Eight Days that Changed the World

Holy Week recounts the saving acts of God, from Jesus Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem, his Good Friday suffering on the cross as our substitute, and his Easter resurrection as proof of God’s full forgiveness and the promise of dwelling with God forever.

What we call “Holy Week” starts on the Sunday before Easter and concludes on Easter Sunday. In ancient times, the week-long commemoration of the saving events of this week were commemorated starting on Easter and continued until the following Friday. Such gathering of pilgrims to “holy sites” began already in the early second century, and so provoked a response by the emperor Hadrian, who in 135 A.D. built a pagan shrine to Adonis over the place of Jesus birth, a statue of Jupiter and an altar of Venus over Jesus’ tomb, and likewise built a structure over St. Peter’s house in Capernaum.

Unwittingly, the locations of these sites were thus preserved for Constantine’s mother Helena to discover when she made a pilgrimage to the holy land in 326 A.D., Constantine gave permission for these structures to be torn down, and apparently authentic locations were discovered beneath. Churches were constructed over these sites – and others – and were thereafter visited by an unnamed pilgrim from Bordeaux in 333 and a nun from Spain named Egeria in 381 who wrote a diary that provided a detailed account of each location visited and worship services held for pilgrims who gathered to walk where Jesus walked.

Palm Sunday recalls people laying palm fronds before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, shouting “hosanna!” (save, please!).

Monday recalls Jesus being anointed by Mary of the sister of Lazarus, after Jesus had raised her brother from the dead.

The Tuesday reading from Jonah foreshadows Jesus burial, where just as Jonah was three days in the belly of a great fish, Jesus was to be buried for three days in the heart of the earth.

“Spy” Wednesday recalls Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Maundy Thursday (from the Latin “mandatum”) recalls Jesus command to love one another as he has loved us, his washing of the disciples feet and the first Lord’s Supper.

On Good Friday (from the Anglo-Saxon word for “God”) Jesus, as our substitute, suffered upon the cross for the sins of all people.

Holy Saturday recalls Jesus’ stay in the tomb. Historically, it was on this night that Christians gathered at dusk for Easter worship that continued until dawn, when people would cry out “He is risen, he is risen indeed!” On Easter Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, assuring us that we are forgiven and that we shall be raised to dwell in God’s presence forever.

Holy Week reminds us that the Bible is more than a book of doctrine. It is God’s own record of his saving acts on behalf of a world in need of rescue.


Jesus “Great Commission” … Is it for today?

A friend was leading worship at a town here in North Carolina and preached a sermon on Jesus’ Great Commission: “Going therefore, make disciples of all nations (by) baptizing … and (by) teaching them to pay close attention to all-what-so-ever I have commanded you. For I am with you until the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) After the worship service one of the church’s members came up to him and asked him a question: “Are you saying that the Great Commission wasn’t only for the first century?” My pastor friend was taken by surprise. Where had this man heard such a thing? Jesus suffered, bled, died and rose again for all people of all time, not only for those of the first century. God has only given us two ways to bring this salvation to people of “all nations,” (1) by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and (2) by bringing this teaching to people in every place and time. Jesus died for the sins of all people but it is through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) that a person receives this precious gift. Even faith is a gift, created by the Holy Spirit through the message (Romans 10:17) that Jesus has taken our sins upon himself, suffered and died in our place, and freely absolves (forgives) us, not because of anything we have done (Romans 4:5) but freely by grace (an undeserved gift). This message of forgiveness is entrusted to each one of us, not only to pastors. It is for each of us to “go” bring this message to all people, not only in the first century but also in our own time. Some who haven’t heard this gospel message live in far away nations and “going” may take considerable time and effort. Others here in America live in places where the gospel is rare. We need not travel great distances, but only do as the Apostle Peter encouraged us in 1 Peter 3:15 – “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect.” As you have freely received the gift of life with God, so also freely pass this gift on to others, that they too may have forgiveness and life with God, for it was not only something for first century believers to do, but also for you and me and all Christians until the day when our good and merciful Savior and Shepherd returns, to gather his sheep into his presence forever.

In the Hour of Death

It is the elephant in the living room. It is the thing we never want to talk or think about. It happens to all of us. For my family it has happened three times in the past six months and twice in the past two months. Death. First my mother-in-law Margaret on December 12th, then my father Elmer on May 3rd and finally my mother Phyllis on June 16th. I have never before done a funeral for a close relative and now in rapid succession I’ve done three.

This has altered my perspective and honestly I’m still recovering. I will be recovering for some time. I feel like I’ve been I’ve been hit by a car. Yes, I believe that these three are in heaven with Jesus, but they’re gone and I won’t ever see them again here. Later after the Lord’s return or after I myself have departed from this life, yes, I will see them again, but not again in this world. Until then, I will miss them.

This – once again – impacts my perspective. I’m so very thankful that 44 years ago a friend named Tony encouraged me to read the Bible. A year later I did so and it changed my life. I’m thankful that likewise my recent dearly departed heard and believed. But I come from the Northwest. Though 60% self-identify as “Christian,” only 5-8% of Oregon and Washington residents attend church. In Washington state, nearly 50,000 people die every year. That’s about 134 every day, 5 1/2 every hour, one every 70 minutes. How many of them have NEVER heard, understood and believed the gospel?

Having formerly lived and served as a pastor in Utah for fifteen years, nearly 15,000 people die there every year. That’s about 40 every day or one person every 35 minutes. In Utah County (the greater Provo area) almost 2,000 die per year, 5 per day, one every 44 minutes. Though Utah is one of the most highly “churched” states in our nation, only about 18% of Utah residents self-identify as Christian and 78% as non-Christian, if “Christian” is defined as belief in the biblical teachings summarized in the historic creeds (Apostles’ – early 2nd century A.D., Nicene – early 4th century A.D., Athanasian – circa 500 A.D.) Based on such numbers, in Utah one person dies without a true faith in Christ every 35 minutes. In Utah County, one person dies without a true faith in Christ every six hours, four people every day, nearly thirty every week, 125 every month…. Many of these people have Christian neighbors who could share the gospel with them. One of those people who could do so may be you.

Death puts everything in perspective. It’s permanent. This side of heaven or Christ’s second coming, we won’t see them again. Once death has happened, the time is up. The opportunity to share the most precious gift is gone. Christ died for the sins of all people. But this gift is only received by those who believe.

The Boy Who Didn’t Came Back from Heaven

Back in Kansas they say “the shirt’s in there Mabel.” In other words, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A New York Times bestseller by the name of – The Boy Who Came Back from Heavena true story – has been flying off the shelves since Tyndale published it four and a half years ago. Now it’s being pulled from book stores because the author has admitted that the whole story was just made up. This isn’t surprising. A booklet that criticized the book for violating basic Biblical teachings was published a year later but was vehemantly criticized. I have not read either book but I have another on my shelves that was recommended by a hospital chaplain. It records stories from hundreds of people about messages from the grave that provide hope to grieving loved ones. According to this book and another that I read about near death experiences, it doesn’t really matter what you believe. The message is that clearly all of the world’s religions are mistaken.

Why are people so eager to believe every and all spiritual messages, as long as they are not from the BIble? People want a religion where no one fails to get to heaven and nobody is in error. In college I visited a church where all religions were thought to contain some truth but where theirs was more true than the others. They had great red zinger tea. But I didn’t join.

There is a reason that Martin Luther concluded that “scripture alone” is to be the basis for what we believe. He read many other books where spiritual experiences or human philosophy lead to a maze of contradictions. Only one book, the Bible, tells the truth about God and salvation all of the time. Jesus said “I am THE way THE truth and THE life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” What we believe matters, eternally. Jesus told a story about a rich man who was in torment and a poor man named Lazarus who was in heaven. The rich man asked that Lazarus be sent back to warn his living relatives. He was told that that couldn’t happen, because there was a chasm that prevented such a journey.

Being aware of that story should have been sufficient to demonstrate that The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven wasn’t a true story. The Bible isn’t only true for those who believe it’s words. The Bible will one day be found to be true also by all of those who never believed it. It is the only book that God himself has written, through apostles and prophets. If you want to know about how to get to heaven and be with God one day, read his book. In it you will find one great exception to the adage that things that sound too good to be true probably aren’t. The exception is the gospel, for the greatest of gifts (life with Christ forever) isn’t something that we earn or deserve. It is an undeserved gift paid for by Jesus and received by all who trust that they are forgiven, because of Christ, rather than by anything they could claim to have done.

Though the Bible is a best-seller, most people – including people who go to church – have never read it all the way through. Why not make 2015 the year for reading the greatest of books? The truth and mercy that you find there will give you hope.

Cutting Through the Confusion

I was just reading Joseph Smith’s First Vision yesterday. He expressed so much confusion about how to sort through all of the contradictory religious messages. There really is an easy answer: It’s all about source. For some, it’s all about personal EXPERIENCE. Buddha sat under a tree and sought enlightenment and John Wesley had his Aldersgate experience in which he felt “strangely warmed.” Others look to REASON. For John Calvin, it just didn’t seem logical for John 3:16 to be saying that Jesus came to die on the cross for everybody, so he must have only died for those predestined. Some look to TRADITION, by which millions on August 15th commemorated the assumption of Jesus’ mother Mary into heaven, though they admittedly have no support for this belief in Scripture. A simpler and more sure approach is one that a young monk named Martin Luther stumbled upon five hundred years ago, in 1513. In the process of preparing lectures on the Psalms, in one of the Psalms he ran across the phrase “in your righteousness O God.” He had been taught to understand this to mean that to get to heaven we need to be righteous as God is righteous. Such a thought scared him to death, for who can be that righteous? Searching in the writings of the church fathers, he found many contradictory answers, just like Joseph Smith heard from some of the preachers of his day. So Luther searched though the Bible for an answer. Finally he came upon Romans 1:17: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,a just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” It was like a light brightly flashing the answer before his eyes. Righteousness isn’t something se accomplish, it’s something God gives as a gift through faith in what Christ has already done for us and all people on the cross. As he continued to search through scripture, he found the same answer in Ephesians 2:8-8, and in Galatians chapters 2-3 (an in many other places). The answer that Luther discovered five hundred years ago was to LET SCRIPTURE INTERPRET ITSELF. Let more clear Bible passages shed light on the more difficult ones. By doing so, we find that our relationship with God is by faith (trust) alone in what Jesus has done for all people on the cross and gives us by grace (an undeserved gift). Rather than experience, or reason, or tradition, we find peace in Christ as we look to the BIble alone for our answers.