Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 12, 2020

while it was still dark …

At 1:11pm on April 15th, 2017 my entire mindset relative to Easter morning shifted.  I had sat down to write about Resurrection Day, and I prayed.  “Father, help me see Jesus more truly and completely in writing today.  Please show me as I read.”  That year, the daily Bible reading plan for Journey onWord focused on the account of Jesus’ final week in the gospel of Mark. Chapter sixteen was the reading for Sunday, so it was where I read in preparing to write.

Mary Magdalene’s name is mentioned first as the chapter begins.  She is at the head of the list Mark notes of the women who went shopping on Saturday evening for the spices they would need to anoint Jesus’ body properly the next morning.  The whole presumption was interesting to me.  I noted that I might, “perhaps, in a future year, … investigate this more fully.” I love returning to prior writings for multiple reasons, and I loved the discovery of that writing this year as I poured over previous years. It was my plan in writing this year to begin with an old writing (brushed up) and end with one, with completely new inspiration in between. I knew where I wanted to begin but planned to leave it until the end to go looking for the punctuation. I have yet to mention anything this week about the world around us. That has been deliberate. I desired to draw our eyes away from what they’ve been fixed on for many weeks now and aim them squarely on Jesus and His story. It is no happy accident or perfect stroke of “luck” that I landed on this former writing today. For His purpose and His kingdom, may He breathe new and needed application into our experience of this blessed Resurrection Day.

I will continue today as I began then:

Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark…

I understand that Jesus’ body was hastily prepared for burial the day before because sundown was quickly approaching. There was an urgency to bury Him before the Sabbath began.  But did the women who came visiting the next morning just expect they would walk up to or into the tomb and be allowed access to Jesus’ body?  Perhaps it was simply their deep love for Jesus, or maybe they just didn’t know what to do in their grief and decided to do the thing they knew.  I believe we can all relate to that in our own experience of grief.

In reading further in chapter sixteen, Mary Magdalene is mentioned again … as the first-person Jesus appears to after rising from the dead.  Isn’t that just like Jesus, to appear first to a former prostitute and give her the honor of being the first to tell others He is Risen?!  My thoughts and heart began to settle on this interaction between Mary Magdalene and Jesus.  But there was a problem.  Mark sixteen says nothing about the details or nature of their meeting.   In fact, it simply says He appeared to her first, she went and told the disciples, and they didn’t believe her.  So, I sought other references to the story, going first to the gospel of John.  John’s gospel tells the story beautifully, and as I began reading, I remembered writing about this before.  I remember being struck by the moment Mary hears Jesus say her name.

Mary encounters a man after turning to leave Jesus’ tomb.  She is overcome with grief.  She doesn’t recognize him and thinks he is the gardener.  The man asks her why she’s crying.  She questions Him in return, and then … He calls out her name.  Instantly, she knows it’s Jesus!  Something about His voice.  His voice.  Oh, that’s it!  His voice.

(“His voice” has contextual significance to that year in writing. Because you’ve still got a way to go in reading, I’ll save you from the pile of stuff that matters to the author, but likely adds too little value to you. Thanks for your trust. It mattered to me and then.)

Yet, God had another reason for sending me to John’s account of Resurrection day.  And it was not to land on the story of Mary or to expound on the deep significance and application of “His voice.”  For a reason I do not recall right now, I returned to the beginning of the chapter.  I believe I was trying to confirm timing for an opening paragraph that was going to read something like one I wrote back in 2014 …

The bright, brilliant Light has broken through the darkness on Resurrection morning, and He is Risen, as He said!

I began to read and stopped dead in my tracks after verse one.  Wait … did I just read that right?!

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.

No way!  While it was still dark?!  Mary arrived at the tomb and found the stone had been rolled away while it was still dark?!  In all the years I have been writing about Resurrection morning, the hope and promise (and resurrection itself) were all associated with the breaking of the dawn.  The bright, brilliant Light shows up and ends the darkness.  But that’s not what happened, and that’s not what happens in our own lives.  In so many ways, our lives echo the truth of “while it was still dark.”  At the moment of genuine belief, faith and salvation, the Light does not forever displace the darkness.  There are many reading today who persist in faith yet are deeply entrenched in a season of darkness.  They are still waiting and praying for the bright, brilliant light to break, or maybe they’ve experienced the temporal victory of the darkness — the times when their prayers for healing were answered on the other side of eternity, not in the here and now.  If Jesus’ resurrection waited until after sunrise; if His power over sin and death in this life were only true after dawn had broken, then what do we do when ours hasn’t?  What do we do when the clouds in our season of suffering obscure the sunrise that we know has happened, but that we can’t see?

I LOVE the discovery (after so many years of reading the story) that Mary found the stone rolled away while it was still dark.  I LOVE the true knowing that happened in that moment.  I SO see Jesus walking out of the tomb into the darkness that will hold sway over this world until He visits it again.  I see the intention.  I hear Him having a conversation with the darkness.  I hear Him having a conversation with mine.

Jesus broke the power of death forever in waking and walking out of the tomb.  Just as He does not manipulate our choices, He has not forever displaced the darkness with light … YET.  If, this morning, you woke again to your own darkness; if, today, you do not see the sunrise that everyone around you seems to see … know this!  Jesus rose again into the darkness.  He has forever conquered it, but He rose again into it.

Jesus didn’t wait for dawn to break.  You can trust Him when yours hasn’t broken yet either.  Hold on.  Take Heart.  Trust.  Cast your worries, burdens, failings, false hopes, resolve, promises to never do that again and anger on Him.  And in the casting, find that it is all part of the “stuff” He became and then paid for on the cross a couple of days ago.  I pray you experience the bright, brilliant Light today.  I pray that you feel the warmth of the Son on your face.  But even if you don’t … take heart! He is Risen, and sin and death have no power over you anymore!

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 11, 2020

the facet of lowliness in silence

All of creation had suffered a great loss.  As dawn broke that Saturday, the Creator of the Universe in flesh and bone, the close friend of the disciples, the God-man who healed with just the sound of His voice, lay breathless in a tomb.  We have no way of knowing what was true of the created world on that sacred Sabbath.  This is already sixty-four words more than the Bible records on the subject (now it’s seventy-four). I wonder if the birds sang in greeting the sun, as they would on any other day.  I wonder if there even was a sunrise, or if the morning light just sort of snuck in undetected behind a great grey canvas of clouds.  I wonder if grief completely consumed hope in the hearts and minds of those who loved Jesus.

I could understand a bird or three not wanting to sing. I’m willing to bet you, though, there were some who did. There had to be an overwhelming sense of sadness, but creation had not lost its Creator.  God was still on His throne.  The tomb was sealed, and I believe Jesus’ human form lay breathless, but what was going on behind that seal?  I believe it can be true that the day was silent in an entirely different way than we might expect.  Can your mind and its eye see a created world that is catching its breath and struggling to contain its expectancy for Resurrection day?  Can you see, in their silence, a true follower who is fanning a flickering flame of hope?!  What did the silence really “sound” like? There is another silence I am sitting with today, and I offer it as my final facet of this week. It is the deliberate silence of the perfect Lamb, who stayed mostly so for the entirety of the day of His dying.

But he was silent and made no answer.
Mark 14:61a (RSV)

This week, Jesus has had much to say in His teaching and preparing, both with the people and His disciples. He has been both clever and sharp in exposing the hearts, will and ways of the religious leaders. But the servant Savior with a single-minded sense of His time and purpose has now chosen the way of silence. He has also very deliberately chosen the lonely and lowly way. The latter of which, has been His pattern since the moment He came to be one of us.

In every detail of His coming, living, and dying, Jesus has been the purest and truest example of the “be” attitudes. Take time today to read the bold opening to His sharing with the gathered crowd on “the Mount” in Matthew chapter five. Was not Jesus’ life (and final week) the perfect walking of the talk? What I see in the suffering and sacrifice that follow His choice of silence is unparalleled meekness and mercy. His thirst and hunger in standing silently was for our righteousness (made possible by what He was about to do on the cross). His poorness in spirit, purity of heart, peacemaking and acceptance of persecution drives me to my knees. In doing the very most He could for us, He took the place and assumed the posture of the very least.

The One who could confound the wise or cause a rightful accuser to lay down their stone with a simple story or single question chose silence. Jesus, you knew how easy it would be to prosecute Your accusers. You knew their shallow, seething hate and how quickly it could be exposed. They had huddled against You more than once this week, and You corrected, confused or convicted them every time. Truth always won. Yet, here was the truth this time … before the foundation of the world, God authored a plan. He could not, and would not, violate His nature and manipulate the will of the ones created in His image to prevent their (that is also our) rebellious choice in the garden. So, in loving us like no one ever has or will, He made another way. His own Son would hold His tongue when it was time. No one would take His life either by accusation or execution. He gave it willingly with silent obedience.

What a beautiful and right reminder, also, that it was only when He was at His weakest, loneliest and most opposed that He accomplished the work of redemption. Our work and will in His name should always aspire to lowliness. We should never seek a place of prominence or power from which to show His love or proclaim His name. We do not win for Him; we lose it all for Him. Just as He did for us.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 9, 2020

the facet of the last two

The weight of today’s darkness is almost too much for me to bear, and I am only right now sitting on my couch writing about it. His trials and sentencing seem like days ago now. His betrayal and capture … were they just last night?! I was sure the beatings and crowning and cross-carrying would be the worst of it. But then I recoil with every strike of the sledge as the soldiers drive the spikes into His wrists. The sound of metal-on-metal pierces my ears, and I fight back the gag as I hear the pooled blood gurgle in the back of Jesus’ throat as He cries out in pain. This is altogether too much. But then there is the truth of where we find ourselves, standing near the end of the fifth hour after sunrise with those who are gathered on the hill of Golgotha. My dear and beloved Savior has yet to take the last two swallows of the cup the Father has poured.

Storm clouds have been forming all morning. The wind begins to howl, and I’m not sure there’s a name yet for the color the sky is becoming. There are deep-throated rumbles in the distance that are like nothing I’ve heard before. A blinding bolt of lightning awakens the darkening horizon. Its ferocious crack causes me to cower. There’s little option for protection in this clearing on the hill. My fearing for His life is overcome by the fear for my own. As the lightning strikes again so does the sixth hour. The time for the final two swallows has come. Not even a hint is given in scripture as to the timing or detail, but I suspect it is with great immediacy that the first swallow is taken. It is the lesser of the two, but it seems so very wrong to use that word in referring to what’s about to happen.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:24 (ESV)

We most often hear this part of redemption’s work described as Jesus bearing the burden of our sins on the cross. While this is true, I don’t believe it describes the fullness of its truth. Wording it that way can lead one to believe that our sin was an external weight thrust on our Savior, that He somehow carried like His crossbeam or God laid across his shoulders as He hung on the cross. What the Father gave Jesus, sometime soon after the sixth hour, was not simply a weight placed on Him. No, this was Jesus becoming sin and bearing it in His body. I believe this to be the first of the last two swallows Jesus took of the Father’s cup. And, further, was only second most on His mind when Jesus pleaded with the Father to take the cup from Him just hours ago in the Garden.

The moment the Father made his Son to be sin, was the first and only time there was disunion in the Trinity. Does that mean Jesus became only fully human for the time He became sin? In knowing the nature of God, even as incompletely as I do, I could believe that confidently. But I will leave that for theologians to say or not say. One thing I can very clearly understand is the way Creation shuddered and buckled when battered by the most violent conditions imaginable. This was the full force of the Almighty turning His back on His only begotten Son. This was the action that brought the Father’s cup to our dear Savior’s lips for the very last time, demanding the last and most bitter swallow.

Separation.

These were the most significant three hours in all of human history. This was the deepest pain imaginable to Jesus. To give up being one with the Father – the intimate communion He experienced in eternity past and which sustained Him during the entirety of his days as fully man — meant giving up everything. For three excruciating hours, Jesus hung on the cross utterly alone. And in what can only be described as an act of descending into Hell itself (Hell being the place of very real separation from God), God was forced to turn His back on His Son. Can you understand now the droplets of blood in His praying in the Garden? Do you hear His words differently now, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”? (Matthew 26:39 – ESV). At the ninth hour after sunrise on the morning that changed the world forever, Jesus cried out to his Father and took His last breath. It was finished. Sin’s debt and its penalty had been paid. Death itself was the only thing left to be defeated. He would do that soon, just as He said He would.

We have spent the better part of this week focused on the Friday that must be gone through in order to get to Sunday. Pope John Paul II once said, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” We are at a time and place where it is good and right to hear that. We mostly see backwards through history. We know His death was not only His death. Our focus this week has given words to my belief that it is also good and right to look forward through Christ’s suffering and sacrifice to see Resurrection in its full glory. In this way, the darkness amplifies our praise when we awake to the rapturous beauty of Resurrection morning! In one more sleep (the way we used to mark time when our boys were very young that still makes me smile to this day when it’s said), dawn will break with the most unimaginable hope and Light! Our senses will be overwhelmed once again with wonder as the story is told of His waking and walking out of the tomb!

I have one last facet to share tomorrow, before we turn our eyes to catch a glimpse of the radiant Risen One. Thank you for walking this road with me. Only a few steps left to take.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 9, 2020

Passion Friday timeline

This deliberately timed post includes an estimated timeline of Friday in the last week of Jesus.  It is being posted this evening to draw your attention to the very beginning of the timeline that notes the Passover Seder Jesus shared with his disciples.  It’s something to consider as you make your way through your Thursday evening.

I also hope this is helpful as you prepare for bed tonight, wake tomorrow morning and travel purposefully through your Friday.

Thursday (our definition of the day)
6:00-11:30pm
Passover Seder – Jesus and his disciples
11:30-1:30am
Garden of Gethsemane

Friday
1:00-1:30am
Confrontation in the garden; Jesus arrested.
1:30-3:00am
Trial 1: Annas, former Jewish High Priest for 16 years; Jesus receives initial physical abuse.
Trial 2: Current Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin Court; Jesus bloodied by abuse.
3:00-5:00am
Imprisonment at Caiaphas’ palace.
5:00-6:00am
Trial 3: All the Jewish elders, including the High Priest, scribes and whole Sanhedrin. They decide to ask the Roman government to kill Jesus.
6:00-7:00am
Trial 4: Hearing before Roman governor Pilate, who declares, “I find no guilt in this man.”
7:00-7:30am
Trial 5: Hearing before Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had jurisdiction over Galilee; Jesus refused to answer any questions so Herod returned him quickly to Pilate.
7:30-8:30am
Trial 6: Pilate repeatedly tried to release Jesus but the Jewish leaders continued to object. Pilate physically tortured and beat Jesus beyond recognition seeking to satisfy the Jewish leaders. However, the Jews still demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate resists but eventually gives the order to execute Jesus.
8:30-9:00am
Pilate’s Roman soldiers take Jesus into the court (“Praetorium”) and continue to mock and torture him, including driving the “crown” of thorns into his skull.
9:00am-12:00pm (the “third” hour)
Jesus forced to carry his own cross to Golgotha
Crucifixion
Jesus and the Criminal
12:00-3:00pm (the “sixth” hour)
Darkness covers the land
Jesus hangs on the cross for 3 hours separated from his Father.
3:00pm (the “ninth” hour)
Jesus dies.
Earthquake, temple veil torn in two
Soldier pierces Jesus’ side
before sundown
Jesus is buried.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 8, 2020

the facet of His purposed no

The thing about stories and even accounts of actual events with third-person tellers is that they are extraordinarily heavy on the who, what, when and how but mostly skinny on the why. At least, as it relates to the subject’s own thoughts and intentions. I strongly believe this is where scripture presents both a great challenge and a great opportunity. One must do more than read to know the mind of God. We must invest in relationship with Him to have the eyes to see and ears to hear. We must ask and then listen. This does not mean that it’s too hard and only some can do it. That is one of the great lies our great enemy uses to keep us distant from God and immature in our faith. And it does not put the good Book at great risk of being like any other on the shelf that can be taken as truth in as many ways as there are readers. It doesn’t, because the way to a greater knowing of God through His Word is not dependent on our own abilities to learn or discern. It is only and always about dying to our own trying and asking for His help. God does not ever ask us to be more. He desperately wants us to become less so He can be and do more in and through us. If you belong to Him, you already have everything you need to grow and know Him more through reading the Bible … because you have Him. And what does that practically mean? Pray before you read, “Father, you have given me Your Word, not so I can find someone to teach it to me, but because You yourself want to speak to me through it. I want to know You through it. Please help it make sense to me.”

“Okay, wait a minute” you might be thinking. “Is this a PSA or lecture on me reading my Bible? Is this a big old bait and switch? I’m expecting a facet. Where is the facet?”

So, maybe I crawled a little farther down the rabbit hole than I was intending to, but I’m trusting God for the purpose in it. Here’s where I was headed when I began by mentioning an inherent challenge in stories with third-person tellers. I was drawn to an encounter shortly after Jesus arrived at the place where He would be crucified, when He refused a drink offered to Him. I have come to believe something about it, and specifically about Jesus’ motivation in it. But nothing is noted in scripture as to His own reason(s) for the refusal. This is what we know:

And they brought him to the place called Gol′gotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he did not take it.
Mark 15:22-23 (RSV)

His body was bloody and battered. His face unrecognizable in form and feature.  Stripped of his clothing, our dear, sweet Savior was laid out on his back, arms outstretched, head and hands resting on the old rugged crossbeam. The nails would come next, but just before they do, someone rushes to offer Jesus a drink of wine mingled with myrrh. We don’t know who offered it, but we do know it was a concoction familiar to a soldier. The ingredients created a fairly potent narcotic that soldiers would use to deaden their discomforts during deployments.  Someone is showing empathy for the suffering Savior.

Jesus refuses.

Why?

Noting clearly that the Bible does not say, so we do not know for certain, I would like to suggest what I have come to believe. The offer of drink was made to medicate Jesus’ pain. Whether out of pity or sympathy, the intent was to dull His experience of what had been done and what was yet to come. Jesus sweat blood in the garden, asking God to “take this cup from me.” However, He quickly surrendered His own will, knowing that the Father had our best and His best in that cup.

In paying sin’s price and penalty, Jesus accepted no dulling or debt relief. He drank every drop of the cup the Father prescribed and poured. He rejected none of the dull aches of accusation, mocking or betrayal or sharp pains of the whip, crown, nails or sword. He could not accept mitigation, and He refused medication to bear the full weight of my sins and yours in His own body. Doing anything less would have left some measure of the debt unpaid. It was the Father’s cup filled all the way to the top and his Son drinking to the very last drop.

Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

These words from an old hymn tell the most terrible and terrific truth. Jesus had to die. It was the only way. He refused no amount of suffering in order to pay our debt in full. This is the brilliant facet of His beautiful no.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 7, 2020

the facet of the two gardens

As you would expect in moving the looking glass closer to things, one sees things they might otherwise miss. This is day two-in-a-row of that for me. I wonder if it will be that way for you as well. In sitting each day of this Lenten season with a bite-sized piece of the “last several pages” of the greatest chapter in the greatest story ever told, new details have lept from the pages. Things I feel I should have seen before. How in the world could I have missed them?! This is one of the great beauties of scripture: you can run or saunter; you can fly high over or dig down intently; the Word of God takes a lifetime to consume, and every truth has a new layer … and then another. It should be the Book on your shelf you’ve read most often, and it will never fail to feed you, comfort you, convict you or thrill you.

So, here are the two dots I had never connected: both the birth and the death of the great curse of sin began in a garden. As Jesus sweats blood in the most intense prayer session in all of human history, a long train of glowing orange is snaking its way up the hillside. The venomous brood is a surly rabble of priests and pages, Sadducees and soldiers. The betrayer, one of the twelve chosen followers of Jesus, is at the head of the snake. Its hiss is the sound of a sack of silver as it slivers up the hill. It will coil soon and strike with the betrayer’s kiss.

Amid all the significance and substance in the series of events that night, lies a facet that I’ve always missed … the setting. In showing the full extent of His love to His disciples, Jesus kneeled, wrapped a towel around His waist, drew a basin of water near, and washed their feet.  In showing the full extent of His love for us, God purposefully chose a garden from which to launch His great plan of redemption. In choosing the father of lies, Adam and Eve brought the deadly curse of sin into the world. In choosing the father of lies and sealing that choice with a kiss, Judas set in motion God’s grand plan to crush that curse once and for all. The need for our redemption had its beginning in Adam’s betrayal in the midst of God’s perfect garden. Its completion began with the betrayal of the Second Adam in the garden of Gethsemane. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight as the truth of this first came to mind, then sank deep into my soul.

I was instantly reminded of Peter, and my favorite part of the Resurrection after-story. Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Who among us can’t go to the place of the intense loathing and self-hatred that must have beset Peter in the moment the rooster crowed, and his eyes locked with Jesus? How, too, it must have grown as they dragged Jesus away to trial after trial, then to Pilot, and then on to Golgotha. Then what must it have been like on the saddest of all Sabbath’s for the proud pupil of Jesus? But then an angel of God tells those who arrived first at the tomb on Resurrection morning to, “go tell his disciples and Peter (Mark 16:7 – emphasis is mine). And then in seeing Peter later, Jesus lavishly and intentionally restores him by asking the same probing question of him three times.

In the grander story of Jesus’ final week, where does this garden detail rank? Is it a foundational truth upon which our faith rests? The answers are … it might barely even register, and it is not. And yet I clearly see God’s choice of the two gardens as iron-clad evidence of how deliberately and deeply He cares for us. And it is most certainly one of the countless facets that makes redemption’s narrative burst forth with the most brilliant shimmer and shine. How good is our God and how deep is His love for us! Let me count the facets.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 6, 2020

the facet of the two who’s

Yesterday’s focus was on a donkey, and its story began with Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover festival week. But that is not actually where that story began. In the first three verses of the eleventh chapter of his gospel, Mark writes …

And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Beth′phage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” (RSV)

Interesting instructions. Wouldn’t you have loved being one of the two He sent? Jump a few days and chapters ahead and we find Jesus sending out two again on another sacred mission with interesting instructions.

And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.”
Mark 14:13-15 (RSV)

Of course, the disciples went and found everything as Jesus had said and prepared the room. That is where I had left things in all my previous considering of this very specific preamble to the sacred Seder Jesus would eat with His disciples. Then this year, I experienced an invitation to hold the lens a bit closer and found a brilliant facet of the Passion narrative that had completely escaped my notice. The facet of two beautiful who’s.

I am very careful to not “fill in any blanks” when it comes to scripture, so please let me be clear. If it doesn’t say it, they are my thoughts and words not His (and therefore, are not to be taken as truth). From my study of the story, I believe it is safe to assume that sometime during the week, Jesus stole away for a sacred appointment. He wasn’t going to see a man about a horse. He went to him about a house. Jesus needed a safe space to celebrate the Seder with His disciples. It was a deeply intentional meal that would be infinitely more so that year. And its setting must be in proper proximity to the Garden, where the events of His dying would commence. He knew just the right place, because He knew the heart of the householder. I would be very careful to compare the two, but this seems to me to be fundamentally like God knowing that He could suggest Job when Satan came to Him one day with a restless report of having roamed the earth (obviously looking for someone to torment).

The mood in Jerusalem was nothing like Parade Day just a few days earlier. The leadership’s anger with Jesus was reaching a fevered pitch, and their plot to kill Him was brewing and bubbling. While they had not yet been very successful in turning the hearts of the people against Jesus, everyone knew it was terribly dangerous to be near Him let alone be found aiding Him.

Answering the knock at the door in that toxic and tumultuous time was the householder. “Of course, Jesus. Come. I have the perfect place.” the householder says during their sacred sit down. It is likely there was no hesitation in his answer to the Master’s request, but there was caution in their planning. There would need to be a signal. The two that Jesus would send could not be so bold and plain as to walk up to the householder’s front door and knock. But what?

The householder thinks and then suggests (I wonder if it really happened like that. Doesn’t it just seem like Jesus to allow the householder to participate in His work that way?). “Tell them to look for a man carrying a jar of water.” Jesus knows how purposeful the suggestion is. We might wonder, “Okay, how exactly are the disciples supposed to notice a random guy carrying a water jug?! Isn’t that like telling someone to walk to Wall Street and look for a guy carrying a briefcase?” Except, it’s not. In that time and place, women would have been the ones carrying a jar of water. Men carried wine (in wineskins, not jars), so a man carrying a water jar would be unique enough to spot and probably not so much so to draw great attention. “Perfect,” the Master said (I think it would be just like Jesus to use that word).

It’s easily argued that the importance of the Seder far outweighs this clandestine detail of its preparation, but to God (and his Son) no detail is insignificant. As we’ve moved the lens a bit closer to the story, I pray that you now also see the deeply beautiful heart and obedience of the householder. One might consider this householder the most minor among the story’s supporting cast, but like the innkeeper on the occasion of our dear Savior’s birth, Jesus knocked at his door looking for welcome … and that is nothing resembling minor.

Before I am all done with this particular facet, let’s also quickly consider the man carrying the jar. We don’t know who he is, but is he any less important than the householder in this story? Maybe one could argue degrees, but he was used of God in redemption’s narrative. Did he look at the householder cross-eyed when he heard the request? Did he ask any questions, or did he only listen? It’s very likely the householder told him nothing of the reason he was being asked to do this. The less the man knew, the better for him and the success of the mission. In all of this, the man carrying the jar was a nameless man who was asked to do something very specific and unusual without knowing why and was simply obedient to the details of the ask.

O Father, may I equally and glad-heartedly long to be either the householder or the man carrying the jar in the things you have authored for me to do. May I answer the door when You knock and simply obey without needing to know why. And may I do so, caring nothing for my place in Your story and desiring only to bring You glory. Amen and amen.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 4, 2020

the facet of His ways and will

For those who have been readers during some or all of the good many years I have written during this sacred week, today’s facet will be quite familiar. It was the subject of my very first Palm Sunday post, and I have revisited it several times since. It has become one of the most powerful images in my personal experience of this week, and I have chosen it once again as the most fitting place to begin. It is how Jesus deliberately chose to begin his walk to and through the cross and the tomb – as the King, riding into town … on the back of a young donkey.

Christ’s two grand entrances were both made with great humility:  Born, not with a herald in the halls of a gilded palace, but in the anonymity and modesty of a feed trough in a common stable; and riding into Jerusalem as King, not on the back of a noble war-horse, but on the foal of a lowly donkey.  In His coming, living, and dying, Jesus maintained a singular posture. He was the servant King. The Most High bent low in becoming one of us in order to save us. Now that our lens has been rightly fixed on the lowly beast of burden, who carried the One who would soon carry ours, let us move it just a bit closer.

Many years ago, I was introduced to a deeper significance in God’s choice of a donkey to carry his Son into “battle.”  Drawing from personal study and great practical knowledge from my father-in-law (having owned a mule — the offspring of a male donkey and female horse — for many years), I have come to know the donkey is a very smart animal.  It is quite true to its description as a beast of burden, but do not be mistaken.  This is no clueless, led-around-by-the-nose farm animal.  It is equal parts fiercely stubborn will and faithful servant … and this is where I found what I am offering as the first facet.

Numbers 22:21-35 tells the story of a prophet (Balaam) and his donkey. Here it is in a nutshell: God is angry with Balaam, who has saddled his donkey and headed out with princes in the direction of Moab. Somewhere along the way, an angel of God stands, with sword drawn, in the middle of the road, who only the donkey can see. The donkey diverts out into the field to not confront the angel, and Balaam strikes his donkey out of ignorance. The angel reappears at a more narrowed patch of the path and the and again the donkey evaded, pressing against a wall on one side to get around, pinning the prophet’s leg against the wall in the process. Balaam strikes her again. One last time the angel appears in a place along the path giving the donkey no option to pass on either side. She chooses to lay down, preserving the prophet from any harm. Balaam has had it and angrily strikes her once more. At this point, God gives the animal the ability to speak, and she asks the prophet what she’s done to deserve being struck three times.

I am so tempted to write more about the ending to this fascinating story, but before I travel past the point of usefulness in what could turn easily into a rabbit hole, let’s bring this back to today’s facet. I believe this story reveals a great truth about the donkey.  Namely, it keenly senses danger and stubbornly refuses to go headlong into it.  A trusty steed?  Sound the bugle, kick your heels against his side, and he goes charging.  But a donkey?  No way, sister.  You can push and prod all you want, but this animal is going only where it determines, step by purposed and powerful step, and not a step more than there is purpose (and certainly not in the direction of danger). In this, I found a compelling parallel when considering the near complete absence of any action on Jesus’ part after His dramatic entrance into Jerusalem.

It was the most opportune moment to charge onward to the seat of power with the full support of an adoring and boisterous crowd, yet Jesus did nothing. The people waved palm branches (a symbol of military victory) and cried “Hosanna!” (which in Hebrew means “Save us!” or “Save us now!”). This was a perfect storm for a conquering king. There had to be some talk or even possibly significant pressure to act. The people expected Jesus to be their deliverer — a man of action, who would bring down the rod and make right all the times they were on the short end of the conquering stick. Yet, rather than rising to the purposes of the people, Jesus stopped and walked off their path. This King was not here to conquer earthly kingdoms. This King knew His time, walked His own path, and refused to move at another’s pace or for another’s purpose.

Can you see that facet? If so, may I suggest another? A donkey’s true nature is very much one of beast of burden, bearing burdens as a wise and faithful servant. Balaam’s donkey knew not to confront, but she also did not run. She submitted herself to the striking of an angry prophet, because the alternative was going against the messenger of God. In what amounts to the first steps of His walk to the cross, Jesus did not confront, nor did he run from the suffering He knew what was coming. He submitted to God’s purpose and became the bearer of the greatest burden — the weight of the sins of every person for all time. In His life, there was never an intent to take an earthly throne. In His death, our King’s throne would be a cross. There He would hang — in His true nature — the full weight of all our sins, faithfully born in His body.

In Jesus’ stubborn and unfailing will, He paid the price so that we might live.  What a perfect choice God made in his plan for Christ’s entrance into the city and for our redemption.  Let us all now go into this week, and the remainder of the days God has for us, walking in His deliberate ways and will.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 4, 2020

facets of the second Fall

For several years, I had a rhythm of writing during Holy Week. My pattern was to focus on the events of each individual day in Jesus’ final week of walking the full measure of redemption’s road. It was an intensely observational and experiential activity that has produced much good fruit in my life of faith and caused a tectonic shift in my experience of Easter. This year, however, in returning to writing after a brief absence, I am choosing to pen from a slightly different perspective. You may hear a few familiar echoes along the way, but the focus will most often be on details that were not a part of that particular day.

In my devotional reading during this current season of Lent, I have been drawn to the details. I have come to see them and refer to them as “facets.” Facets of the most rare and precious stone created by the pressure and heat present in the events at the peak of Passion week … the days nearest our dear Savior’s death.

It seems the thing to do, when sitting down at the onset of a “project” of this sort, to name it. The name I settled on was born out of a picture which began to form as I completed each of several daily readings where facets were discovered or experienced anew. I began to see a common thread, and soon after a phrase began repeating over and over in my head … “facets of the second Fall.” To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure at first where that last part came from, and perhaps you are a bit confused or concerned as to what that exactly means. I am grateful for the first whisper of the Spirit, and for the clarity that eventually came. The first Fall was that of the first Adam, who ate the fruit of the only tree in God’s garden which he was instructed not to eat from. In choosing to be like God rather than obey God, Adam brought sin into the world and death’s curse along with it. The second Fall was that of the Second Adam (Jesus) who paid the penalty for all the sins of man for all time and put death to death in rising three days later … just as He said. This second Fall was not a failing (like the first). It was an intentional giving up to pay the penalty and cure the curse of the first.

A diamond would not be as precious a stone absent facets. Those facets would not be of much note absent light. In this way, the facets of the Passion narrative (that burst forth with the brilliance of the most rare and precious diamond) would only be cuts or cracks absent the presence of the Light of the World. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, humbled himself to enter this world as a child. He lived as we do. He came for a singular purpose – to make a way back to God. That purpose would demand His earthly life as the only worthy sacrifice for the sins of all and would be made whole in His rising again on the third day.

Join me each day of the coming week in slowing down and getting quiet with Him to consider a few facets of the second Fall. The very first one will be quite familiar, but in all my years of writing, it remains the most meaningful place from which to begin as we walk together through this sacred week.

A brief footnote: I wish I could lay claim to the words I used to note the second act of the second Fall (put death to death). They are the most succinct and powerful words I’ve heard to describe the moments of Jesus’ waking and walking out of the tomb. They are best attributed to my favorite artist, Andrew Peterson, and are lyrics in a song he wrote for a Resurrection record. The name of the song is “His Heart Beats,” from the album Resurrection Letters: Volume 1. I strongly encourage you go listen to this song and add it to an Easter playlist. Also, you simply must add “Is He Worthy?” from the very same album. With sincere apologies to some grand old hymns, “Is He Worthy?” is undoubtedly Easter’s anthem. I’d encourage getting up extra early this Easter morning and having both cued up to press play at dawn’s first light.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | April 1, 2020

living wisely and well

Certainly, this must be the mother of all April fool’s jokes.  Did we all just wake up to the world shut-down? Has our existence changed to the point where church is on a computer screen, fine dining comes in a paper bag, important meetings are on Zoom, exercise is on the long-forgotten treadmill, 65 is elderly and millennials are instructing parents to stop going out so much? Can’t we just wake up? Oops, this may be April 1st, but what we all woke up to this morning is anything but a joke. However, we have been given a window of 30 more days to hopefully slow the virus and re-open our country and our lives. So what should a Christ-follower do?

It is so easy to breathe the words, “What should we do?”  My thoughts for this article were focused on how to navigate the next 30 days in light of Covid-19 when a friend reminded me last night that too much focus on the problem distracts from resting in the Problem Solver.  There is no doubt that everyone’s focus right now is on Covid -19 (and I won’t ignore it) but navigating the problem ought not to distract us from a clear focus on where our help comes from.

I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!
Psalm 121:1-2

So, what should we do? Could it be that this virus is reminding us what we should do and how we should live all the time?

Most Christ followers realize that we are ambassadors of Christ and want to present the gospel message with our lives and words. However, life and our own fears often get in the way of being vocal ministers of reconciliation. We shouldn’t need a virus to be vocal about where our help comes from and how true peace is found.

Is there really any difference in taking life one moment at a time than there was a month ago? Just last week I used words that fit any battle, not just this one.  As soon as this circumstance is behind, life will throw another one. And the words of David Jeremiah in Overcomer will still be true.

“Being an Overcomer isn’t something we accomplish by our own power and wisdom. When we can’t see how our everyday decisions and actions fit into God’s cosmic plan, God essentially says to us, ‘Let Me relieve you of that worry, that fear. Just take this one little step into the light I have placed in front of you, and I will see to it that your faithful action will fit into the overarching plan and accomplish both My goals and your good.’”

In the routine of life, we talk about God’s power, strength and ever-present help. But we often get so focused on the next problem that we lose sight of His ability to move mountains, and our moods are dictated by all that surrounds us. We struggle with what John Ortberg calls a small view of God.  Should you or I have to be in a pandemic to re-focus on the size of our all- sufficient God? Again, review the earlier printed statement from Ortberg in If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

“I strongly believe that the way we live is a consequence of the size of our God. The problem many of us have is that our God is too small. We are not convinced that we are absolutely safe in the hands of a fully competent, all-knowing, ever-present God. When we wake up in the morning, what happens if we live with a small God? We live in a constant state of fear and anxiety because everything depends on us. Our mood will be governed by our circumstances.”

Obviously, my intent and even the re-printing of quotes is to challenge our thinking that living wisely and well (Ps-90:12) is not about a crisis, but how we should live daily, moment by moment.  The next 30 days will be a challenge, but life will not stop being difficult when the world re-opens. And if we need this crisis to remind us to be fully devoted followers of Christ, then the joke is on us!

Maybe we all need to pray:

Father, I have let the moment distract me from resting in You. But today, I claim the truth that my help is in You…maker of heaven and earth. I will choose to focus on You during the next 30 days and trust you in each moment.  Use me as the hands and feet of Jesus! Then when it is all over, I commit to still living wisely and well!

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