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APRIL 2010

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Lingering at the Empty Tomb

 

John 20:11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb.

 

Sorrow and disappointment are a part of life. The Lord had experienced sorrow when He was crucified. Many of his followers had also experienced sorrow and disappointment when their hope of seeing the Lord crowned as an earthly king was dashed. Mary Magdalene certainly experienced sorrow and disappointment, not only when the Lord was crucified, but now at the tomb when she found it empty.

After looking into the tomb with Peter and John, they had all believed; but what had they believed? They apparently all believed that the body had been stolen from the sepulcher. She had said to Peter and John, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him (verse 2)." So after the others had looked inside and had gone back home, she lingers at the tomb and decides to take another look. This time she sees angels who ask her why she is weeping. She says she is weeping because she doesn't know what has happened to the body of the Lord. So at this point she certainly didn't believe in the resurrection of the Lord. But because she lingered, she saw One that she thought was the gardener, but Who turned out to be the Lord. She lingered because of her love. He love was rewarded with the Lord appearing personally to her and assuring her that He was indeed alive. Her sorrow was turned to joy (John 16:20).

Often, in our worship, we let our thought linger at the cross. But the cross gives us no hope, no joy, no comfort. The cross reminds us of the cruelty of man to man, of the injustice of human courts, of envy, of sin and of darkness. It reminds us that we are all sheep, easily persuaded by those who are evil to do evil. The religious leaders were able to stir up a mob that wanted Him crucified even though He had only done good in His life. The cross is bloody and reminds us of the great cost of sin. If the story of redemption stopped with the cross, we would have no victory, no hope and no salvation in which to rejoice. Paul says our faith would be empty and our lives would be empty as well (1 Corinthians 15:14,19).

The joy, the hope, and the victory of the Christian is not found at the cross, but at the empty tomb. This tomb was empty because the Lord had risen. He was and is alive. Because the Lord was raised from the dead, we have confidence that the grave will not be able to hold us either. The empty tomb would be meaningless without the cross since Christ had to die for our sins. But the cross would be meaningless without an empty tomb because that is what convinces us that Christ died for our sins and not for His own (1 Peter 3:18, Romans 4:24-25).

Somehow, it is easy to believe that two thousand years ago, a man who was called Jesus, died on a cross at the request of the Jews but by the hands of the Roman government. Somehow, many find it hard to believe that this same man was raised from the dead. Crucifixion was usual in that day. But the resurrection, now that is another story! And yet, without the resurrection, we are a lost, hopeless, helpless people. Mary was one of over five hundred witnesses to the fact that the Lord had risen (1 Corinthians 15:6). Because of her love and her lingering, she had the privilege of being the first to tell the other disciples that Christ was indeed alive.

Lingering at the cross is good. Lingering at the empty tomb is better.

 

Meditation for the week of April 4, 2010

A Very Unusual Victory

 

Judges 7:19-20

So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers-they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing-and they cried, "The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!"

 

Gideon was a man very much like many of us. He was grieved by the the oppression of Israel by Midian. He didn't understand how God could do all those miracles when the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, but now there were no miracles and no deliverances. Even so he did what he could, he stayed busy threshing wheat and hiding it from the Midianites. He seems to have been a man of little faith. When God told him that he would deliver Israel from Midian through him, he had difficulty believing God. He was from Manasseh, a tribe that was not known for anything. He considered himself the most insignificant man in his family. We don't know if he was humble or just depressed; but either way, he was at a very low point in his life. But when he finally had the courage to obey God, God did work a miracle through Him and three hundred men.

God tested his faithfulness by asking him to tear down his Father's altar to Baal. He was then told to build an altar to the Lord and to offer his own father's bull on that altar. He did what the Lord asked him to do. In doing that he put worship before service and the Lord before his family. Miraculously, his father seemed to think that Baal should be able to defend himself if he was really a god. Gideon's father actually defended what Gideon had done.

But then Gideon tested God, not once, but twice. He asked for a sign that the message he had heard was real. Jews seek after signs to convince them of God's reality. Gentiles seek after wisdom or logic. So he put a fleece out at night twice to see if he had understood God properly. Once it was wet when all around the ground was dry. Once it was dry when all around the ground was wet. Both conditions were unusual answers to prayer and should have given Gideon complete confidence In what the Lord had said.

Then comes the really hard part. Gideon only had 32, 000 men. The Midianites, however, had joined with the Amalekites and the peoples of the East so that they were a great multitude. But God sent home those Israelites who were fearful. They didn't have a proper appreciation of God. That left him 10,000 men, but 9,700 of those drank water by getting on their knees and putting their faces down into the water. They didn't have their eye on the enemy. Apparently, they were self confident and didn't properly appreciate the power of the enemy. That left Gideon with only 300 men who drank water from their hands, lapping it like a dog would. These were vigilant, keeping their eye on the enemy while at the same time not fearing the enemy because they had confidence in their God.

Gideon really needed additional encouragement after sending most of his army home so God sent him and his servant into the enemy camp. He found out that the enemy had more confidence in God than he did. One of the soldiers had a dream that he told to his friend while Gideon was listening. The friend realized through that dream that Midian was going to be delivered into the hands of Gideon. Apparently, somehow the enemy had heard about Gideon.

But now Gideon is told to fight the battle in a most unusual way. He is to fill the hands of his soldiers with trumpets and with empty pitchers that have lit torches in them. When Gideon gives the signal, they blow their trumpets and break their pitchers. They cry out, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" Looking at the soldiers holding up torches and trumpets, one can almost see a man being crucified rather than a soldier fighting an offensive battle. When they did what the Lord asked them to do, the Midianites got confused and killed each other. The battle was won by the Lord for the children of Israel. Gideon now had his miracle.

I would like to think that the Lord still uses broken vessels, that is, people who have been humbled so that they get out of the way of His work. If we have the light of the Gospel in us (2 Corinthians 4:4), it can shine out if we are broken. He still likes to use the trumpet which I think speaks of the heralding of the Word of God. And He still likes people who have been "crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:29)," and whose hands are so filled with His Light and His Word that they cannot fight an offensive battle with the world's weapons. It is then and only then that the Lord can save in such a way that He gets all the glory.

 

Meditation for the week of April 11, 2010

Doing the Impossible

 

Matthew 17:18-21 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. "However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."

 

Prayer is a mystical concept and fasting is a controversial concept. Most of us think of prayer as asking for something from God. If that is true, why should we ask for something if God already knows our needs and already knows how He is going to answer? Isn't He One who knows the end from the beginning? Do we really change things by praying? Fasting is controversial because while it was obviously practiced by the Jews and while it was also practiced in the early new testament church (See Acts 13:2, 3 and 14:23), there is no clear cut command in the new testament for fasting. Neither is their any doctrinal explanation of its merits.

Prayer is obviously more than just asking God for something. It is really talking with God about everything. Prayer can involve praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. But I believe it can also involve just talking with God in the same way that we would talk to a friend. Often as we "talk things out," our thinking is clarified. And as we talk with God about things, we often find that the Holy Spirit brings a passage of Scripture to our mind that clearly helps us in making decisions. Talking with God should be a two-way conversation.

In this passage, the disciples had not been able to do what the Lord had commissioned them to do. They had not been able to cast out this particular difficult demon. Why could they not do it? It was because of their unbelief. Apparently, this particular demon had either resisted them or scared them on their first try. But the problem was with their faith in the commission and promise. The problem was not in the power of God. To have proper faith doesn't mean that we have a more intense belief, it means that we have perfect confidence in a promise God has given us. We sometimes think we can do ANYTHING if we have the proper faith based on this verse. That is NOT true. But we can do ANYTHING THAT GOD TELLS US WE CAN DO. The mountain in these disciples' life was a certain demon. They had been told they could cast him out and they had not been able to do that. They needed to fast and pray.

Fasting is associated with mourning, but it is also a matter of self-denial. When we fast, our self is set aside so that when we pray there is nothing hindering our ability to hear when God speaks. People who fast when they pray are not saying prayers, they are actually praying. When we fast and pray about something that God has asked us to do that seems impossible, we will be given strength and guidance so that we neither give up and do things in a self-willed way nor will we give up and assume that the "mountain" cannot be moved.

For those of you reading some editions of the Bible, you will notice that the verse on praying and fasting has been left out. Some of the copies of the original manuscripts leave it out and some put it in. While this is not a major issue in my mind, I like the manuscripts that the King James Version was based on because the passage seems incomplete without these instructions.

Meditation for the week of April 18, 2010

Offering the World a Difference!

 

Isaiah 53:9 And they made His grave with the wicked-But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

 

Violence and lies are part of the culture of this world. The Lord was different and those who call themselves Christians should be different as well.

When Eve disobeyed God, man took on the nature of sin. I don't fully understand how that happened, but I see the results of that nature in every day life and in the Bible stories. Cain, the first person born into this world, became a murderer of his own brother Abel. Their problem had to do with a religious disagreement about how God ought to be worshiped. What Cain thought he was going to gain by killing his brother is a mystery to me. He wasn't going to be richer, God wasn't going to be happy with him for doing it, and his parents certainly weren't going to be happy. His killing Abel seems irrational to me, but maybe that is the case with most killers except the ones who kill by accident. Those killings we call manslaughter.

By the time we get to Noah, violence had increased to the point where God decided to destroy the human race and to start over with the one righteous man left on earth. But it didn't make much difference. Since John says hate is murder (1 John 3:15), we have reached a point today that is as bad if not worse than in Noah's day. Hate is the motive that God can see, murder is the result of that motive that man can see. The Bible is clear that a man must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. Since the kingdom is a place where man loves God and loves his neighbor as himself, it is no wonder that God uses a concept as radical as a new birth to explain the change that needs to occur in people. We say we love when our actions and our rhetoric and our jokes say otherwise. Hate is seen in the terrorism that abounds in the world. Hate is a part of the ingrained prejudices based on race that many people have. The political rhetoric indicates that Democrats hate Republicans and Republicans hate Democrats. Hate is seen in some of the cruel jokes being told about the current President including a prayer, no less, asking the Lord to cause his death.

Lies are the way the world works today. Most people know that if you tell people a lie forcefully enough and often enough, people will believe it. People believed wall street investment bankers when they sold them securities backed by mortgages that would likely never be repaid. Many businessmen think it is perfectly all right to leave bills unpaid that they have promised to pay. Many people make contracts that they intend to renegotiate if the going gets tough. The idea that our word is our bond seems to be a thing of the past. There are certain businesses and professions where lying is so prevalent that we stereotype those people as liars. Horse traders, used car salesmen, and politicians are all in that category. Thank God, Christians have the opportunity to really shine by breaking the stereotypes when they work in those businesses and professions.

As Christians do we offer the world an alternative? Does the world see people who are willing to suffer wrong in order to avoid violence? Do they see people who want to live in peace and who are peacemakers? Are we the ones passing the cruel jokes around? Are we teaching our children that violence is necessary to protect ourselves from the government and from bullies? Do we believe the Lord when he says that those who live by the sword die by the sword (Matthew 26:52)? Do they see people who try to keep their promises and who pay their just bills?

The Lord is One who loved and who never lied. If He hadn't loved there would be no sacrifice for our sins. If He had lied, there would be no way to be sure we are saved because we wouldn't have dependable promises that assure us of eternal life. We who claim to be "born again" and who claim to be living a new life in Christ, surely we should love and not lie. Otherwise, Christianity would be offering no solutions. It would be making no difference.

Consideration, kindness and truth go a long way toward making believers out of unbelievers.

 

Meditation for the week of April 25, 2010