Following Jesus: “Christ is Risen!” by Bob Miller

An_open_Tomb_He_is_not_here.Grave_in_IsraelPaul begins in this 15th chapter of the letter to the church of Corinth by speaking directly to the great hope that all believers of all time have  been given in and through the Lord Jesus Christ so let us hear afresh this astounding good news.  “ Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you and on which you have taken your stand, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins  according to the Scriptures , that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. “  On this statement of faith all else stands.  It is not just a mater of Christ dying and was resurrected , as important as that is but it is “ of first importance “ why he died and was raised from the dead.  The simple truth is this; “ Christ died for our sins” and all of this is to fulfill the plan of God that has been laid out in Scripture for us.  As Paul tells us in his letter to the church in Rome, “ all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. “ 

God created us in His own glorious image yet that image was badly marred through the sin and disobedience of Adam and as Paul tells us today, in consequence “ for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  The death and resurrection of Jesus was not an accident or even a great tragedy.  Rather it was and is the outpouring of God’s great love towards all that we might e forgiven and restored into a right relationship with God … that we might be recreated in the image and the glory of God.   “ For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” 

“ If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. “  Remember what is “of first importance; that Christ died for our sins.”  In Christ we have been made brand new and we have been given a living hope , a hope that is grounded in what God in Christ Jesus has done for us. The resurrection of Jesus is the validation of this great power and great love of God.  The gift of eternal life is ours if we dare to believe and if we do we shall live and die in Christ , secure forever in God as we await the day when “ he has put all enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “

In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven if we have accepted that great and glorious gift.  Glorious Easter to you for indeed Christ is risen and may we all sing “ Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleujiah Amen!  

 

Following Jesus: “Healing of Hope” by Bob Miller

Without hope life becomes completely shattered along with all of our dreams and desires for l fe.  Indeed, without hope we become like a ship that is adrift in the vast blue ocean of life.

Without hope we are to be pitied.  THis is the scene that we have before us today.  Cleopas and another unnamed disciple are walking away from Jerusalem, the city of GOd and they are now a hopeless pair.  They have been following Jesus as they believed him to be the long awaited Messiah, the anointed One of God who would usher in the new era of God’s kingdom.  The arrest and crucifixion of the one in whom they had placed their faith and their hope has shattered them and they are now adrift in the ocean of life as they make their way to a tiny village named Emmaus.  While on their journey  the resurrected Jesus approaches them as an unknown stranger and asks in essence “ why are you so downcast ? “ Cleopas is astounded that this man knows not of the horrible events that have transpired in Jerusalem so he begins to recount these events and he tells us of his hopelessness when he says “ we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. “ 

Hope is one of the great tangibles of life.  It is such a vital part of living yet it is something that is hard to put your finger on yet we sure know just how vital it is when our hope is suddenly taken away.  I dare say that we all are very familiar with this experience.  We are all familiar with this overwhelming emptiness that can ever so easily take up residence in our lives. 

Perhaps you are relating to today’s text.  You just might have recently found your hope shattered.  I certainly understand this as I too have struggled with hope recently.  If so I encourage you to persevere in your faith and cling to the things that you believe in and more importantly cling to the One in whom you believe for He has not forsaken you.  I pray that just like these forlorn disciples and countless others Jesus will suddenly appear to you as the unseen or unrecogonized guest and open your eyes and your heart to his very presence.  “ When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. “ 

We are never without hope as he is resurrected and our lives are fulfilled him.  “ Come to us Lord  in all of our brokenness and grant us the healing of hope. 

Following Jesus: John 19 “Of Ancient Prophecy” by Bob Miller

-Cross-_5The Roman soldiers were only following orders and doing what soldiers were allowed to do under these awful circumstances.  Another Jew executed by the power of the state as a perceived threat to Rome…. after all, didn’t he claim to be a king, even the king of the Jews ?  As he dying, breathing is last there was nothing left to do but receive their reward for their labors.  So John tells us “ when the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares  ,, with the undergarment remaining.”  This was their entitlement as token as it was but them they came to his undergarment, the most cherished thing that Jesus owned in this world.  It was a gift from his mother Mary, a gift that she carefully crafted as did all Jewish mothers did for their sons when they reached adulthood.  It was his legacy and it was cherished.  The soldiers , not wanting to destroy this garment decided to gamble for it by rolling   dice.  Can you imagine ?  Can you imagine how Mary must have felt over this dignity ?  I seriously doubt that she ever considered that this act in itself was a fulfillment of ancient prophesy (Psalm 22).
And might Jesus have felt and what was left for him to do ?  He did the only thing that he could do which was an act of great love.  When he looked down from the cross he   “ saw his mother there , and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘ Dear woman, here is your son, and to the  , here is your mother.  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
As a disciple of Christ what has he committed into your care?  Might he be the absolute unconditional love of God and the responsibility of sharing this same love with the world for which he died ?  SO I pray:  “ God, I humbly thank you for loving me as you do.  I have received this love, I cherish it in my heart.  May I have the grace to freely and boldly share this precious gift with each person I encounter today.”

Following Jesus Day 39: Save me from myself by Bob Miller

Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk, writer and contemplative offers up this prayer for us to consider during this holy season of Lent:  “  My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me .  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you in fact pleases you and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.”  That seems to be the crux of the matter of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  As often as we think that we see the road ahead of us and have planned things out in such a fashion that we think we know where the road will end, if we are a true follower of Jesus we do not know where the road will lead us nor do we know where it will end.  That is because we walk by faith daily being led by the Spirit of God.  If I am correct in this line of thinking then the central question becomes “ do I have a desire to please God ? “
Judas has been following Jesus for three years and it seems clear from Scripture that he has been following Jesus for the wrong reasons and his desire to please has been that of pleasing himself and not God yet it you were there and could have asked Judas he probably would have told you in a rather convincing fashion that he was following the will of God.  …….” the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I actually am.  “
Oh how easily we got lost in our own agendas.  It was certainly true for Judas.  He was a Jewish radical of the first order.  He was one who advocated for the violent overthrow of Roman rule.  When he first started following Jesus I think  he saw that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah .  The problem he had was he didn’t understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was to be.   He believed the Messiah would be a mighty warrior much like King David and by the time he is gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room, about to receive the bread and wine from Jesus he has already settled matters in his own heart.  Jesus was not taking the path that Judas thought he should take and was not taking it fast enough so he decided I believe that he would take matters in his own hand and force the whole issue and start the revolution he longed for.
At the meal Jesus said “ I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me. “  The disciples were stunned and “ they were sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘ surely not I Lord ?  Then Judas, the one who would betray him said, ‘Surely not I Rabbi ? ‘ Jesus answered, ‘ Yes, it is you. ?”
I hear many clamoring today for what the church should be doing, what our nation should be doing in regards to how we treat others and as to what our rights are and it has even become a political football that is kicked around with great gusto.   And all I can do is remind you and remind myself that our own agendas are futile and will do nothing but get us in trouble.  The only agenda that we give credence to is the will of God and knowing that will comes from prayer, study and “ walking by faith.”  DO I have the desire to please God ?  That it seems to me is the really important question for me, for you, and for all of God’s faithful disciples.  So I pray, “ Save me O God from my own selfish desires and my own prejudices.  I am not you and your ways are so much higher than mine.  So I submit myself to you O God.  Place within my heart a pure and right desire to please you and follow you wherever you may lead me.  Amen.”

Following Jesus Day 38: Last Wishes by Jack Tookey

In Scripture, we have only a few examples of Jesus’ prayer life.  Even Jesus had his private moments, when He laid His heart bare before God (see Hebrews 4:7).  That is why this passage is so precious.  We finally get a peek into His personal desires as expressed in prayer before His Holy Father.  How amazing are those desires!

Jesus’ prayer covers the entire chapter.  He is praying, apparently in the presence of His disciples, at the very end of their last meal together.  He will very soon be betrayed, and the torturous process of his death begun.  So He takes the last few moments of peace He will have this side of death to pray.

What does He ask?  That God would bring glory to Jesus by protecting His disciples.  Later, He would ask for mercy for Himself, but right now, they are on His heart.  And not just them, but us (v. 20).  His desire for all of us is that God would protect us so that we could be one – one with Him and the Father, and one with each other.  This will be a source of protection for us (vs. 11, 15), a reason for joy for us (v. 13), and a sign to everyone else that this faith is worth following (v. 21)!

Jesus knows his disciples will be scattered, but prays God would bring them back together.  He knows they will be sorrowful, but asks God to give them joy.  He knows they are to be His witnesses, and begs the Father to enhance their witness through their unity.

Jesus’ last wishes were that those ancient disciples, you, and I would be one, unified, connected together in an enduring way through Him and the Father.  It’s the reason He was living and the reason he was dying.

How important is your unity with your Christian brothers and sisters?  Is there someone against whom you bear a grudge or whom you refuse to forgive?  If so, for Jesus’ sake, turn around.  Let the grudge go!  Forgive!  Let God glorify His son through you in unity, joy, and a strong witness!  Do it to honor Jesus in His death, and to be prepared for His Resurrection!

Following Jesus Day 37: Jesus Cares by Jack Tookey

Jesus’ life has come down to this.  In the final moments he spends with his disciples before his “passion,” He seeks to comfort his disciples because he knows what’s coming.  He knows the sorrow His disciples will encounter, and He knows how precious the gift – the Holy Spirit – that they will receive because He is leaving.  His heart is breaking, and yet swelling with hope at the same time!  And it’s all because of His care for these sleepy, silly disciples.

He could have been concerned for His own welfare, woefully anticipating his betrayal, torture, and death.  He might have wondered how God would take this group of distracted grumblers forward after He has been executed.  He could have given in to the temptation to give up.

Instead, he offers hope!  He speaks again and again of His leaving and the sorrow it will produce (vs. 5-6, 12, 16, 20, 22, and 32).  At the same time, He reminds them of God’s Holy Spirit, and the ministry He would provide them (vs. 7-11, 13-15).  All they needed to do was ask!  In vs. 22-24 and 26-28, Jesus tells His disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit to come to them in their time of distress.

How amazing is Jesus’ care for them and for us!  He is not concerned for his own suffering, but rather for the suffering we must endure.  He knows the answer to our suffering is right before us – His death as payment for our sin, and His Holy Spirit as His abiding presence with us as we endure the hatred this world brings.  His words declare those things that His disciples must keep in mind – that we must keep in mind – as we endure suffering.

How are you suffering today?  How have you suffered in the past?  Take some time today to remember, to call to mind how Jesus’ Holy Spirit has strengthened you in your struggles, and thank Him!  Then ask Him to guide you to someone else who needs His comfort in their struggles, and offer His comfort to them.

Following Jesus Day 37: Being at Home by Jack Tookey

Winter weather can sometimes force us to hunker down, get a warm mug of something to drink, a good book, a snuggly blanket, and just hibernate.  If you’re like my wife or me, you can find it so comfortable that you really never want to leave.  You just want to remain in that comfortable state until spring!

In this passage, Jesus repeatedly commands His disciples to be very fruitful.  In fact, he warns them in no uncertain terms that not being fruitful is a spiritually dangerous condition, potentially leading them to being thrown away and burned (a picture of judgment!).  What makes the difference between fruitfulness and unfruitfulness?  It is where the disciple abides.  Jesus describes a series ways we must choose to abide if we are to be fruitful.  We find them in vs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10.  If we abide in these ways in Jesus as our true vine, in His love, and in His word, then He will abide in us, and we will bear much fruit.

But what does “abide” mean?  It means to stay, to remain – just like our response to winter weather.  In essence, it means to make ourselves “at home” in Jesus’ love, His words, in Him.  And IF we do these things, we are His friends (v. 14)!

This abiding is how we are able to endure what is to come – the world’s hatred.  Jesus warns us about it in the final portion of this passage, but has already given us the way to endure the “winter” of the world’s hatred – abiding in Him.  Note that Jesus assumes we will be going out into the world, and as we live in Him, we will incur the world’s wrath.  To stay warm, we must abide in Him.

Are you abiding in Jesus?  In His love?  In His word?  Commit yourself to it!  Abide in Him!  And He will be your comfort no matter what the world throws at you.

Following Jesus Day 36: Never Alone by Jack Tookey

My mother died several years ago.  Since then, I have had countless times when I wish I could share something with her – some good news, significant accomplishment, fun moment, or beautiful sight.  Each time, I am touched with a unique kind of loneliness.  I miss her!

Death is a terrible, unnatural, seemingly final event.  It runs counter to everything we seek in life.  Perhaps the single most difficult part of death is that it causes separation that not even our most powerful technologies can overcome.  We lose connection to those about whom we care. We cannot reconcile with those with whom we differed.  The gulf is just too wide.

As Jesus considered his own impending death at the Last Supper, He began to prepare his beloved disciples for what was to come.  “Don’t let your hearts be troubled” (v. 1).  How could that be?  He was everything to them, and all that they knew about death told them the separation was final.  They were to be left alone, leaderless and without the most tangible presentation of love they had ever known.  Of course their hearts would be troubled!

But Jesus tells them in several clear ways that they were not to be left alone.  Jesus’ death would not be the final word.  There was far more to the story.  He begins by giving them hope even in death – they had a home on the other side (vs. 2-3)!  But then he comforts them with an even more powerful message – He would not leave them alone.  “I will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (v. 16).

Not only would this Advocate be with them, but also be very active in their lives!  He would teach them, remind them of Jesus’ words (v. 26), and would give them peace – transcending peace (v. 27).  That’s why their hearts should not be troubled!  Because death is not a final separation, but only a thin veil, and the Holy Spirit comforts us with perfect peace in the meantime.

Do you feel alone or troubled today?  By faith, allow the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, to grant you His perfect peace.  Rest in His presence and be comforted.  If not, rejoice and find a way to comfort someone else.

Following Jesus Day 35: Unmistakeable love by Jack Tookey

The whole idea of washing someone else’s feet makes many people cringe.  Just the thought of becoming that physically close to someone with whom we are not intimate makes us uncomfortable.  And maybe that’s the point Jesus is trying to make.

A year or so ago, I ministered to a family who’s oldest living member was dying.  Betty had spent many years helping, encouraging, giving, and living with her children, their spouses, her grand- and great grandchildren.  Now, she was withered, tired, confused, and unable to care for herself.  One of the most precious expressions of love that her children gave to her was to tend her feet!  They bathed them, clipped the nails and painted them, massaged them.  Oh, they were a bit squeamish at first, but the more comfortable they became, the more they enjoyed it.  And Betty’s response was to gain strength, to become more clear-headed, to interact!  It formed a precious, intimate bond between Betty and her family that inspired all involved and made the ultimate good-bye much more bearable.  They returned her life-long giving in an unmistakable way.

Jesus’ example to his disciples was also unmistakable.  If they wanted to show their love to God, to be “somebody” in this kingdom Jesus was dying to save, to make a real difference in this dark world, they would need to humble themselves.  This humbling had to be enough to get them past their discomfort and self-consciousness to the point where they brought life to others, healing and strengthening, loving and giving, creating strong bonds.

Peter couldn’t handle it, first refusing and then demanding Jesus’ service.  In His graceful way, Jesus gently brushed aside Peter’s selfishness and ministered to him anyway.  He then called us all to follow his example – to love in unmistakable ways, humbly and gently.  His “new” command was to carry on loving others where he would leave off, as humble servants.

Today, ask God to guide you to those whom he would have you serve.  Ask him also to give you the courage to let down your guard when things get uncomfortable, and to humbly love them.

Following Jesus Day 34: It Matters by Jack Tookey

Jesus is within a few days of a death he has faced for months, perhaps years.  He knows when and how he will die.  He has a sense of the soon-to-come event as he shares two parables and an allegory with his disciples.  Speaking privately (see Matthew 24:3) and urgently, He wants his closest followers to know it matters how they live their lives.  The three stories all concern believers and what they do with their lives, and how God responds to their behavior.  As his disciples, He also speaks to us.

It matters how we tend our faith.  The ten bridesmaids had to maintain the oil in their lamps, an analogy of their faith.  Those who did so were rewarded with inclusion in the wedding banquet, a reference to the wedding celebration in heaven when Christ is wed to his bride, the church (see Revelation 19:6-9).  Those who did not found their lamps cold, and they were excluded from the wedding!

It matters how we use our resources.  The “talents” referred to in the second parable are literally sums of money, but they clearly represent more.  If we invest our material wealth, skills, and spiritual gifts (our talents) diligently, and reap a return for the kingdom of God on the Lord’s investment in our lives, our reward will be great, no matter how meager our resources to start.  If we do not, no matter where else we invest, we will find our eternal home in “outer darkness.”

It matters what we do.  In the third story, an allegory of what will actually happen in the future, the only difference between the sheep and the goats is what they did and didn’t do!  Feeding, visiting, tending – these are all actions by which our faith is measured.  Words alone are not enough.  Emotional engagement is insufficient.  Religious activities will not cover the void.  And the consequences are eternal.

Today, prayerfully consider these questions:  How is your faith?  How do you use your resources?  What are you doing for the Kingdom of God?  Because it matters.