ICOC HotNews

The International Churches of Christ

ENTRY 223: NOV 17-20 Instead of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, how about “The Bad, The Ugly, The Amazingly Good, and The Miraculous”?

In this very long entry about Gethsemene, The Tomb, The Resurrection and The Ascension/ Final Instructions, good for FOUR days reading, we will cover topics such as PRAYER, SORROW, BETRAYAL, DETERMINATION, FORGIVENESS, SURRENDER, NEW BEGINNINGS, COUNTING THE COST, the MIRACLE OF THE RESURRECTION, THE GREAT COMMISSION, the SINGAPORE CHURCH MISSION STATEMENT, and TRUSTING THE LEADERSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, taken from Matt 26:36-75; Matt 27; Mark 14:32-72; Mark 15; Luke 22:40-71; Luke 23; John 18-19, then Matt 28:2-4; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:4-8; Mark 16:8; John 20:2-10; Mark 16:9; John 20:11-17; Matt 28:8-15; Luke 24:9-11; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:19; Luke 24:36-44; John 20:21-29; John 21:1-24, then Matt 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-51; Acts 1:6-11; Luke 24:52-53; Acts 1:12-26; Mark 16:20; John 20:30-31; John 21:25.

As Jesus finished His prayer walk, He and His disciples crossed the Kidron Valley, and entered the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was by this time worn out. He had given of Himself for the past few hours – preaching, teaching, washing feet, explaining, all of it with the knowledge of what was about to happen looming in His thoughts. He pulled the three “senior” apostles away to pray in deep sorrow, and asked them to keep watch while He prayed alone. The apostles didn’t know how crucial the time was, and sadly, the three men, also exhausted from the long day, and from their own sorrow, fell asleep. The Messiah was truly alone. 

 

Part of the issue here was surely that it was hard to picture Jesus being weak. When father figures or prominent leaders who have been so strong for a long period of time actually do get weak or feel tired, exhausted or depressed, they are often misunderstood by their followers. The people “under” them sometimes feel embarrassed and they rarely know how to act appropriately. (How many of us knew how to respond properly when we realized that our parents had feet of clay?) Peter, James and John may have had no idea that this would be the last night they spent with Jesus alive, and they also probably had no concept of the mental agony He was feeling. Sometimes we might be in this position. We will be suffering and no one will be able to understand it. (At times well meaning friends might say, “I know how you feel” when they actually have no idea. Just smile and say thanks.)

 

Speaking of anguish, I have had some pretty sad and depressing moments (just like everyone else has had), but I sure haven’t faced what Jesus was facing! He was so full of sorrow that He literally wanted to die! The Son of God! And even though just a day earlier He had told the crowd that He wasn’t about to ask God to save Him from this hour, here He was asking for that very thing! “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” This is one of the most heart-wrenching verses in the Bible to me. Oh Jesus, what a sad day. 

 

I am reminded of how my son, who is now 20, studied the Bible when he was 14-year-old son. When he did the study of “the cross” in his journey to make Jesus his personal Lord and Saviour, he recounted his thoughts to my husband and me with great vividness, and he was amazed at all he had missed in the past, even though he has been going to church his whole life (and seen “The Passion” several times). The cross is very real when we make it personal!

 

Artists through the centuries have attempted to capture this on canvas – “google” the phrase “paintings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane” and you will find dozens if not hundreds of paintings, many by the masters. There is no more poignant scene than the angel wiping off the drops of blood while Jesus was agonizing in prayer! When we pray in this state, we can pray for an hour and not notice the time going by… The amazing thing is that the hour did change His heart. After admonishing the disciples with the famous “spirit is willing, flesh is weak” line, He prayed a second time, and we can only surmise that it was probably for another hour. This time, He prayed a bit differently, with a bit more surrender. When He found his disciples asleep again, He gave up on them, and in utter loneliness, prayed a third time. During this prayer, alone and on His knees, Jesus found the strength to go on. In fact, He was resolved. Oh, God, help me to have times of prayer like this, where I face my Gethsemane moments and walk away changed and resolved. 

 

Judas came at that time, and betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Many of us may have been betrayed over the years, but it is doubtful that we have been betrayed unto death. Goodness. And Jesus still called him “friend”. You have to love the ever-rash Peter, who cut off a guy’s ear only to be rebuked by Jesus, and then saw Jesus heal it back! Surreal! Don’t you know Malchus went home confused!?! 

 

The Messiah was arrested, the disciples completely deserted him and fled, and a young follower was so scared that he ran off naked – tradition tells us that it was John Mark, presumably since he is the one who mentioned this very specific example in his gospel. The Creator of the Universe, who had become flesh and dwelt among men, was now arrested by men and led before the previous high priest (who obviously still had a lot of clout). Then He went before the high priest himself, and all the Sanhedrin, or Council. While this was happening behind closed doors, Peter was outside, being confronted with his own humanity. Staring his own possible death in the face, he caved into pressure, and denied Jesus several times to numerous individuals. Dr Smith’s order interplays the two scenes back and forth, with great effect. 

 

The only way that the “Kangaroo Court” could convict Jesus was to hire false witnesses, which they did. Peter himself was a false witness of a sort, until he heard the cock crow three times, and he remembered the Lord’s prophecy. The Bible simply records, “And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Isn’t this how we act when we fail to live up to the standard we hold dear? How many times have we missed the mark? 

Peter’s willingness to eventually forgive himself and get back to leadership stands in sharp contrast to Judas’ slide down the slippery slope from self-condemnation to suicide. At daybreak, “the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. I think they had already decided. Sometimes we fall into sin, but sometimes it is premeditated. We think about it for a long time, then when we do it we act like it took us by surprise or that we couldn’t help it. That’s what I think of when I read this passage. 

 

In their dealings with Pilate, the Jewish leaders demonstrated an astute grasp of Roman politics. They cleverly accused Jesus of sedition against the Roman state – especially the idea that Jesus taught that Jews shouldn’t pay taxes – they couldn’t very well ask the governor to put him to death for some religious teachings! The scenes with Pilate from the movie, “Jesus Christ Superstar” are some of the most intense, but first Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, who, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production, is a fat slob living in opulence, surrounded by a bizarre pleasure seeking crowd, and he asks Jesus to do a miracle for him (“Oh if you are the Christ, yes the great Jesus Christ, prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool”). Disappointed that Jesus refuses to speak, he sends him back to Pilate, who at first only questions the Messiah, then he sneers at Him. Later he pleads with Jesus to defend himself, and eventually Pilate placates the crowd and orders that Jesus be scourged. As Pilate counts out loud the 40 lashes minus one, he acts cocky in the beginning, but as the gore increases with the number of strokes, he becomes agitated and uncomfortable, and is completely relieved when it all ends, at which point he begs Jesus to say something so that he can let Him go. 

 

We all know the story of Barabbas (whose name interestingly means “Son of the Father”). He was a criminal who deserved the death penalty, but because of a twist of fate, and a twisted religious elite, he was pardoned and set free. My husband has preached a sermon over the years called “A Very Lucky Guy” where he talks about the bad things that sometimes happen to us that eventually help us spiritually, and how we don’t feel lucky at the time, but later come to realize how “lucky” we are! He uses the story of Barabbas and juxtaposes that with the thief on the cross, who really got to be in Paradise that day! So, who was the lucky guy?

 

Of course we know that the crowd shouting, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” was the same group who had only days earlier had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. Many of them had heard Jesus teach. Some of them had probably been miraculously fed by Jesus, or perhaps had been healed by him. How fickle we can be… Finally it was time for Jesus to go to His death. After all the beating and mocking and torture, He was even made to carry His own cross. It is a miracle He could even still walk. No surprise that Simon from Cyrene had to finish carrying the cross for Him. The women who had followed and supported Jesus wept for Him, and He was led up the hill and placed between two thieves. Although the movies never show this part, it is my assumption that He was crucified completely naked, since the soldiers gambled for His undergarment. Speculation on my part, but surely further humiliation for someone who had kept Himself pure His whole life. Pilate tried to have the last word by nailing a sign above him stating that He was the KING OF THE JEWS. The religious leaders hated that. 

 

We see the beauty of the Christ at this point – the way He didn’t get bitter when the crowd mocked him, how He reached out to the thief and assured him, how He cared for His mother, and how He forgave everyone (“father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”)

 

When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two, there was an earthquake, and many holy people rose from the dead. And still the Sanhedrin insisted that they were correct? His body was pierced and then taken down (God forbid that the Pharisees break the law by leaving a body up on the holy Passover day!) and Joseph of Arimathea, bless him, must have thought, “Enough is enough” and decided to give Jesus a decent burial. The Establishment were still fearful, so they posted a guard and made the tomb secure. But as the song, “Rise Again” says, death couldn’t keep Him in the ground! We may never know until we reach heaven whether Jesus was crucified on Thursday, the Day of Preparation before the special Sabbath of the Passover on Friday, causing a double Sabbath, or whether we should stick to the traditional time table. One thing we DO know is that early on Sunday morning, the angel rolled away the stone, and Jesus had risen! Woo hoo!

 

The guards who had been posted by the Pharisees were so afraid that they shook “and became like dead men”! Jesus’ women followers came bringing spices and wondering who would roll away the stone, but were surprised to find it moved. The angels told them to go tell the Eleven that Jesus had risen just as He said. The women were afraid, but Mary Magdalene told Peter about it. Peter and John viewed the empty tomb and still didn’t understand what was happening. Then Mary Magdalene went back to the tomb and cried over Jesus’ missing body, at which time the risen Christ appeared to her. She thought it was the gardener!! I love it! When He said her name, she knew it was Jesus. Oh the thrill! Jesus appeared to the other women as well, and then when the women were on their way to tell the others, the chief priests initiated a “cover-up” (in good conspiracy theory language)! As two of the apostles walked along the road to Emmaus, Jesus appeared to them, walking and talking with them as He had done so many times before. When they finally figured out who He was, He was gone. My favourite line is, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” That’s the effect that spending time with Jesus can have on us even today!

After this, Jesus appeared to them all, gave them authority, admonished the “doubting Thomas”, and went fishing! Don’t you love some of the specifics of the final week story?  The name of the servant who had his ear chopped off (“Malchus”), a description of a young man who fled Jesus’ arrest (“naked”) and now, the number of fish they caught when they obeyed Jesus! (153!) When my son was younger, he asked me, “why is the Bible so random?” I like to think that God has fun sharing these details with us – that’s His feminine side ha ha!

 

The last passage discussed in this entry is the well-known passage in which Jesus “reinstated” Peter, so to speak, by asking him THREE TIMES if Peter really loved Him. We usually assume it is because Peter denied Jesus three times earlier on, but that is speculation on our part. What we do know is that Jesus wanted Peter to know that he was forgiven, and also to think about what it would take/cost to love and serve and be a leader in the kingdom. It wasn’t going to be glamorous, and it would surely end in death. (The humorous bit is when Peter tried to find out if John would die a painful death as well – it’s just like us to want to know if we are the only one who has to suffer! My kids do the same thing – “does she have to go to bed at the same time? Not fair!!”) History tells us that this time, Peter was ready to drink the cup! 

 

I couldn’t end the entry on the resurrection without referring you to my first favourite Christian song, written by Keith Green, called “The Easter Song”. I have loved it since 1979! Buy it on iTunes or wherever – it is an amazing celebration of the resurrection. 

 

The lyrics to one of my other favourite Christian songs, which I have enjoyed for the past twelve years, and which is also about the resurrection, can be found below! Enjoy!

Jesus is Alive! As sung by Ron Kenoly, on his “High Places” CD

 

 

For all the earth had trembled, the sun had hid its face.

All the men who walked with him had turned and run away.

They crucified the Saviour, and laid him in the tomb.

The life that once brought love and hope slipped away that afternoon.

 

Satan gleamed with pleasure that day at Calvary

Death has lost its sting 

 

And like him, all of the demons of hell began to cheer 

But little did they know that their end was drawing near…

 

Cause early Sunday morning, just like Jesus said, 

He broke the curse of sin and death and he rose up from the dead!

Now we have a new beginning

In a kingdom that has no ending!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

 

Hallelujah - Jesus is Alive! 

Death has lost its sting,

And the grave has been denied.

Jesus lives forever, He’s alive, He’s alive!

 

He’s the Alpha and Omega,

The first and last is He.

The curse of sin is broken, 

and he has earned the victory.

 

The Lamb of God has risen,

He’s alive, He’s alive!

 

He is the author and the finisher of our faith!

The stone they threw away is the corner stone today!

Death has no more victory and the grave has no more sting!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

 

Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God is He.

The Everlasting Father, He’s the precious prince of Peace.

He’s the Word that lives forever, 

He’s alive, He’s alive!

 

Hallelujah - Jesus is Alive! 

Death has lost its sting,

And the grave has been denied.

Jesus lives forever, 

He’s alive, He’s alive!

 

Hallelujah - Jesus is Alive! 

Death has lost its sting,

And the grave has been denied.

Jesus lives forever, 

He’s alive, He’s alive!

After spending time with his guys at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus walked with them to a mountain in that region, possibly so that they could look out all around them with a bird’s eye view, and gave them what we usually call “The Great Commission”.  

 

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Isn’t it incredible? After all that had happened, some of the apostles still doubted??!! Well, that just goes to show that they were human! And that the only perfect leader was Jesus! Still, they must have been listening, because the historical record shows that all but one was martyred for the cause of Christ, and even he died in exile. We are the same, right? Some of us accept things right away (and we don’t always keep our promise) and some of us take a bit of time to warm up to things…

 

Speaking of the Great Commission, we combined this famous passage with what Jesus called the Greatest Commandments (recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself) to come up with our Singapore church Mission Statement: “We Gather Here to Know God and Make God Known”. 

 

The first part, WE GATHER HERE, represents the commandment “Love Your Neighbour As Yourself” and in fact, goes even further, since Jesus upped the ante by giving us a higher standard, “Love One Another As I Have Loved You”.  This applies specifically to the way that Christians gather together not just to worship but to love one another, to encourage one another, to serve one another, to comfort one another and to call one another higher. We believe that every Christian needs others to help them to make it to heaven, so every member of our church is in a small group. These groups meet for group discipling, sometimes after the mid-week lesson, sometimes instead of a Bible Talk and sometimes as an extra meeting. In some cases, there is individual discipling going on, and certainly Christians pair themselves with fellow disciples for prayer times and calling each other higher. Almost every member attends these discipling groups weekly, except for parents of young children, who take turns. However, we don’t just stop at having a group meeting in the church building – we believe that we should really love one another day to day, so we should be there during the hard times, when someone needs parenting advice, when a relative dies, at times of illness, even during the good times. Hopefully we will grow in this area more and more.

 

The next part of the mission statement, TO KNOW GOD, represents the commandment to “Love God With All our Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”. Especially in the book of John, Jesus talked of “knowing God” and being “one with God” and “obeying” God. This is all tied up together under the auspices of our little phrase, To Know God. We apply this to our personal walk with God, our quiet times, our character changes and personal righteousness, and also our corporate Bible study/ deep teaching and group prayer times. We have midweeks for at least 1/3 of the year that stress deep Bible teaching, with quizzes, memory verses, and an exam with three different degrees of difficulty. We even have certificates for members who choose to do the difficult exam! We sometimes do midweeks that study issues about why we behave the way we do, and we are able to use our counselling skills to help members who are having trouble changing old patterns. We sometimes address needs, like parenting or we have singles’ parties…whatever we can do to help people to Know God. The church sometimes does Quiet Time or journaling series as well, and most small groups have special Quiet Times at different times of the year. Each year the members seem to be excited to learn new things in the Bible, and hopefully that will continue on as a healthy tradition.

 

Last but certainly not least, the Great Commission to go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching is represented in the part of the mission statement which says, “TO MAKE GOD KNOWN”. Jesus himself came to make God known (John 1:18), and part of how we do that is to imitate his heart to “seek and save the lost”. However, we also believe that part of making God known is by caring for the less fortunate, the needy of society, as Jesus says so clearly in Matt 25. We apply this by encouraging all members of our church to be involved weekly in loving at least one person who is not a member of our church. (Sound like a no-brainer, but we all get so busy these days that it is possible to go a whole week without spending quality time with a non-Christian!) It might be a Bible study, it might be a good talk, it might be helping them to move house, whatever. Of course we will love that person no matter if they become a Christian or not, but we do hope they would want to become a Christian. We have also set up our youth ministry to have a programme, boys and girls separate, called “Rangers” for the 3rd and 4th graders to get them interested in spiritual things and to get them comfortable with small groups from a young age. We work on character issues and scripture memory, and are using the Veggie Tales movies as a kind of curriculum. At the same time, the pre teens are having their meetings, and the young teens are in a different room, with the teens having their own class…While all this is going on, the parents are having their midweek lessons, with discipling groups afterwards, or Bible Talks with friends. It is our hope that as the parents get strengthened, they will be able to talk to their children more about spiritual things, and then more and more youth will be baptized. At this time, our youth ministry is growing by leaps and bounds! Praise God! 

 

In the same way, we also encourage every member to be involved in a HOPE volunteer program in their neighbourhood. Each region of the church has a “pet project” that they have come up with themselves; they fund it and run it on a monthly basis without the help of any full-time church staff. 

 

We studied these three areas out in three month long midweek classes which were accompanied by Quiet Times back in 2004 (in what we called GEM classes at the time. G = our relationship with God, E = our relationship between Each other, and M = our relationship with the lost, or, in other words, the Mission. Then we focused on them again in 2005 in what we called “Mission Statement Workshops”. We devoted a whole weekend of study to each of the topics at different times of the year, accompanied by Quiet Time books with a Journaling component for each member. These seemed to be quite helpful. We have also conducted different feedback exercises with the church, and asked the members to scale their groups in the three areas so that they are able to recognize their progress.

 

Our church has grown spiritually and numerically over the past few years, and, for the most part, the Christians are feeling that they are experiencing life in a HEALTHY CHURCH. I know that we are far from being perfect leaders, and our church is sure not a perfect church. We are just trying to fulfil Jesus’ great commission as best as we know how for the time being, and we pray for wisdom to do it in a way that glorifies God.

 

Getting back to Jesus’ last instructions before the ascension, the parallel passage in Mark adds some extra information (this passage only appears in a few translations, just like the John 8 passage on the woman caught in adultery). Then Jesus must have taken them all to Jerusalem, and He repeated His commission in that setting, telling them to wait in the city until “clothed with power from on high.” Luke, who wrote the Acts account as well, began the book of Acts just where he left off with his gospel, so there is a parallel passage, ending with the part where the apostles went to the vicinity of Bethany and watched Jesus ascend back to heaven on a cloud. The angels spoke to them, and they returned to Jerusalem in joy, worshiping and constantly in prayer. This group included the Eleven, plus Mary the mother of Jesus, the women who had supported Jesus, and Jesus’ brothers. 

 

At this time, Peter became the de facto leader, and they asked the Holy Spirit to help them find a replacement for Judas. That is what I call trust – they prayed and drew lots! Note also the criteria for being named an apostle: 

 

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.

So apparently not just any ole guy can be an apostle – just those who fit that criteria.

The conclusion verses to the gospel accounts are found in Mark 16, John 20, and John 21, and I will end this entry with those verses:

 

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

 

Stay tuned for the adventures of the apostles and the letters of Paul!

 

karenlouis@seachurches.org