Ascended into heaven

Why are class reunions fun? Certainly part of it is seeing people whom you haven’t seen for a while–and seeing how they’ve changed! Without fail there’s a person or two whom you don’t recognize, because they just don’t look the way they used to look. It’s true–we tend to remember people the way they looked the last time we saw them.

So what’s the last “sight” that the disciples saw of Jesus? It happened like this.

After Jesus rose from his grave, he spent some time with his disciples, but not a lot. He would appear, teach and talk for a while, and then he’d allow them to “be on their own” for several days. This happened for forty days.

When those 40 days were over, Jesus took the disciples to the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem. There “he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” What would the disciples see on those hands? Why, of course–the nail marks from the crucifixion.

Then while he was blessing them “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Can you imagine? All of a sudden he just goes up into the sky! What power!

And notice, the account doesn’t say that he eventually got so far away that they couldn’t see him. Rather, the cloud covered him, so that–even though they could no longer see him with their eyes–he was still there.

Now remember–this was the last time the disciples would see Jesus, so this was the sight which would stick with them. Do you think it would help them?

Well, think of all the truths of which Jesus reminded them. By ascending up into the sky, Jesus reminded them that he’s all-powerful, that he rules all things. The hands up, in blessing, reminded them that he is watching out for their good! He will always have their best interests in mind. The fact that the cloud covered him reminded them that he really was with them, always. And don’t forget the nail marks, the proof that the disciples’ sins were forgiven! Because of that, that they’d spend an eternity with Jesus in heaven. Do you think that all this would have helped the disciples as they faced the days ahead? Without doubt! And certainly that “sight” of Jesus lifts our spirits too.

But there’s one more point about Jesus’ ascension, a point which we’d hate to miss … that he is coming again!

Our Righteousness

“In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:6

There is nothing that feels better than a crisp, clean set of clothes. I’ve been trying to take up running. After I come in from a three mile run, my shirt is gross! It’s smelly and drenched with sweat. It feels so good, after I’ve showered, to put on a shirt that is dry and clean.

We have all made our spiritual clothes sweaty, dirty and gross. Our unkind words and self-centered thoughts are like mud caked on our spiritual shirts. God is not going to let us into his house (heaven) wearing those kind of clothes!

But there is nothing that feels better than a crisp, clean set of clothes! Jesus lived a completely righteous life. His spiritual clothes were never stained with a single sin. And then he said to you, “Change shirts with me.” He put on your shirt that was stained with sin, and in exchange he gave you his crisp, clean shirt. That’s what the Bible means when it says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus was wearing our sinful clothes when he suffered and died on the cross. In exchange, he gave us his sinless clothes. Now, when God looks at us, he does not see dirty, sinful clothes. Instead, he sees the crisp, clean clothes of Jesus. The Bible puts it this way: “He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).

We haven’t lived a perfect life, but Jesus has. And he lets that perfect life count for us. He is “The LORD Our Righteousness,” (Jeremiah 23:6). Because Jesus’ perfect life (his righteousness) counts for us, that means that we can get into heaven!

So the next time you finish some strenuous activity, remember with joy that Jesus put on your grimy, sinful clothes. And when you open your dresser and find a neatly folded shirt, remember that Jesus has put a fresh, clean shirt on you. You are clothed in his perfect righteousness, and there is nothing that feels better than a crisp, clean set of clothes!

Blessed are the Dead Who Die in the Lord

Many things are scary. Watching your infant wiggle out of his car carrier, which you had momentarily set on the table—that’s scary. Witnessing a car swerve into oncoming traffic—that’s scary. But of all the scary things, death for many is the scariest.

It’s scary because of what we know and don’t know. We know death is certain. Its cloud hangs over us at every traffic intersection, on every consult with our doctor, and during every violent storm. What we don’t know is what dying is like. We don’t know what — if anything — happens after death.

If there is no God, then death is the end and that’s it. If so, then death may be final and sad, but it’s hardly something to be afraid of. But if God exists and is waiting to judge you for all the things you have done, if there is a life after death, then death is more than sad. It’s scary.

There are no ifs about God’s existence. He does exist and people know it, though some deny it. And the Bible explains what everyone knows in his or her heart: It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). Yes, that’s scary! So how happy can I be when I’m scared of dying?

If it were up to you find happiness in the face of death, you would be on an impossible journey. What we need to calm our fears and to find happiness is for someone to do something about death. Here’s the good news: someone has.

The God who awaits you after death, sent Jesus to destroy death. Jesus began that work by obeying God’s laws for you. Then he traded places with you. He gave you his perfect life in exchange for your sins. And so, with your sins laid on him, he suffered a most horrible death, which earned God’s forgiveness for you. With sin forgiven, death lost its power. So, three days after his burial, Jesus rose to life from the dead. He defeated death so that it can no longer hold the lives and bodies of those it has claimed. All people will rise from the dead.

Believe this good news and know for sure that the God, who is waiting for you, waits for you with open arms to welcome you into his Paradise. This is why the Holy Spirit told John to write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on (Revelation 14:13).

The unknown experience of death may still be scary for you, but because death has been conquered by resurrection and because there is a perfect life in a perfect place awaiting you, you can live happily, even now and ever after.

The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

Man Dies to Save Trapped Bunny pops up as you scroll through your news app. You tap on the video. You see what reminds you of the furry little Cadbury Creme Egg mascot. A heroic rescue follows.

You’re baffled. You’re impressed! You think…What inspired that guy to give his own life for a bunny? Come to think of it, I sometimes forget even to feed my own pet!

Try another headline: Man Dies to Save World. That headline actually does pop up when you read the Bible. At first it may sound like it’s from a too-predictable superhero movie. It seems too good to be true. But it is true! Jesus is that man. He died an agonizing, humiliating death on a Roman torture-pole to save the world. He wasn’t saving it from global warming or hunger or war, but saving it from damnation. And despite what some speculate, Jesus didn’t come to post the Ten Commandments at every town hall and enforce them. No, the world already stood condemned by the law because of its sin. Instead, Jesus came to rescue the world. By the way, “world” means everyone in it. You too!

Look at the extraordinary heroism in Jesus, this world’s Rescuer! Really, it was more than heroism. He, being true God, displayed God’s love and God’s plan to give forgiveness and eternal life to all! Jesus’ life, death, and bodily resurrection show us the very heart of God. This is a headline worth your time. It is worth hearing and reading more about. Scroll on.

Here’s a way to picture Jesus your God and Savior: Jesus is The Good Shepherd. He describes himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” We’re the sheep. We’ve strayed and “bleated up” life because we’re sinful. We are lost sheep needing rescue. Not just by a hired hand. Not just by any shepherd, but by The Good Shepherd. Not just a no-name hero, forgotten tomorrow. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who, being both God and man, laid down his life for you. He really did save the whole world. Your sins are forgiven.

Your life’s headline reads: Good Shepherd Dies to Save THIS Sheep. It’s a headline others need to hear about too! Share it!

Jesus is the World’s Savior

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Jesus is the World’s Savior

Have you ever loved someone so much that you would have done anything for them? You wanted what was best for them, even if it meant sacrificing what was best for you. Their happiness and joy was your chief concern.

That type of self-sacrificing love inspires us. It is featured in many of the novels we like to read and the movies we like to watch. How would you feel to have someone love you like that? How would it feel to have someone who is so head-over-heels in love with you, that they would do anything, anything at all, to keep you safe?

That’s exactly how Jesus describes the love of God. Jesus tells us that the heart of God beats for you! He loves you so much that he was willing to do everything necessary to keep you safe for all eternity.

From beginning to end, the Bible traces God’s plan to rescue the world from eternal danger. His Word demonstrates just how far God was willing to go to save you, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.”

God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to suffer the punishment for the sins of the entire world. Why would God do that? Why would he allow his Son to endure the tortures of the cross? Why would Jesus voluntarily go through with his Father’s plan? Why was Jesus willing to suffer the agony of hell itself?

God didn’t sit back and watch the people he loved so dearly perish forever. He cared too much to see that happen to you. So Jesus stepped into human history and suffered the punishment that was meant for you.

He didn’t want anything to stand in the way of spending an eternity with you in heaven. He wants you to know just how deeply he loves you. With a God who is willing to sacrifice himself for your rescue, is there any reason to doubt his love? “Whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” You can live confidently knowing that your God loves you and through faith in Jesus you have a place in heaven your Savior has prepared for you. His love truly is inspiring! He is the world’s Savior. He is your Savior.

Good Friday

If you wanted to know about God, where would you look? For some people the question is irrelevant because they say, “There is no God.” Others say, “God exists but cannot be known.” Others suggest, “God lives in you, so meditate and get to know yourself.”

The Christian answer is different. To know God, you need to know Jesus. The Bible says, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus is not a man who aspired to be God; Jesus is God born in human flesh. A disciple once said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus answered, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). Another disciple called Jesus “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). If you want to know God, know Jesus.

Know what about Jesus…his teachings, miracles, or acts of kindness in feeding the hungry and healing the sick? Those are good things to know, but the Bible focuses our attention elsewhere. About one-third of each of the four Gospels in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) describes the last week of Jesus’ life. Our attention is drawn to his death on a cross. There on the cross you see the character, nature, heart and mind of God.

God died! Now we know the justice of God. He said sin must be paid for. There, on the cross, God himself paid the penalty for our sin.

God died! Now we know the love of God. Rather than punishing us, he bore the pain himself.

God died! Now we know the will of God. From eternity he planned to save the world through this sacrifice. And on that cross he accomplished his eternal purpose.

God died! Now we know the wisdom of God. “Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

God died! Now we know the power of God. He crushed Satan and freed us from the control of our evil foe. Trusting Jesus we will not perish in hell.

God died! Now we know the glory of God. Jesus brought glory to his heavenly Father by completing the work of salvation that the Father had given him to do.

Jesus died! Now we know God’s justice, love, will, wisdom, power and glory. What is the best part? We also know that he didn’t stay dead. With his resurrection on Easter Sunday, his mission and our eternal salvation are confirmed!

Maundy Thursday

The Thursday of Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, is called Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the Latin word “mandatum” which means “commandment.” The word appears in the Latin translation of John 13:34, where Jesus said to his disciples: “A new commandment (mandatum) I give you: Love one another.” While Jesus truly did give his followers that great command on the night before Good Friday, Maundy Thursday is most memorable for its “suppers.”

Many people are familiar with Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper. In that work of art, Da Vinci portrays the Lord Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. The Passover meal was an annual festival in Israel held to commemorate how God at the time of Moses delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. Exodus 12 tells how God, to protect his people from death in Egypt, instructed every Israelite household to take an unblemished year-old male lamb and slaughter it. The Israelites were to paint the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes, and roast the lamb whole and eat it. God promised that when he saw the blood of lambs marking the homes of the Israelites, he would “pass over” their homes and spare them from the death coming upon Egypt.

The Passover meal foreshadowed a far greater deliverance from a far worse slavery through a much better lamb. Just as God saw the people of Israel living as slaves in Egypt and doomed to die there, so he saw all people living as slaves to sin and doomed to die in that slavery eternally. But God had a plan to deliver his people. That plan also focused on a lamb, but not one from the flocks of Israel. This Lamb was God’s own Lamb, his own dear Son Jesus Christ. This Lamb would deliver a world of sinners from their slavery to sin by shedding his blood.

Because the true Passover Lamb had now come to take away the sins of the world, the Passover that Jesus ate with his disciples on Maundy Thursday was indeed the “last supper” of its kind. During that meal, the Lord instituted a new supper to replace the Passover. That new supper is the Sacrament of Holy Communion, or as it is often called, “the Lord’s Supper.” The Bible tells us that Jesus took some of the bread from the Passover meal, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” He also took a cup of the wine that was used for the Passover and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Drink from it all of you. This is my blood which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus made it clear that he wanted his disciples to continue to celebrate this Supper until he returns and brings the world to an end.

So Christians gather often to receive the Lord’s Supper. Together with the bread, Jesus gives us his body that bore the punishment for our guilt. Together with the wine, Jesus gives us his blood that was sacrificed to free us from our sins. Our Lord does this to assure us that the death in hell we deserved has passed over us; through Jesus we have life—eternal life! Indeed, with believing hearts we rejoice to receive the Lord’s Supper often for the tremendous blessings that we have through Jesus: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

And one day, our Lord will invite us to another supper, a wonderful, eternal supper, a supper that the Bible in Revelation 19 calls “the wedding supper” of the Lamb. On Maundy Thursday Jesus had pointed his disciples to this supper, “the Lamb’s supper” — he spoke of his glorious return, and he promised that his faithful disciples will “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:30). The Lamb’s supper will take place when Jesus returns in glory to claim the people he redeemed by his death on the cross and bring them home to heaven. Jesus was looking to that day when he promised his disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Every year our observance of Maundy Thursday is a reminder of how God delivered us from our sins through his Lamb. Every time we receive “the Lord’s Supper” God assures us of the forgiveness of our sin, and we get a foretaste of “the Lamb’s Supper” that we will enjoy eternally with our Lord at his table in heaven.

Palm Sunday

In Christian churches all over the world, the Sunday before Easter is celebrated as Palm Sunday. There are processions and parades; choirs of children and adults singing hosannas and hymns…and there are palms. Churchgoers walk on them, children wave them, and altars wear them. All this is done to commemorate the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival.

It is a strange yet stirring scene that the Gospels paint of that first Palm Sunday: Jesus is riding on a donkey, accompanied by his disciples and a great crowd of people. As Jesus approaches the city, some in the crowd take off their outer garments and lay them in his path, to roll out the “red carpet” for him. The crowds, even the children, sing psalms and hymns from the Old Testament that spoke of Jesus as the Savior God had promised to send his people.

And there are palms. People cut palm branches and took them to meet Jesus. With some of those palm branches the people paved the way for Jesus to enter the city; others waved the palm branches as they sang their hosannas and hymns of praise to Jesus.

But why palm branches?

Palm branches had a special place in the religious lives of the Israelite people. Once a year, they used palm branches to build shelters during a joyful celebration called the Feast of Tabernacles.

And palm trees enjoyed a certain prominence all year round because they were the evergreen trees of the desert. They kept their leaves even when everything else withered and died. Palm branches were symbols of life and joy and victory over death.

Palm Sunday palms are appropriate for our Palm Sunday worship too. They remind us that Jesus came to Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday as the Savior whom God promised to deliver his people and bring life and salvation for all.

But even as we wave our palm branches and echo the hosannas of that day in Jerusalem, it’s important to understand the kind of deliverance, the kind of life and salvation that Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to bring. It was not an earthly deliverance from earthly enemies. It was not salvation from social injustice, poverty, and warfare. It was not an earthly life free from every evil. Any who expected—or still do expect—those things from Jesus are sadly disappointed.

The reason Jesus came to Jerusalem in such a strange way—riding a donkey (not a prancing stallion or on clouds of glory), accompanied by common people (not military men or angel hosts)—is that he came to die. God’s gracious plan for the salvation of sinners required Jesus, God’s own eternal Son, to die in shame as the substitute for all people, thus freeing sinners from the punishment they deserved in hell. To do that Jesus needed not an awesome display of the power and might that truly are his, but the kind of lowliness and humility we see on Palm Sunday.

The Palm Sunday crowds proclaimed Jesus to be a king, and he is indeed a King. But he is a King who hid his glory to die in shame in order to deliver all people from their sins and from the punishment of eternal death they deserved.

Someone once noted that it is not a palm branch that hangs above the altar in most Christian churches, but a cross. The cross reminds us that Palm Sunday, with all its jubilation and celebration, is not the end of the story. If it were, we would be left without a Savior from sin, without hope for eternity.

The Palm Sunday story continues on Good Friday at the cross of Calvary. There the King of glory died to take away the sins of the world. But even the cross and Jesus’ cold, dark grave are not the end of the story. Jesus rose in victory over death and the grave on Easter Sunday morning. The resurrection declares Christ’s mission accomplished; the resurrection says sinners are acquitted in God’s courtroom.

In the gospel, Jesus offers the forgiveness of sins that he secured on Easter Sunday to all. All who believe in Jesus as their Savior have peace with God here—and a place in heaven forever.

In Revelation 7, the apostle John tells about a second celebration that he saw (this time in a vision), a celebration in which a great multitude was standing in front of the Lamb. Those in that crowd were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands, and they were singing this song of praise: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (verses 9 &10).

May our Palm Sunday celebrations here be but a prelude to that second celebration John wrote about: a celebration with our Savior and his people, with palm branches and with hymns of joy and victory—the celebration that will take place in heaven and that will never end!

Possessions

Have you ever cleaned out your basement or garage and discovered many things that you forgot you even had? While you may be amused at rediscovering something you forgot about, perhaps you ask yourself: “Why do I have all this stuff?”

God truly blesses us with many physical blessings. Everything we have comes from him. He provides all the necessary things for life and is generous to give us many more things than we really “need.”  His blessings abundantly fill our lives.

Yet we must be careful that we do not begin to love the gifts more than God who gives them.  It is easy for our hearts to become greedy and not be happy with what we have. It is so easy to continually want MORE …money…toys…houses…boats…cars…without end.

Yet none of these things can ever satisfy us completely or fill the place in our life and heart that can only belong to Jesus Christ.  Our Lord warns us, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus teaches us that there is more to life and more to us than earthly possessions. He is the source of all that we need spiritually and eternally.

So the Lord Jesus instructs our hearts to focus on what’s really important.  Money and the things money can buy are benefits that God graciously gives us, but money cannot buy a relationship with God.  Jesus is the only way for us to know God and be with God.  Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus is our most precious possession. He lived a perfect life for us. He suffered the death penalty for our sins that we deserved. Jesus rose from the dead and promises that we will live forever through faith in him alone. Wow!  Nothing is more important than the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life that Jesus gives us by faith in him.

If you want possessions that really satisfy, look to Jesus!

Suffered for all

One time Jesus took three of his disciples to the top of a mountain. We read, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. . . . A bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.'” (Matthew 17:2-9 NIV selections)

Wait a minute! Did you get that last part, the part about “rising from the dead”?!? Can you imagine how the disciples must have scratched their heads at that? They’d just seen Jesus’ glory, his power! How could one who was SOOO powerful … die?! Who could cause it to happen?!

Finally, only one person could really control it–Jesus himself. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. When the time was right, Jesus went to Jerusalem. He entered Jerusalem on Sunday, in a very public way. On Thursday of that week, Jesus celebrated the Passover (check out Exodus 12-13) with his disciples and told them that one of them would betray him, another would deny him. Then he took them out to a garden called Gethsemane.

While Jesus was there with his disciples, Judas, who had been one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, led a large band of soldiers to the Garden. Jesus asked them for whom they were looking, and when they responded that they were looking for him, Jesus said, “I am he.” As he said this the whole band of soldiers were knocked flat on their backs! (John 18:1ff)

They scrambled to their feet. Then Peter, another of Jesus’ twelve disciples, grabbed a sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servant. Jesus rebuked Peter, then touched the man’s ear and healed it. (Luke 22:50ff)

What would all these things have said to the people? They would have said, or at least SHOULD have said, “Hey–this Jesus–he’s not just an ordinary human being; he’s much more than that!”

But what is even more amazing is what we read at the end: “Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him …” (John 18:12) Why could they do that? Why could they bind him?

Only because he allowed it. It could happen–it DID happen–only because Jesus allowed it to happen.

Do we begin to see the depth of Jesus’ love for us? Just think–he, the all-powerful one–he was willing to allow himself to be taken captive, to be bound. That’s how much he loves us…loves you!