Promises Kept

Promised Beforehand

“Don’t take my word for it—check it out!” With the important things in life, that’s the approach we take, isn’t it? When we buy a home, we don’t just take the owner’s word that the house is in good shape; instead, we have the home inspected. There’s too much at stake, so we check it out!

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could “inspect” Christianity? If you could check out Jesus to see if he’s the “real deal”?

We have that opportunity, because hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, God made a bunch of promises about Jesus. Now we can make an inspection—does Jesus match up? Does he “check out”? There are more than 50 such promises—here is a sample:

  • Promise: The Savior would be from the bloodline of Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3), Isaac (Genesis 21:12), and David (Jeremiah 23:5).
  • Reality: Jesus’ lineage included each (cf. Matthew 1 and Luke 3).

  • Promise: The Savior would be severely punished and pierced through (Isaiah 53:5).
  • Reality: Jesus was whipped, then crucified (Matthew 27:26).

  • Promise: The Savior would ride a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
  • Reality: When Jesus entered Jerusalem in a formal, final way, he rode a donkey (Matthew 21:1-9).

Interestingly, a number of promises concerned things over which Jesus had “no control.” For example, it was promised that he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and he was (Luke 2:1). Again, it was promised that Jesus’ garments would be divided up along with a casting of lots (Psalm 22:18), and the soldiers who crucified him did just that (John 19:23-24). Could Jesus have controlled the actions of the soldiers? Not from a human perspective. So even in things Jesus “couldn’t control,” we see fulfillment after fulfillment.

Peter Stoner takes us into the science of probabilities, picking out just eight promises: “We find that the chance that any man might have…fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017.” Stoner then illustrates: “Take 1017″ [100,000,000,000,000,000] silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now, mark one of these silver dollars and stir up the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in one man” (Josh McDowell, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” Here’s Life Publishers Inc. 1979, p167).

All of which leads us to conclude what? Either, Jesus is THE most unbelievable, incredible coincidence ever. Or, much more plausibly, this Jesus—he’s the real deal. After all, he checks out!


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 SO 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 of Gethsemane. 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 was knocked flat on their backs! (John 18:1).

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 22:50).

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—was willing to allow himself to be taken captive, to be bound. That’s how much he loves us…loves you!


Palm Sunday

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!

The Lord's Supper

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.

Good Friday

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!

Jesus seven statements on the cross

Seven statements from the Cross

During Jesus’ time on the cross, the Bible records seven statements which he made. Each gives us a look into the heart of God.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). God’s eager desire is to forgive. That’s why Jesus died!

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Spoken to one of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus, in response to his request to enter heaven. Can you imagine? A man who is being executed has the nerve to ask for forgiveness, to ask for entrance to heaven? Surprising, to say the least. But Jesus’ answer is even more surprising, “Today you will be with me in paradise!” In short, Jesus says, “Yes!” God wants EVERYONE in heaven. That is why he has forgiven everyone through Jesus, no matter how badly they’ve sinned, no matter what they’ve done. It’s never too late. By trusting in Jesus our Savior, we will be with him in paradise.

“Dear woman, here is your son, … Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27). Jesus gave one of his disciples—John—responsibility for Mary, Jesus’ mother, to care for her as if she were his own mother. Your God cares for you; not only in regards to spiritual, eternal matters, but also in regards to the things of this world.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Darkness covered the world as Jesus said this. While on the cross Jesus was suffering the full punishment for sin, which meant that he had to suffer the pains of hell. Indeed God the Father turned his back on God the Son; God punished him fully for all sins. Because Jesus suffered the pains of hell, you and I never need to.

“I am thirsty” (John 19:28). Through all of this, Jesus remained not only true God, but also truly human. So, he understands every aspect of our lives, even down to the little details, like being thirsty.

“It is finished” (John 19:30). The Greek word was used by shopkeepers. They wrote it on an invoice when it was paid in full. So, what “bill” has been “paid?” The bill, the invoice, for your sins, my sins, the sins of the entire world. Jesus paid it—in FULL! Not one sin remains left to be paid. Jesus paid it all. When Jesus died on the cross, he secured the forgiveness of sins for us. But what made that sacrifice so valuable? Jesus lived his life perfectly. He fully obeyed everything God, his Father, wants us to obey. Jesus lived under the laws of God perfectly for us!

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Jesus died in confidence. Because the sins of the world had been paid in full through his complete sacrifice, he could simply entrust himself into the hands of his heavenly Father. His perfect fulfillment of the law is credited to us; his innocent death on the cross assures us of the forgiveness of our sins. Because Jesus paid the price for our sins, when our last day comes, you and I will also be able to close our eyes in confidence.



He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” John 20:15

We like things nailed down. We like the predictable path of life: you’re born, grow up, go to school, work a job, retire, grow old and die. When life doesn’t follow that predictable pattern, it’s frightening. Maybe it’s another reminder that we don’t know as much as we think we do.

Easter is that kind of reminder. It turns things upside down. Followers of Jesus had gone to anoint his body. They understood what death and burial meant. But when they got to his grave, there was no body. They thought they knew Jesus. Now what did they know?

Easter is God’s message to you that things aren’t what they seem. Life is more. Death is more. Jesus’ promises are more. He promised, “Destroy this body and I will raise it.” And he did. He promised, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” And he did. He promised, “It is my Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” And he will.

If Jesus stayed in the grave, nothing he promised matters because … well, he’s dead. But if he’s alive…in a way, that’s even more frightening. You see, Jesus said, “Be perfect.” And we haven’t been. Maybe that’s why those early followers of Christ were afraid. How could Jesus have anything to do with them?

It’s no wonder, then, that when Jesus met people after his resurrection, the first thing he said was, “Don’t be afraid.” In Hebrew: “Shalom.” Be at peace.

You’ve sinned. Maybe you wonder if God will have anything to do with you. Shalom. Peace. That was Jesus’ message to the women who went to anoint his body, to Mary, to Peter, to Thomas, and it is Jesus’ message to you. “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.”

It might not be what you expect. It turns the world upside down. It turns your world upside down.

Jesus is alive. Because of his resurrection, we too shall live! This is the unexpected but awesome truth of Easter!