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(From Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24; and John 20)

I am amazed that Jesus’ disciples were surprised when they discovered Jesus had risen from the dead.

I’m also amazed that I was surprised they were surprised.

Jesus predicted His death and resurrection at least three times, and He regularly alluded to it in many other passages. So how could they not expect it or, at least, be ready for it? It’s hard to get inside of their heads, but consider the fact that in their worldview, dead people stayed that way – they didn’t come back to life and walk around and eat and be seen by other people. On a deeper level, when Jesus made His statements about rising from the dead, what did He talk about first? His death. The disciples heard that, and it’s possible that nothing else was really heard after that point. “Death? Wait a minute! That can’t happen to You, Lord.” They heard Him say He would be raised from the dead, but it probably went in one ear and out the other. I shouldn’t be surprised – they didn’t know the rest of the story.

I shouldn’t be surprised by their response, but I am by mine. I find myself (and I’m certain you do, too) reading God’s Word and asking, “Why didn’t the Israelites get it? Why did they blow it so many times?” “Boy, those disciples sure were thick-headed.” All the while, we see ourselves as superior – “If I would have been there, I would have believed (or wouldn’t have fallen into that particular sin).” Here’s a news flash: If I would have “been there,” I would have done the same thing, and you would have, too. Our sinful and fallen nature is the same as ours.

Look at it this way: Are we surprised when God fulfills one of His promises? We shouldn’t be! He promises He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5), but we’re surprised when He actually is pres. He promises to meet all of our needs (Matt. 6:25-34), and we think it’s unusual when He does. He promises to forgive our sins if we confess them to Him (1 John 1:9), but think we’re too sinful for that to really happen.

The disciples were surprised and amazed, but we shouldn’t be – for the glory of God!

 

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The anonymous author of Embracing Obscurity writes this about suffering:

There’s a startling trend in Christian thinking about suffering. Though subtle, this misconception is no less dangerous than many other of Satan’s lies. I call it the “Joseph Principle,” and it goes like this:

If I am suffering in obscurity today, God must be preparing me for something greater, better, or more prominent later in life.

You can probably guess why I call it the Joseph Principle. I can only assume this faulty way of thinking gets its roots in a misunderstanding of Joseph’s unlikely story, found in Genesis 37; 39-50. In a nutshell, Joseph is betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, and then endured years of prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Yet – and this is the part that excites our ambition – God used all of Joseph’s suffering to prepare him for greatness (and I mean greatness). In a startling turn of events, Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt, ultimately saving the family that first betrayed him. In the end he gets it all: fame, power, justice, and even the girl.

Though Joseph’s story is one of my favorites, there are others like it. Abraham waited twenty-five years but in the end had the child he’d been waiting for. Moses had to spend forty years as a shepherd, but he eventually went back to Egypt and was God’s instrument to deliver the Israelites. Hannah put up with years of taunting and disillusionment before God gave her Samuel. David endured fourteen years of wondering, waiting, and dodging Saul, but in the end he became the greatest king Israel ever knew (notwithstanding Christ).

Why do we love these stories? Lots of reasons, to be sure. There’s action, adventure, hidden identities, wrongs made right, God’s faithfulness and fulfilled prophecies – but there’s also something about the underdog making it to the top that resonates within. Maybe because we hope it will be us.

If you’ve ever been fired, come up second (or tenth), been broken up with, or had any hope deferred, you’ve likely heard the well-meaning encouragement: “Don’t worry – God just has something even better in store for you” or “All things work together for good!” or maybe even, “You just keep working hard, and you’ll get whatever you want in the end.” I guess we give one another these platitudes for one of two reasons: (1) we really believe that suffering inevitably leads to bigger and better, or (2) we hate to kick someone when they’re down by telling them the hard truth: sometimes suffering only leads to our greater obscurity, God’s greater glory.

the Bible is wrought with examples of God’s doing things for His own glory. Refining our hearts is no exception: “I have refined you in the furnace of suffering…yes, for my own sake!” (Isa. 48:10-11 NLT). He goes on to say that Isaiah doesn’t want his reputation tarnished by idols; He refuses to let the recognition due Him to go to them. It was true in how we dealt with Israel, and it is true in his He deals with us. God more often allows us to suffer to refine our own hearts and purge us from idols than to prepare us for “greatness.”

This isn’t an easy pill to swallow…

All of God’s ways are good and true. Although His plans may not look like ours, we can trust that God is in fact “for us.”

I’ve had these thoughts many times, and this author (whomever it may be) has expressed and explained them well. Something to think about as we live coram Deo (before the face of God).

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Elisabeth Elliot described suffering as wanting what you don’t have and having what you don’t want.

When that happens (and it will if it hasn’t yet), there are two possible responses. Only two. We can say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Or we can say with Job’s wife, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

One response is based on submission and obedience to God. The other response is based on rebellion and disobedience to Him. Job sums up his response to suffering in 2:10 as he answers his wife. He says, in part, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” 

The only reasonable and faithful response to suffering is to trust the God who is there, sovereign, loving, just, and the One who knows exactly what He’s doing. The alternative is too horrific to consider.

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Two weddings down, two to go. We have an unusually busy two month period – we’ve been invited to three weddings and I have the honor of officiating at another.

Being present and celebrating the union of a man and a woman is a beautiful thing. But for those who are married, weddings are an opportunity, in a sense, to renew our own vows. You’ll hear the vows you made to each other (or, hopefully, something close to them) and be reminded of the obligation you have to keep them. It’s aways good to be reminded what and who you said “I do” to.

Weddings, however, aren’t the only place vows are renewed. As Christians, we renew vows at various times. If you made vows at your baptism, you can renew them whenever someone else is baptized. If you made vows when you joined your church, you’re reminded of them every time you accept new members. If you make vows when you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, even if silently, you renew them every time you partake.

Making vows and renewing them is a beautiful thing – for our good and God’s glory!

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Maundy-Thursday

On Thursday of what we call “Holy Week,” Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room to celebrate Passover. Before the meal commenced, the Lord Jesus – unexpectedly – washed the feet of His disciples, thereby taking the place of a servant/slave.

After Judas Iscariot had left, Jesus gave His disciples this command (“mandatum” in Latin  and “mandate” in English, hence the word “Maundy”): A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). 

The command is “love one another.” The Lord mentions it three times in the space of two sentences. But what does it mean to love? Although the answer isn’t directly given here, a grasp of the whole of Scriptures provides us with the answer – God’s law. We know how to love God because of what He’s commanded in His law. By the same token, we know how to love one another because of what He’s commanded in His law. Contrary to present-day sentiment, love isn’t a gassy feeling which drives our interactions with others (or with God). Our hearts are a bad guide to what’s loving and unloving. God’s law gives us a definition and description of love. It tells us how to love and how not to love. We can’t ignore God’s law or “unhitch” ourselves from it and truly love the way God has commanded us.

Maundy Thursday reminds us of the mandate to love one another. Thankfully, God has given us a blueprint (His law and Word) and a model (His Son Jesus Christ).

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On Wednesday I was one of the adult chaperones on a field trip with our 8th-graders (I teach the 8th-grade Bible class) to the Maritime Museum, Astoria Column, and Fort Clatsop, all in the Astoria, Oregon area. We had a good time, and it’s always good to spend time outside of class with students, parents, and other teachers.

What caught my attention was something one of the rangers said during her presentation at Fort Clatsop. She said we could learn a lot about Lewis and Clark and their expedition by reading books about them looking at the exhibits at the museum, but the best way to learn about them is to read their journals, which are widely available. We need the original, or primary, sources. In other words, even though Stephen Ambrose’s book “Undaunted Courage” is great, you need to read the original source to get the best picture.

The same principle applies to the Bible. We can learn a lot about God’s Word by reading books about it, listening to sermons about it, participate in Bible studies about it, or listen to podcasts about it, but the best thing we can do is read and study it for ourselves. Go to the original source!

Commentaries can be fantastic resources. Sermons – from your pastor to preachers on the Internet – can be edifying and thought-provoking. Books written by the best scholars and authors can be helpful. Read them, listen to them, and study them all! Most of our time, however, should be spent on the original and primary source – God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word, which, by the way, is a whole lot better than anything Lewis and Clark ever wrote.

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The Christian History Institute published the story of forty Roman soldiers who were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ on March 9th, 320 A.D.

“Consider—you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?” Governor Agricola was speaking to forty soldiers in the 12th Legion of the Roman army who refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor while they were stationed near Sebaste in modern-day Turkey.

“To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still,” replied one of the soldiers.

The governor became exasperated. “Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty.” 

When that lure did not break their ranks he increased the pressure. “You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death!”

The soldiers stood firm. “Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats—we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake.”

Agricola ordered them flogged. Guards dragged the men out into the cold where they were stripped and tied to posts. Whips with hooks of iron tore the men’s sides. Unbelievably not one of the forty surrendered. “Chain them in my dungeons!” roared Agricola. He referred their case to Lysias, commander of the 12th Legion, whose coming was soon expected. When Lysias arrived he threatened a sharp penalty if the soldiers continued to disobey.

On this day, 9 March 320, the men remained respectfully defiant. A new torture occurred to Agricola. Nearby was a frozen pond. The March air was sharp. “You will stand naked on the ice until you agree to sacrifice to the gods,” he said.

The rebel soldiers tore off their own clothes and ran toward the pond in the freezing air. “We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship,” shouted one. “What is our death but entrance into eternal life?” Striking up a song, they marched onto the frozen pond. Baffled, Agricola posted guards. He had baths of warm water heated as an incentive to the forty to come off the pond.

As dark closed in, the forty prayed, “Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number.” It appeared their prayer was doomed to disappointment, however. Babbling, one of the forty crawled away from the ice. Guards helped him into a bath but the heat proved too much of a shock to his frozen system. He immediately went into convulsions and died.

However, one of the guards had seen a vision of angels with crowns hovering over the pond. Impressed by the bravery of the remaining thirty-nine, he shucked off his clothes and ran onto the ice. The martyrs numbered forty again!

When the sun rose, Agricola was told that the forty were dead. He ordered the bodies burned and their ashes dumped into a nearby river so the bones could not be collected and venerated. When the guards began stacking the stiff corpses onto a wagon, they discovered that Melito, the youngest of the soldiers, was still alive. 

Melito was a local boy. The soldiers recognized his mom nearby. “Listen, Mother, take your boy home, save his life if you can. We’ll look the other way,” they said.

“What kind of talk is that?” scolded the woman. “Would you cheat him of his crown? I’ll never let that happen!” As the wagon began to roll away, she hoisted her son in with the others.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12).

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