Maundy Thursday

On Maundy Thursday, we meditate on two Passovers. The first took place in the Book of Exodus, where the firstborn of every living thing in Egypt was slain by the Angel of Death except for those who were passed over because they obeyed the Lord’s instruction to sacrifice a lamb and shield their homes with its blood. The people of Israel celebrated the Passover every year because this was such a miraculous and defining event in the history of their nation.

Many years later, Israel was once again celebrating the Feast of the Passover, and Jesus was in Jerusalem for the occasion. Jesus knew that His time had arrived, the time when He would become the Lamb who is sacrificed for the salvation of all those who would claim His blood. He was so full of love, that He was willing to make the sacrifice. Can our love go so far?

Jesus was also mindful that He was about to be betrayed by one of His closest friends. There were heavy things on His heart and mind this Feast of the Passover, but He was also fully aware that after His humbling and suffering and sacrifice, then He would be exalted to the highest place and given the Name that is above every name.

In the context of all of this, He does something very mundane. He stoops to wash His disciples’ feet. What an amazing act for the King of kings and Lord of lords! In the light of this example, is there anything that is too lowly for those of us who claim to follow Christ to do? Is there anything that is beneath us? If Christ can humble Himself, shouldn’t we as well?

There are two types of pride. The first is the type that can’t stoop down, that sees some things as being beneath them. The second type is a little more subtle, and it is the kind that Peter shows to the Lord when He wants to wash his feet. Peter says, “No, not MY feet!” This is a false humility where we wallow in our unworthiness and exempt ourselves from receiving the grace of God. When we look it in the face, this false humility is also pride. If Christ says that His sacrifice covers ALL, who are we to say that we are the only ones who aren’t good enough for it?

The word Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” which means commandment. In the Passover meal with his disciples, Christ said he was giving a “novum mandatum” – a New Commandment (John 13:34) to love each other as Christ has loved us. No other religion has a New Commandment, which turns human pride on its head. Christ is exalted through service, suffering, and sacrifice, and so are His followers.

This is how the world can see that we are His disciples – by the way we pour ourselves out to love and serve others, the way He did for us.

The Curtain Has Been Torn

In the Temple of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, there were three sections. The larger part that worshipers were able to enter was the outer courts. Then there was a private inner section called the Holy Place where only the priests could enter. Then the inner sanctum called the Holy of Holies, and none but the most holy were allowed to enter. Therefore, only God could dwell there, and a high priest was able to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement after special animal sacrifices and offerings for his own sin an the sin of the people.

Between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place here was a large curtain that separated these two places. The curtain prevented access to the Most Holy Place where the glory of the Lord dwelt.

We see in the very beginning of the Bible (Genesis 3) and mankind’s relationship with God when Adam and Eve sinned, and they lost access to the Most Holy God. They were separated from God, and they were kicked out of the garden where God dwelt.

Ever since then, man has been longing to return to dwelling with God, walking in His presence and fullness like Adam and Eve did before they fell. Only in God’s presence can we find peace and rest. The Temple was the place where God and man could meet, but only by sacrifice could worshipers even enter the Holy Place, the outer courts of the presence of God. They were continually bringing animal sacrifices, over and over and over just to try to earn minimal access to God. It was an exhausting and ineffective way to live, because we know that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).

However, God had a plan to end that ineffective system. Christ Himself became our sacrifice, once for all, and His sacrifice opened the way for all of us to be restored in relationship with God. When Jesus died, “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two (Luke 23:44-45). Jesus didn’t just pull back the curtain, He tore it right down the middle! He permanently opened the way for all of us to access the Most Holy Place, to be in relationship with the Most Holy God.

How do we respond to this powerful and wonderful truth? The writer of Hebrews tells us plainly:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:19-23

Think on this whenever you gather with the people of God. It is only because Christ gave you access to the Most Holy Place by His death that you are able to be in relationship with God and His people. When we lift our hearts in worship to the Lord, we are lifting them into the Most Holy Place, where Christ gave us access directly to the living God. Worship with confidence and joy, knowing that Christ permanently opened the way for you.

New Life: Fishing Again? Returning back to the Old

Jesus calls us to new life in Him. But we don’t have to wait until our resurrection day to begin that new life. New life in Jesus begins now!

Before we look at what new life looks like, I must warn you: there is always a great temptation to stay in our old life or return to it again. Even the disciples experienced this setback. When Jesus called His first followers—Peter, James, and John—they were out on the Sea of Galilee fishing from a boat (and not doing too well at that!).  Jesus challenged them to go out into deep water and put out their nets again. Peter was exasperated, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets” Luke 5:5, NRSV).

New Life: Fishing Again? – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.

You remember the rest of the story. Peter, James, and John pulled in a miraculous catch. Thus began a great adventure with the incarnate Lord and Savior of the world as Jesus called them from their profession as fishermen to become fishers of men.

Fast-forward three years. Peter, James, and John have now experienced amazing things as disciples of Jesus. They have walked beside the Lord witnessing His mighty acts of healing, listened to his teaching, and even participated in miracles. And yet, even they returned to their old ways— fishing for fish instead of men (and not doing very well at that!). Read John 21:1-25.

After the dramatic events of the His death and resurrection, Jesus again appears where the men are fishing.  He calls to them to cast their empty nets on the other side of the boat. Another miraculous catch. Recognizing Jesus, John whispers to Peter, “It is the Lord!” And in true “Peter” fashion…

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish… Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (John 21:7-12)

The story begs the question: why did Peter and the disciples go back to their regular jobs of fishing again? Jesus had called them to so much greater.

The reason is clear from an earlier account in John’s Gospel.  Remember that before the crucifixion, Peter had denied Jesus three times. If that wasn’t bad enough, his denials were in spite of a personal vow that he would go to the death with Jesus: “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:37-38).

After his denials, Peter was acutely aware of his own inadequacy, his own failings, his own weakness. Rather than stepping into the Resurrected Life and moving forward with Jesus’ call on his life to be an apostle, Peter had reverted back to being merely a fisherman. And evidently, he had brought the others with him. Like an athlete who lets down the team in the big moment, Peter had fumbled the ball after vowing to be a superstar! He was discouraged and disillusioned.

In our own walks with the Lord, very often some major disappointment or failing on our parts hinders or blocks us from truly stepping out into the fullness of the Resurrected Life. Is there any disappointment in your life that would have you fishing again rather than boldly living for the Lord?  Is there any unworthy feeling holding you back, some guilt or shame, that would prevent you from truly walking in the newness of life that the Lord has for you?

In a wonderful moment of restoration, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  (John 21:15-17).  The disciple who once vowed,  “I do not know the man!” now says to Jesus, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” three times. In reversing his three denials, those affirmations became a reaffirmation of Peter’s calling to be a shepherd to the flock of the Lord. Jesus sealed Peter’s affirmations with, “Feed my sheep.” By taking Peter back to the beginning, to the moment of his calling, Jesus gave Peter a new start and a new challenge.  Peter would indeed be fishing again for people!

The Lord would do the same for you. The Lord has a special call upon your life. It’s a call that will require you to step into a new reality, a new life. The temptation will be to return to the old ways and to the old life. And yet Jesus, your risen Lord, will meet you in your failings and challenge you to get back to your calling, to living once more for His kingdom.

What’s holding you back? Is there any failing in the Christian life that has disillusioned you and hindered you from living the Resurrected Life? Have you been fishing on the wrong side of the boat again? Jesus restored Peter, and he will restore you!

Excerpted from The Resurrected Life: Making All Things New

I am the Resurrection and the Life

The stage is set for a climactic revelation of Jesus’ glory through the resurrection of a dead man. The disciples are very much aware that a return trip to Judea could result in Jesus’ persecution and death by stoning. Jesus persists in His determination to return to Bethany in Judea because “Lazarus has died.” Jesus hints at some great sign He will perform “that you may believe.” Thomas has his doubts as he girds up to go and die with Lazarus (and Jesus).

The miraculous raising of Lazarus from being dead three days becomes not only a demonstration of Jesus’ divinity but also of His humanity. “Jesus wept” (11:35), is both the shortest verse in the Bible and perhaps the most profoundly compassionate. When He sees Martha and Mary, and Lazarus’ friends and family all weeping, Jesus is described as being “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Not only is Jesus acquainted with human sorrows and grief, He shares in them.

Jesus also is the one who can reverse human suffering and sorrow. One day, He promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. In a display of the “glory of God” (11:40), Jesus calls a three-day-dead Lazarus to “come out!” (11:43)

Here, Jesus utters the fifth of His seven great “I am” statements.

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25-26)

Jesus is God in the flesh; He is the great “I am.” Jesus wept.

He holds the power of life and death in His sovereign hands. He is the bread of life, the only one who deeply satisfies our hungers. He is the light of life who disperses falsehood and darkness. He is the source of living water who heals our hurts and quenches our deepest thirsts. He is the only gate which leads to eternal life. For, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.

Do you believe this?

Martha’s response was, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

What is your response? Do you believe this? Today in prayer, offer your “Yes Lord; I believe” to the Lord and Savior of the World.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life. Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.
Featured image: The Raising of Lazarus by Jean Jouvenet via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean-Baptiste_Jouvenet_-_The_Raising_of_Lazarus_-_WGA12033.jpg

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways, they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

Resurrection Mural by Jeremy Sams (www.jeremysams.com)