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The Last Thursday

March 31st, 2010

Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?

John 18:11

 

As the sun rose on Thursday morning of Holy Week Christ awoke from what would be His last night’s rest. He remained in Bethany that morning and sent Peter and John into Jerusalem to make preparations for the Passover meal, then at some point in the afternoon He traveled to the city Himself. Thursday was a day of “lasts”: His last entrance into Jerusalem, His last Passover, His Last Supper, His last journey to Gethsemane, and His last teaching before the cross.

 

There came a point in His ministry when the emphasis in His teaching changed. He continued to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven to the crowds, but He also began to pull His disciples aside for more in depth instructions. It remains so to this day, that the gospel is preached to the unbelieving world, so that they might hear and believe, but to the believer the message is personalized. The unbelieving world sees Christ from a different vantage point than the community of faith. We read in the Bible that day shall come when “they shall look upon him whom they pierced” (Rev. 1:7; Zech. 12:10) and mourn. The last time the unbelieving world saw Jesus of Nazareth was at His piercing as a Roman soldier ran a spear through His heart and lungs to determine His death. Christ appeared in His resurrected body only to believers (1 Cor. 15:3-8), and the instruction we receive as believers is likewise of a different nature. The information is not hidden, of course, for an unbeliever may read the Scripture as well as a believer, but he cannot understand it as a believer can. Paul wrote,

 

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:12-14

 

So it is not that we believers are better people in and of ourselves, but that we are enlightened by the Spirit of God. God continues to pull us aside by His Spirit and through His word to receive special instruction, special insight into His heart and mind.

 

One of the great differences is how it applies to our lives, that the promises of God become personalized to believers, and the Spirit of God impresses these things upon our hearts. For example, if I read of someone who has inherited a huge estate, I can perfectly understand what that means but it does not really mean anything to me personally. If however, I learn that I have personally inherited a huge estate, well that is very different and my reaction is entirely different. It has become my reality, no longer mere information but now it has become my experience. So it is with the promises of God, they are personalized for a believer. But beyond this personalizing of the promises of God are the experiences of the leading and empowering of the Spirit and the closeness of Christ to us.

 

How much greater the difference, however, to see someone who has a loving father, to see them interact, to exchange glances. I may envy such a person and wish for such a father. But then, if that father’s gaze connects with my eyes, and the love and affection, the relationship itself is now directed to me personally, if He calls me His son – why that makes all the difference in the world! This is the heart of Christ’s ministry, to reconcile us to our heavenly Father, to teach us not merely that there is a Father in heaven, but that He is our Father in heaven.

 

This very concept Christ wanted to instill within His disciples these last hours of His earthly ministry. He ministered to them not merely through His teaching but also through His example and presence. In some ways we see that Christ’s circumstances in ministry remained as unchanged as when He began – the disciples still quarreling over who is the greatest, Judas still not believing, His confidants still sleeping instead of praying, and, unquestionably the greatest unchanged factor, Christ still completely committed to His mission. The inspired author of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), and the actions of Jesus in this last day of ministry reveal that to be the case. He is as patient and committed at the end as He was at the beginning.  

 

Why does He not stop just long enough to really rebuke the immaturity of the disciples? When they argue about who is the greatest, why doesn’t He just shout, “I am! Now be quiet!” But that is not His heart, and instead He takes off His outer clothes, takes the form of a servant and washes their feet. It was the gentle rebuke of love that breaks stubborn bones. The meltdown of Moses, who exploded in anger at the constant immaturity of the people and struck the rock with his staff, is not repeated with Christ. With a gentle firmness He touches every failure around Him: the disciple’s boasting, the slowness of their faith, even the betrayal of Judas, as well as the denial of Peter. The cup the Father gave Him to drink was not merely sipped from, but consumed to the dregs.

 

Christ knew what the others did not. He knew that the sacrifice he was about to make would completely satisfy the requirements of Holy God to offer forgiveness to sinners like you and me. He knew that the resurrection lay ahead. He knew that the Holy Spirit would descend upon the church to baptize believers with His presence and power, to seal and indwell, to lead and guide, to transform and flood hearts with His love. He knew that all would not end at the moment of the cross, but that did not remove the pain of the physical torments or the greater pain of the spiritual torments, when He who knew no sin became sin for us.

 

As the sun set and the night darkened and the time of His ministry slipped away He prayed. The last moments before arrest were spent in the company of disciples, in an example of servanthood, in teaching them about the Holy Spirit, and in prayer. No frantic hurrying to make sure all things were done. They were. He ends His public ministry as he began it: on His knees praying for His disciples. In this setting He uttered these words to his disciples.

 

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

 

We have His peace as our gift from our Savior. He has overcome the world and the events that were about to unfold would accomplish our salvation, would purchase our victory, and would commend the love of God to us.

 

He prayed to the Father asking that we might be sanctified by his truth, that we might be united in our hearts with one another, and that we might see His glory revealed in our hearts.

 

I have made Your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.

John 17:26

 

And there the day with the disciples ends, the last day before the cross spent on earth as their Teacher, the soldiers are coming to Olivet, steps in cadence and the rustling of armor can be heard. The disciples are confused, angry, fearful, and caught off guard. But the Lord as calm as when He faced the crowds at Nazareth who wished to stone Him, as at peace as when He calmed the waters of Galilee, as great as when His humanity was pealed back and His true deity was revealed before three disciples, now is as silent as a sheep before the shearers, a kiss from the betraying disciple the last gentle touch He receives from humanity…

 

Prayer:

 

Lord, we are amazed at Your steadfastness in purpose, of your commitment to Your mission to bring us salvation, and of Your gentleness and strength.  Lord, we worship you. We bow before You, aware of our weaknesses, but believing that You can place Your peace, Your truth, and Your love in our hearts. Do so even now, Lord. Amen.

 

 

Evening Devotionals, Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit)

Wednesday’s Rest

March 30th, 2010

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them…

John 12:36

 

Christ withdrew on Wednesday, as He often had in His ministry, to a different type of service: to answer the call of separateness. Alone with God, in the company of friends and disciples, He prepared for the trials that awaited Him. The balance of Christ’s life, of time alone with God as well as time with His followers, gives us an example to follow. We need this in our lives. No one is able to become all that they should be in Christ without spending time in private devotion and prayer, communing with God privately. Joseph Stowell, President of Moody Bible Institute, wrote,

 

Aloneness is what we feel when we are functionally disconnected at the core of our being from all that truly satisfies, sustains, and secures. It is the absence of an experiential sense of God’s presence, power, and pleasure to supply us with the resources that support all of life. It is the ultimate consequence of trusting in companions and commodities that are, at the end of the day, insufficient.[1]

 

 

Time with God, shared in intimacy with Him, is the heart of the Christian experience. This was the very nature of Christ’s earthly life, and it is to be the center of our lives, the center that around which then forms the circumference. Yet God also calls us to one another, to closeness and fellowship as a company of believers, and we cannot become all that we should become without rubbing shoulders and sharing lives with other believers. The community of worshippers is necessary to our spiritual health, and the one rightly connected with God will search out intimacy with other believers.

 

Wednesday for Christ was a day of rest, and we are not told all the details we would like to know. Our generation is obsessed with time and order, our lives are filled with gadgets to schedule every waking moment, one segment at a time – even Sundays, the Lord’s Day, are scheduled to the limit, but the biblical cultures simply were not this way. The gospel writers did not try to put the last few days of Christ’s earthly ministry in language that would co-equate with our schedule-obsessed age. They were more concerned with the events themselves than with the schedule of them, and there is a message in that by itself. There is much more to life than increasing its speed or measuring the segments of the day. We, the schedule-obsessed, have not climbed higher simply because we have learned to count the steps. Too often we have neglected the view and, worse, forgotten to ask whether we are scaling the right height. Scheduling our days is not all wrong, there is much good that comes from it, as Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  But the joke has become a parable for our time: “We have lost the way but we are making good progress.”

 

Have you pulled away from busy-ness for spiritual rest? Here is our dilemma: it takes time to do these things, but time is not the main consideration. God does not merely ask if we have put worship and fellowship on our calendars but if in our hearts we are worshipping Him and accepting others. One afternoon as a busy pastor, under the seemingly unrelenting pressure of meetings and responsibilities, I felt distant from God. I skipped lunch and went to a park for about three hours. All I did was meditate on the Scripture, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want” (Psalm 23:1). God’s Spirit took me no further that day into His word but let me simply see the beauty of these words, of the promise they offered, and of the Shepherd they proclaimed. The other events of that day – even that month – have almost all washed from my memory with time, but the few hours alone with God in meditation of His word have remained with me, as though He took that time to etch His truth upon my heart. And I have taken the insight and strength gained that day into every ministry situation since – how much weaker my ministry would be without this truth becoming personalized!

 

The Lord pulled away not only to be with God – His normal custom was to rise up early for prayer and to stay up late – but also to withdraw into a supportive community. It was time to affirm His love for His close friends and followers. As the perfect man, Christ has the capacity to make genuine friendships. It is the sinfulness of humanity that makes this so rare among us. Our fears and jealousies and selfishness push one another away, or we become too clingy to one another, but Christ has none of these problems rising from within Him. He loved purely and embraced others purely – no one had loved people like Christ had. He did not come to be served but to serve others, and we believe that here He had not sought their pity or their false sympathy. He had not in exasperation said such things as, “Can you believe those Pharisees!” Such words that would have slipped so easily from our lips, could not have come from His mouth, for they were not in His heart. But as the perfect man He did have the desire for friendship, as man was not made to live alone. He was the best friend anyone ever had, and He is today the best friend we can find. As He was with those who believed in Him at Bethany, so He is with us who believe in Him today.

 

But in that beautiful meadow of fellowship and faith slithered a snake in the grass. As the trial neared, as others also sensed that things were nearing a climactic moment, the concerns that drove some to worship drove Judas to betrayal. Luke and John simply said that Satan entered Judas. Was the second anointing too much? Did he excuse his behavior with thinking Jesus had become an egomaniac? Was it just that his feelings were hurt and his pride injured at the rebuke of Christ? We will never know. Perhaps it was all of these, or something entirely different that sparked the betrayal, but one thing stands out: Judas failed the test of faith. He came to a moment in the unveiling of Christ before the disciples, where he could go no further. When Peter had said, “You are the Christ of God!” Judas had not. Certainly not in his heart, perhaps not with his lips either, but lying lips can say many things hearts do not believe, and God looks at the heart.

 

Would that Judas had worshipped like Mary and the other woman in Bethany! How differently his life story would have ended. He began well, but faith and love slipped out, pride and greed slipped in, and in the pivotal moment when Christ was revealed to be the Savior of Isaiah’s prophecies, the One upon whom “the punishment of our peace” was to be laid, Judas thought only of himself. He remained his own single object of real worship, easy pickings for a crafty adversary. Had we been able to observe the disciples, we would have noted that Judas had begun to withdraw from the others, to close up his heart to friendship. Self-pride set him apart from them, and though we assume he masked his feelings, no one can mask them completely.

 

Today for us is the day to pull away, to worship Christ, to commune with God, to consider what would be the appropriate expression of our devotion and adoration, to search our hearts for selfishness and greed, to devote our lives to His glory and His service, to be willing to receive rebukes or even chastisements from righteous people for our own good and for God’s glory. Let the sweetness of time with Christ and time spent in the company of devoted believers, be the anchoring experience to your Christian walk.

 

Those who worship deeply, serve profoundly. Later the call will come from the Savior you love to lift up your eyes to the ripe and ripening harvest, but you will not hear those words if you do not stop to worship, nor will you heed them without the fellowship of other believers who with you worshipped, rejoiced, and received the vision. Let your pride melt away in the reality of His love – we need the friendship of others more than the pride and silly jealousies that push them away. Embrace Christ as your Savior, and Christian friends as your family.

 

Prayer:

 

Lord, let us value our call of apartness with You and with others of faith. Let us sit in Your presence and worship You. Teach us to value true Christian friendship. Anchor our souls in You. Amen.

 



[1] Joseph M. Stowell, Far From Home (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), p. 33.

Evening Devotionals, Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit)