.   When I’m alone in the sauna at the gym I often pray. It’s a time of personal solitude, and I believe it cleanses both body and spirit.   Today, I was praying thanks for a bunch of random things.   My family, food, that gym, health, our home, a job, belongings, pets; you name it.   I prayed thanks to God for everything that came to mind, considering that every blessing, even small ones that I sometimes don’t consider, is a gift from God Himself.

Here’s a confession about it:   praying was tough.   It was tough for me to open up to God and really, truly give heartfelt thanks for all the ways He takes care of me.   Maybe it was because I was in a sauna.   Maybe it was because I was trying too hard. Maybe it’s because I was actually still guarding my heart from Him and didn’t fully open up.

Wanna know a secret?   I think that was what started Judas down his destructive path.   He didn’t fully give Himself over to Jesus’ message.   It was the genesis of selfishness, ambition and sin. Judas didn’t start out as Jesus’ betrayer:   he became Jesus’ betrayer because of the sins he embraced.   Pride, arrogance, selfishness, ambition:   they were some of Judas Iscariot’s sins.   They are exemplified in the verses quoted here today.   Those sins were Judas’ downfall.

They’re ours too.

You and I dip into the purse and sin against Jesus when we choose anything over Him.   No time to simply give thanks?   Take a coin.   Holding onto that grudge?   Grab a drachma. Still running around on your spouse?   You’re Judas.   You’re betraying God’s Son by choosing something that isn’t Him or of Him.   In that way, we’re no better than Judas Iscariot.   Indeed, we keep doing it over and over even as we know exactly who Jesus is.   Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends and even he didn’t fully realize exactly who Jesus was; he didn’t have the luxury of knowing about Easter.   We do.   If you think about it, doesn’t that make our betrayal even more acute?

It’s not about how much you give or even what.   It’s about the heart from which we give it.   Where is yours? Whether it’s praying alone, giving of your time, putting into the collection plate or anything else, where is your treasure focused?

Lord, thank You for Your generous heart.   Rebuke, teach and mentor mine to better follow Your lead and give selflessly.

Read Mark 14, verses 1-11.