Jesus’ final week unfolded against the backdrop of preparations for the Passover, a yearly festival that prompted many first-century Jews to travel to Jerusalem. The Passover feast, which commemorated God’s dramatic rescue of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, provided an important clue as to Jesus’ real mission: it involved the sacrifice of an innocent lamb. The origin of the Passover Festival is found in ancient Egypt, where the family of Jacob (also called Israel) sought refuge from a famine. There, over hundreds of years, that family grew into a nation of Israelite people enslaved by the Egyptians (Exodus 1:6–14). The Old Testament book of Exodus tells us that when Moses asked for the freedom of these enslaved people, God sent a series of plagues to convince Egypt’s king to comply. In the last of these plagues, death swept across Egypt, taking the firstborn son of every family and firstborn male of all animals. Only the firstborn of those belonging to Israelite families were spared. As commanded by the LORD, they sacrificed an innocent lamb and marked their doorposts with the blood of that lamb so that the LORD’s angel of death would pass over their homes (Exodus 12:21-23). God instructed the people to commemorate the Passover yearly from then on. Each time a Jewish family celebrates the Passover, the children are invited to recount the story and all relive the event with a memorial meal. Jesus, who anticipated his death (see Matthew 20:17–19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31–34), timed the decisive moment to coincide with the Passover Festival. His whole life seemed to be hurtling toward this moment, reinforcing his identity as the ultimate Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice has everlasting benefits. Years earlier, when Jesus was beginning his public ministry, John the Baptist called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And years later, the apostle Paul wrote, “our Passover Lamb is Christ, who has already been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Article taken from MESSAGES FROM GOD, which I created for Time, Inc and American Bible Society.
Bring up the topic of
taxes with a group of people and you are likely to ignite a heated debate. Are
you paying your fair share? Should the government tax you more or less?
Jesus’ perspective on taxes
may surprise you. When he lived on earth, Jesus was a citizen of the Roman
Empire. Ironically, he would have been responsible to pay taxes that funded the
government that eventually gave him an unjust trial and death sentence.
Even though Jesus knew the
role the Roman government would ultimately play in his own suffering, he did
not advise anyone to opt out of paying their taxes. Instead, he encouraged
people to pay their taxes without a second thought. He said, “Give the
Emperor what belongs to himand give God what belongs to God” (Matthew22:21, CEV).
How could Jesus commend
paying taxes to a corrupt government? How could he support a legal system that
supported torture and crucifixion? The answer lies in Jesus’ perspective.
Christ’s eyes were focused
on a different kingdom. He was focused on God and his work and did not find his
true home here on earth. His true home was heaven, and he encouraged his
followers to have the same perspective by giving to “God what belongs to God.”
If we aim to follow God and
focus our hearts on heaven, then mundane and earthly duties (like paying taxes)
can become less of a frustrating burden.
Join me Friday for a Bible Study on Good Friday. Broadcast is April 18, 2014 @ 11am (Central, USA). Together we'll take a fascinating look at what happened to Jesus at his trial. We'll see the mistakes his accusers made and how Jesus' intentionally chose a road that led to the cross. My friend Jeff Lewis who is a Bible teacher and attorney will provide a unique lawyer's perspective on Jesus' trial and the clear mission of Jesus. You won't want to miss this. RSVP here: http://www.spreecast.com/events/good-friday-reflections-bible-studyread more
To say my friend “fell”
from the ministry would be an understatement. If I told you what he did, you might
want to quit reading. It was bad -- really
When you and I sin, most people never know
about it. If a friend or family member is hurt, we can usually smooth it over. However,
when this friend sinned, it made TV, YouTube, and the newspaper.
Years after the events, the dust is still
settling … and it may never resolve completely. Still, this man is a brother in
Christ. And while what he did was revolting, the man is an old friend of 20
I recently caught up with him and he recounted
for me what happened, relived the bad choices he had made, and took full
ownership for what he had done.
As someone well aware of my own sins, I was
slow to cast stones. Instead, I listened with a heavy heart as he described the
life-changing consequences he now endures. And through this difficult journey,
he also told me about how Jesus had met him in these dark times. He had renewed
hope, embraced a fresh forgiveness and understood life as he had never
experienced it before.
At one point, he said something that struck me
profoundly. “You wouldn’t believe the physical, emotional, mental, and
spiritual hell I’ve gone through. It has been awful and I wouldn’t wish it on
my worst enemy. But I wouldn’t trade it away, either … because it made me who I
That’s a stunning statement.
Don’t misunderstand. He was immensely sorry for
his sin and broken by the consequences, but the result drove him to the cross
in a way he never had experienced before. This horrible, humbling experience
was both the worst thing -- and the best thing -- that ever happened to him.
And lest you think I’ve given him a free pass for what he’s
done, I haven’t. Still, my friend is a living example of the joy and growth
that can come from brokenness. When we put aside our self-righteousness and
embrace our pain and sinfulness, God can meet us in a special way.
Most of us like to hide our failures and
shortcomings. We smile at church, offering a quick, “I’m doing great. How are
you?” After a while it becomes habit, and we begin to convince ourselves that
we don’t have needs or problems. And as we strive to maintain this rosy
picture, we miss out on the chance to meet God in the pain and difficulty we
experience. We miss out on the chance to know his healing and his touch in a
After all, it’s not the healthy who need him,
but the sick.
I’m thankful the Bible is filled with people
who met God in a special way as they embraced their pain. Consider these:
Hannah … cried out to a
husband who didn’t understand, and was accused of terrible behavior by God’s
priest. After she prayed, God met her in a special way and answered her prayer
(1 Samuel 2).
Paul & Silas … were beaten and
publically humiliated. They shared the experience together, embraced the pain, and
found energy to praise God. In return, God shook the ground, broke their chains
and freed them from prison (Acts 16).
Jeremiah … wasa reluctant prophet who didn’t want
the job. He spent 40 years in ministry as a hated, sorrowful man. Thrown in
jail for speaking the truth, Jeremiah had a difficult calling. When his prophecies
came true and the city of Jerusalem was attacked, destroyed, and burned to the
ground, there stood Jeremiah—with tears and a
broken heart. And do you know what happened? God met him in his pain. The
weeping prophet did not hide his pain but embraced reality. And in the middle
of his anguish, he discovered the nearness of God and said, “Because of
theLord’s great lovewe are not
consumed,for his compassions never fail. They are new
every morning, great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Or how about David, whose lapse of character and judgment brought agony and pain
on himself, his people, and his family. What’s the lesson he learned and subsequently,
teaches us? You can meet God in a special way when you own up to your sins. “Blessed is
the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered … When I kept silent, my bones wasted away … Then I acknowledged my sins to you … And you
forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32).
Me & You
Life is painful. If it doesn’t hurt now, it
will at some point. And in the denial of those difficult times, you may miss the
opportunity for God to meet you in your pain.
The problem is often our ego. We don’t want
people to see the real us. We don’t want people to see us cry. We think that if
we hold it inside, we won’t have to share it with others or with God. The
problem is, when we do that, we miss out.
Numbing the Pain
Sometimes that pain is inflicted on us and
sometimes we bring it upon ourselves. Regardless of the source, every moment of
pain comes with a decision. Will we stuff the feeling deep inside and try to
numb it, or will we embrace it and let God meet us in that pain?
I have known people who try to numb their pain in
many ways. I’ve seen people try to drink their troubles away. I’ve known young
people with scars on their arms and legs who tried to find relief through
cutting. I’ve seen dear friends try to comfort themselves by eating too much—and others try to take control by eating too little.
And me? My usual escape isn’t a substance but rather
the busyness of distracting activities … because I know that if I stay busy
enough, I won’t have to think about it.
Embracing the Pain
Life rarely works out the way we want. And the
surprises that blindside us can be devastating. Even if we manage to dodge the
outside forces that can damage us, we still have a tough time evading the
effects of our own sin and shortcomings.
So what can we do about it?
Hide it? Stuff it? Numb it? Or embrace it. Yes,
embracing the pain hurts. But by being honest with others, ourselves, and our
God, we have the opportunity to meet him in a way we’ve never known before. An
experience we wouldn’t trade for the world.
For me, it was right out of college. My fiancée helped me pick out some dress shirts, slacks, and a few ties. I bought my first briefcase. I agonized over selecting the right one, even though my dad had warned me that it would simply become an expensive lunch box. I bought one anyway and eagerly welcomed the start of my new life.
I had accepted a job at a publishing services company that rented space from Tyndale House Publishers. On my first day I arrived at the office early—with my lunch in my briefcase—and collected my first assignments. Although the initial few days were exciting, the days began to drag on. Because I had been hired right out of college, I was not used to sitting at a desk from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I loved the job, but I quickly learned that nine hours a day is a character-building commitment.
One of my biggest growing-up moments during that first month of employment occurred on the sidewalk, right outside Tyndale’s building. The structure itself is impressive with a tall entryway and beautiful glass doors. In the morning light, the doors serve as a full-length mirror that captures your attention as you walk up the sidewalk.
It was on an early morning in May that a glimpse of my own reflection stopped me. There I was in my shirt, tie, and shiny, professional shoes. In my hand was a black, leather briefcase. And as I looked at my reflection, an overwhelming thought crushed me:I’m going to be doing this the rest of my life.
No, I wouldn’t be working in that building or at that company the rest of my life, but I would be working. The fun life of being a kid and college student was over. The new life of slogging through the workday was all mine. The professional life that I had looked forward to for years was not as exciting as what I had expected.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. I enjoy working on Christian books, teaching the Bible, and serving the church. But it is effort. And, as the case may be for most people, some days it’s just tough getting out of bed.
The memory of that morning in 1994 came back to mind recently as I was reading about what life will be like with God in heaven.Psalm16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (ESV)
Did you catch that? Life with God—life in heaven—is not boring, mundane, or exhausting. When we find ourselves in the physical presence of God, we’ll discover it is filled with joy, wonder, and “pleasures forevermore.”
Sometimes we worry about what we could possibly do to keep ourselves entertained in heaven. After all, eternity is a long time. And while we don’t know exactly what we’ll be doing all day, day after day, we have a promise that we can look forward to: heaven will be an exciting place that we’ll never grow tired of.
I discuss these themes more in Heaven & Hell: Are They Real?. This book was created to answer the 60 most asked questions people have about Heaven and Hell.
Proverbs 15:22 "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed."
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Do you like your physical body?
Unfortunately, many of us would say, “No, thank you,” and we would be happy to
ditch them in heaven. But is that likely to happen? Will we have physical
bodies in the new heaven and new earth? Or will we leave our bodies in the
grave and become merely spirits? Two-thirds of Americans polled on this topic
say "No", but what does the Bible say?
A reading of 1 Corinthians 15:12-13
would indicate that we are raised along with our bodies."But if it is preached that Christ
has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no
resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not
even Christ has been raised."
Could it be that we are raised with
real, physical bodies that have been translated into heavenly ones? 1
Corinthians continues in 15:35-40: "But someone will ask, 'How are the
dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?'How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it
dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed,
perhaps of wheat or of something else.But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed
he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of
flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also
heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly
bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another."
Paul seems to be saying, that YES, we
will indeed have physical bodies but they will be somewhat different than our
earthly ones. Just as a seed takes different form when it becomes a tree, so
our spiritual bodies will take a different form. (In a sense, it’s as if our
earthly bodies become a sort of “seed” for them.)
Christhimself may be an example of what our resurrected bodies
might be like. He was able to eat (Luke 22:42-43), able to have his nail prints
touched (John 20:27) and his feet were grabbed by worshippers(Matt 28:9).
This goes along with Jesus' teaching
when he promised earlier that if his body was killed/destroyed, it would be
rebuilt in 3 days (John 2:19-21). And while Jesus' body was clearly physical,
he was also able to pass through walls. (John 20:19)
Christian author Randy Alcorn adds,
"A non-physical resurrection is like a sunless sunrise. There’s no such
thing. Resurrection means that we will have bodies. If we didn’t have bodies,
we wouldn’t be resurrected! "
From the beginning of creation, one of
the aspects that makes humanity distinct from other creatures is that we are
both physical and spiritual. Adam was
created from the dust of the ground, yet also came to life when God breathed
the breath of life into his body. We are a hybrid. We cannot be considered
alive or identifiable without our spirits—or our bodies!
On earth, sin has damaged our bodies
and broken the connection our spirits have had with God. It makes sense that
both our bodies and spirits will be perfected in heaven.
We need both our spirits and our
bodies to become the beautiful creations that God intended us to be. Without
one or the other, we would not be fully human. So we can look forward to the
“reunion” of our bodies, in their perfected states, with our souls in heaven.
If that’s difficult to imagine, it’s because we haven’t lived with perfect
bodies or perfect souls, nor have we experienced perfect unity between the two.
It will come, though. And when it does, it will be amazing.
Navigating the Bible is a book that was a long time in the making. This title really flowed from my heart to help people read, understand, and apply the Bible. There are many things I love about this book. First, the 5-minute approach helps make the Bible accessible to everyone. The hope is that any reader can read the background information and an accompanying Bible in just a few minutes and better understand God's word. Also, the running timeline that appears on every page helps put the Bible in context. With a quick glance readers will be able to put Bible events in order and understand what else occured in world history as the Bible's events took place. Finally, I love the people profiles. These 40 illustrations offer a short, but helpful biography to many key Bible characters you'll meet as you read. You can find the book at Amazon for under $12. Check it out here: www.bit.ly/NavTheBible
Heaven is impossible to imagine because it is outside our experience. Because we've never seen anything like it, we have a tough time describing what it might be like. One thing I have found helpful is to take a few minutes to imagine what heaven is not. That may sound like a strange approach, but I've found it quite helpful. Watch this four minute devotional video I created for our Facebook Bible study on Heaven and Hell.
The above video is part of our Facebook Bible study, which you can learn more about here. This study began February 2014 and will end in March 2014:
The video above and this study were inspired by my new book published by Thomas Nelson called Heaven and Hell: Are They Real? This book tackles 60 of the most popular questions people have on the afterlife.