Opportunities

The festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.”

They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?”

“Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” ’ He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. (Luke 22:1–13)

Both Mark and Luke explain how Jesus told his disciples to find the place for the Last Supper. Jesus’ instructions are reminiscent of the story of Abraham’s servant who went to find a wife for Isaac. He prayed that she would be the one who drew water for both him and all his camels. So the location for the Last Supper was revealed by someone carrying water. That it was a man carrying a jar of water was unusual, since only women normally carried water for their households. Given the wording, “The teacher asks you, ‘where is the guest room’” most commentators think that Jesus had already arranged for this room.

Each year, Passover celebrated Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It was no accident that Jesus was crucified during that holiday. Just as God rescued his people from physical slavery, so Jesus would rescue his people from spiritual slavery.

Although Jesus was facing a horrible death, he worked on getting ready for the Passover celebration. Jesus did not worry about his tomorrow; he only focused on his today. He has asked us not to worry about tomorrow as well. All we have is today and that is more than enough to keep us occupied.

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Revolution

Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.

The crowd then answered Him, “We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”

So Jesus said to them, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” (John 12:30–36)

Jesus explained that while his death would bring condemnation upon the ruler of the world, it would bring life and hope—salvation—to its people. By Jesus’ death, Satan was utterly and completely defeated and judged.

The crowd expressed confusion between what Jesus was saying and what they had been taught to believe about the Messiah. According to the teaching of the time, the Messiah was to endure forever, just as the kingdom he would restore for Israel would be an everlasting kingdom. Jesus’ solved the problem for them by explaining that the Messiah would endure forever because he would rise from the grave.

Jesus then told them to believe the light while it was here, so that they could “become sons of Light.” The darkness stood for the world without God, while “walking in the light” meant following God. Jesus alluded to the words of the prophet Isaiah who spoke of the Messiah coming from Galilee: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2 NRSV). In the famous passage about the suffering and death of the Messiah, Isaiah wrote, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.” (Isaiah 53:11 NIV)

We now walk in the light, even as he is in the light and even as he himself is the light—our light forevermore.

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Crazy Talk

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings. And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?”

Others said, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:14–21)

Jesus had just healed a man who was blind from birth. After the religious establishment had conducted its investigation into the healing, they threw the healed man out of the synagogue and told him to never come back.

So Jesus used the healing of that man from his physical blindness to teach about the blindness that so easily afflicts human beings: their inability to see even the most obvious of spiritual truths. Sadly, those who are spiritually blind, like the religious leaders Jesus confronted, are often unaware of their disability—in contrast to the physically blind, who know it only all too well. But Jesus can open the eyes of those who are spiritually blind, even if they have been blind from birth, as easily as he can open the eyes of those who were physically blind. But Jesus was divisive. Some of the spiritually blind believed, and some didn’t. Many wrongly concluded that Jesus’ words were the ravings of a madman or worse. Blindness is a terrible thing.

The pastor and poet, John Newton wrote in Amazing Grace, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Jesus has granted us insight into the mysteries of God. What had been hidden from us, what our blind eyes had not been able to discern, Jesus has at last revealed to us, opening our eyes so that we can see.

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The Spirit

Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

Others said, “He is the Christ.” (John 7:33–41)

To close out the Feast of Tabernacles, the priest took a gold vessel full of water from the stream of Shiloah that flowed under the temple mountain. As he poured it on the altar, he quoted Isaiah 12:3 (NIV): “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

That closing ceremony served as the springboard for Jesus’ proclamation that anyone who was thirsty could come to him. During his speech, Jesus alluded to a group of scriptures. There were Isaiah’s words about streams of living water flowing from within (Isaiah 44:3 and 58:11). Isaiah identified that living water as the Spirit of God (Isaiah 44:3). Jeremiah also spoke about living water flowing from God (Jeremiah 2:13, 7:13. And Zechariah 14:8 spoke of living water pouring from Jerusalem when the Messiah came. That’s why people who heard Jesus speaking that day were willing to identify him as the Messiah.

The people of Israel were intimately familiar with the words of scripture. They had heard and studied them their whole lives. When they heard Jesus speak, they heard those same words. They recognized them and understood their implications when Jesus applied them to their circumstances. The more we read and study the Bible, the more it will start to make sense to us—and the greater our depth of comprehension will be.

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Camels and Needles

An important man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: ‘Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Respect your father and mother.’ ”

He told Jesus, “I have obeyed all these commandments since I was a young man.”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “There is one thing you still need to do. Go and sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower.” When the man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.

Jesus saw how sad the man was. So he said, “It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.”

When the crowd heard this, they asked, “How can anyone ever be saved?”

Jesus replied, “There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything.”

Peter said, “Remember, we left everything to be your followers!”

Jesus answered, “You can be sure that anyone who gives up home or wife or brothers or family or children because of God’s kingdom will be given much more in this life. And in the future world they will have eternal life.” (Luke 18:18– 30)

Saturday Night Live once performed a skit about a rich man who devoted his fortune to finding a way to fit a camel through the eye of a needle so that he could get to heaven. But neither a shrinking ray, a giant, camel-sized needle, or pureeing a camel with a giant blender quite seemed to be the solution.

Jesus’ point about the camel was to counter the prevailing notion that God’s favor or disfavor was demonstrated on the basis of one’s bank account and general prosperity. Those who were wealthy, most believed, were favored by God and therefore certain to achieve heaven. Those who were poor and sick, most believed, were just as obviously destined to be excluded from it.

Jesus taught instead that salvation came from God and was dependent upon God. The disciples wondered who could be saved. Jesus affirmed that people couldn’t do it, but that for God, it was in fact possible. We are can enter God’s kingdom because of what Jesus did on the cross and for no other reason.

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The Problem of Suffering

At that very time, there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1–9)

Jesus contradicted the popular notion taught by the religious leaders of Israel, that suffering and disaster were necessarily the judgment of God upon sinners. Instead, Jesus taught that we can do everything right, be good people, follow all the directions and disaster can still strike us.

On any given morning most people will wake up and go to work. But there will be some who go out and murder, have an affair, or embezzle money. On any given morning some people will be doing what they are supposed to do and some will not. One bright September morning three thousand people who went to work as they always did never came home again. Terrorists chose to fly airplanes into their workplaces that particular day. They were not greater sinners than all the other people on the planet. Jesus explained that bad things can happen without warning and without reason and it isn’t because God is mad at us or loves us less than those who didn’t suffer that day.

When we’re driving down the freeway and traffic slows in front of us and we put on our brakes to stop, it is not our fault when the person behind us doesn’t and plows into the back of our car. Just because we drive carefully, doesn’t mean our neighbor will drive carefully. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “time and chance” happen to us all (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

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Experts

”You experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say. (Luke 11:46–54)

What is the key to knowledge that the experts in the law took away? The experts in the law had a wrong interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures and as a consequence not only didn’t know the way to the kingdom of God, but had made it hard for anyone else to find it. Their interpretation of the scriptures had created a mass of regulations. They were preoccupied with minutiae and spent no time on the key: the love of God.

Because the experts in the law failed to recognize the preeminence of God’s love, and the love that people should have for one another, they obscured not just God’s word, but God as well, making it hard for people to see the way of salvation. Instead, all they could see were the regulations that they had no hope of keeping and the condemnation that they could see no way of escaping. The experts in the law succeeded only in making people feel guilty and hopeless, instead of showing them that God offered them hope and a way of escape because of his great love.

Jesus shows us the way to life and joy and peace. He lifts us up from our prisons, breaks our chains, and sets us free.

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Chickens

“I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” (Matthew 23:34–39)

In the week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus spent time in Jerusalem teaching his disciples and the crowds. Jesus told them that he was sending them “prophets.” By saying such a thing, Jesus was affirming his deity, since only God sent prophets. Then Jesus warned the Pharisees that they were going to behave just like their ancestors had and miss God’s presence in their midst. Rather than hearing the words of the prophets, the words of the wise, the words of the scribes, they would reject those who came in the name of God and would kill them just as their ancestors had killed the earlier prophets. Abel was killed by his brother in the first book of the Old Testament (Genesis 4:8), while Zechariah, son of Berechiah was killed in the last book of the Hebrew Old Testament, (2 Chronicles 24:21).

Jesus longed to protect and shelter the people of Jerusalem, but they were choosing to ignore and reject their king, their God, Yahweh, whom they claimed to worship and serve. Consequently, they would suffer for their refusal to come under his protection, for going off on their own paths, for turning their backs on their one and only God.

God wants to take care of us and protect us. But he also gave us free will, a will that allows us to make choices both bad and good. Like baby chicks with their mother, we can huddle beneath God if only we choose to do so.

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Hypocrits

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count.

“Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? (Matthew 23:25–33)

In continuing his condemnation of the Pharisees and other religious scholars, Jesus focused on the fact that they were more concerned with appearance than with substance. The word translated as “frauds” can also be translated as “hypocrites,” a word that we today use for those who say one thing and then do another.

For the Pharisee, too often what mattered most was how you looked. If you dressed properly and used the right jargon then you were acceptable. Religious concepts needed to be expressed with standard, “proper” phrases. To vary from the accepted wording meant condemnation. One also needed to avoid certain places and people, condemning them with the proper terminology.

Jesus pointed out it was easy to keep the outside of something looking good. But what was inside was what really mattered: in their motivations and attitudes, their thoughts and beliefs, the Pharisees were as wicked as those they were quick to condemn. When they protested that they would never be guilty of what their ancestors did, they were in fact condemning themselves. Those who imagine that they would be immune to human failure have failed to recognize that they are human themselves and subject to the same weaknesses all humans have. Thinking themselves to be strong, they too often were very weak.

Who we are on the inside, all alone, where no one can see, is who we really are. Jesus looks at our hearts, not just at what we show the world.

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Legalists

You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You travel over land and sea to win one follower. And when you have done so, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you are.

You are in for trouble! You are supposed to lead others, but you are blind. You teach that it doesn’t matter if a person swears by the temple. But you say that it does matter if someone swears by the gold in the temple. You blind fools! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred?

You also teach that it doesn’t matter if a person swears by the altar. But you say that it does matter if someone swears by the gift on the altar. Are you blind? Which is more important, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Anyone who swears by the altar also swears by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple also swears by God, who lives there. To swear by heaven is the same as swearing by God’s throne and by the one who sits on that throne. (Matthew 23:15–22)

Within a week of his crucifixion, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their legalism, which too often led them to violate the law rather than keep it. The Pharisees rightly recognized the importance of keeping their oaths. But then they lost sight of the simple fact that God wanted people to do what they say and to mean what they say. Instead, the Pharisees began wondering what actually constituted an oath. They defined it very carefully. If a promise lacked the right words, or was not spoken in just the right way, then the Pharisees had concluded that it was not an oath at all and not legally binding. Rather than worrying about the intent of the heart, they became obsessed with the outward form.

Jesus berated them for their concern with finding reasons not to be bound by the promises they made. God did not create the law in order to give employment to lawyers. We do not stand before God with our attorney finding loopholes in God’s commands so we can escape our commitments. There are no “technicalities” awaiting our discovery. The Pharisees, Jesus said, were blind and foolish. Too many of them had lost sight of what really mattered: love. Despite their intent to keep the law, they had become lawbreakers.
Jesus wants us to be focused on loving God and loving people, rather than seeking ways to get out of trouble.

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