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Grace and Peace to you…

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Philippians 1:2)

When you greet others who are Christians, how do you greet them? Do you have a sincere wish for them that God would give them grace and peace or do you greet them begrudgingly, perhaps because of something that has happened between the two of you in the past? Or, do you even think about these things at all? Do you just say, “Hello, how are you?” and then just keep on walking satisfied in the pleasantries but not really caring about the answer to your question. Isn’t it interesting, so often, that we want people to be genuinely concerned about our welfare or about what we happen to be doing but don’t have the same concern about our neighbor…even that neighbor who happens to be a believer in Jesus Christ.

Paul sets for us a model that would serve us well to follow. May God give you grace and peace. The idea expressed by Grace as Paul presents it is that of God having a disposition of goodwill toward you, that he might bless your steps and your actions and that the world indeed would see God’s hand in your life. This is not a health-wealth or prosperity Gospel, though. For the evidence of God’s grace is not seen in money or physical well-being, Paul presents the evidence of God’s grace as peace in your life. Peace denotes a resting in God’s hand of mercy. It is a deliverance from the Evil One and his power. And later in this letter, Paul will refer to this peace as that which “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), because it is a peace that can be had despite the fact that you are facing trials in this life. Such peace, such resting in God’s mercy, is the result of God’s gracious hand upon your life (and while not always, often abundant wealth is a sign of God’s judgment…).

Yet, Paul also makes it clear where this grace and peace come from…God. Grace and peace are not found in wealth, careers, politics, sports teams, fancy cars, electronics, entertainment, computers, movies, status, fame, or anything else we might think of that captures our attention (and sadly also, our hearts). True grace and peace come from the hand of God and thus we should seek it in no other place but in God alone. How often we fall into the trap of looking elsewhere. John the Apostle closed his first letter with the words, “protect yourself from idols.” Indeed, how we need to here those words over and over again. And while we do that, may we train ourselves to take a genuine interest in one another’s welfare and the condition of their soul. Such is the heart behind the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Blood on Their Hands

“And the people replied, saying, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’”

(Matthew 27:25)

 

If ever a people did not understand the eternal ramifications of a statement, here is a prime illustration. How foolish, how wicked, how hateful, how grievous a statement. Having been whipped into a frenzy by the chief priests, these people could say no other thing — they wanted to see Jesus die. How the enemy, the accuser of the brethren, Satan, must have rejoiced at these words, feeling as if over 4,000 years of planning and scheming had finally come to a head and victory was within his grasp. Here are the people of a nation that God had set his blessings on, had given his law, and had given promises of blessing, turning away from all revealed truth and putting to death the greatest gift of mercy handed down by God to men. God’s chosen nation had turned apostate, led by a wicked cadre of priests, and sought to put to death the Prince of Peace — even rejoicing in the prospect of having his blood on their own hands for all of eternity.

Yet, God has always kept a people for himself — a faithful remnant. This remnant we will see as our Lord hangs upon the cross, this remnant is scattered throughout the Holy Land in homes and small gatherings, aching over the wickedness being perpetrated, and this remnant will carefully gather Jesus’ body and place it with dignity into a tomb. And this remnant would see our Lord resurrected. Even later, before God used the Romans to enter Jerusalem and tear it to the ground, God delivered his remnant from that wicked city and set them on a missionary journey throughout the world to tell of the good news that God offers reconciliation between himself and men through his Son, Jesus. And if you who are reading this are trusting in Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior, then you, too, are part of this remnant that God has faithfully preserved through the generations.

In the midst of what he must have considered his greatest triumph, Satan was ultimately destroyed, for the Lord of Life could not remain in death, such is the way of truth. And though we stand at a point in history somewhere between the first and second comings, we stand in the assurance that Satan will never steal this remnant out of our Lord’s hands. We are held secure. But as ones who are held secure, why do we so often act so timid when speaking of Christ to others? Why do we often make so little of him who did so much for us? Loved ones, do not despair, Christ sits enthroned, the worst Satan can do is to steal your flesh, but what is that when God preserves your soul?

“Fear not, little flock, it is the good pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom.”

(Luke 12:32)

To God be the Glory…Not to Man

“Now, when they were gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Which would you desire that I should release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was from jealousy that they delivered him.”

(Matthew 27:17-18)

“And Pilate asked them saying, ‘Do you desire that I should release the King of the Jews?’ For he knew that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had delivered him.”

(Mark 15:9-10)

Again, there is a lot of coverage over this activity and each from a little different angle, yet complimenting one another as they provide a very full picture of the people’s betrayal of Jesus. The point is clear; all involved are guilty — every one. We have discussed the irony of Jesus Barabbas having the same given name as Jesus the Christ and we have discussed the significance of the title: “King of the Jews.” Yet Matthew records Pilate using the word “Christ” of our Lord. So far, we have seen the High Priest using the term as he questioned Jesus, pressing, “Are you the Christ?” but here we find Pilate essentially connecting the term Christ with Jesus, though not as a profession of faith, but simply as a way to harras the Jewish authorities.

Christ is of course the Greek word for Messiah, a Hebrew term that means “the Anointed One.” Many in ancient Israel were called the anointed of God: priests, kings, etc… but in the Old Testament there is also a thread that points to a greater anointed who will redeem the people from oppression. Moses led the people out of slavery to the Egyptians; this messiah needed to be greater than that. Sadly, the people, being focused on the things of this world, saw Rome as that greater enemy while in reality Jesus the Messiah was here to defeat an even greater foe than that — sin and death. The unbelieving priests were so blinded by their jealousy that they could not see the truth written on the wall and sought to destroy this Christ to preserve their own power.

Yet, isn’t that the tactic of the devil through history? Destroy that which could be the Holy One? The trend goes all of the way back to Cain slaying Abel — a prophet of God (Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:51). Yet, in seeking to destroy that which God had anointed, the Devil fell right into God’s design, for to defeat death, the Messiah must die and then be raised from the grave. Thus all of the plans of the enemy would be thwarted just as the enemy felt he had realized his greatest victory. What Satan perceived would be his victory became his utter defeat. Ahh, the grand majesty of God’s sovereign design. And while Satan remains as a menace — a lion roaring in the darkness — he is a defeated foe and has no ultimate power over the elect of God. That, loved ones, is a reality that ought to drive us to worship.

But doesn’t the jealousy of these chief priests hamper us yet today? Or perhaps the kind of jealousy that these priests had? They were jealous of the attention and glory that was being given to Christ. How often the work of Christ is hampered by the egos of people who would rather the glory come to themselves. Sad, isn’t it? Beloved, don’t let this trap befall you in the work you do in Christ’s church and don’t let this trap befall your pastor. We are not building our own kingdoms personally or denominationally; we are building Christ’s kingdom — everything else is secondary.

I love thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of thine abode,

the Church of our blest Redeemer saved

with his own precious blood.

-Timothy Dwight

To God be the Glory…not to Man

“Now, when they were gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Which would you desire that I should release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was from jealousy that they delivered him.”

(Matthew 27:17-18)

 

“And Pilate asked them saying, ‘Do you desire that I should release the King of the Jews?’ For he knew that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had delivered him.”

(Mark 15:9-10)

 

Again, there is a lot of coverage over this activity and each from a little different angle, yet complimenting one another as they provide a very full picture of the people’s betrayal of Jesus. The point is clear; all involved are guilty — every one. We have discussed the irony of Jesus Barabbas having the same given name as Jesus the Christ and we have discussed the significance of the title: “King of the Jews.” Yet Matthew records Pilate using the word “Christ” of our Lord. So far, we have seen the High Priest using the term as he questioned Jesus, pressing, “Are you the Christ?” but here we find Pilate essentially connecting the term Christ with Jesus, though not as a profession of faith, but simply as a way to harras the Jewish authorities.

Christ is of course the Greek word for Messiah, a Hebrew term that means “the Anointed One.” Many in ancient Israel were called the anointed of God: priests, kings, etc… but in the Old Testament there is also a thread that points to a greater anointed who will redeem the people from oppression. Moses led the people out of slavery to the Egyptians; this messiah needed to be greater than that. Sadly, the people, being focused on the things of this world, saw Rome as that greater enemy while in reality Jesus the Messiah was here to defeat an even greater foe than that — sin and death. The unbelieving priests were so blinded by their jealousy that they could not see the truth written on the wall and sought to destroy this Christ to preserve their own power.

Yet, isn’t that the tactic of the devil through history? Destroy that which could be the Holy One? The trend goes all of the way back to Cain slaying Abel — a prophet of God (Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:51). Yet, in seeking to destroy that which God had anointed, the Devil fell right into God’s design, for to defeat death, the Messiah must die and then be raised from the grave. Thus all of the plans of the enemy would be thwarted just as the enemy felt he had realized his greatest victory. What Satan perceived would be his victory became his utter defeat. Ahh, the grand majesty of God’s sovereign design. And while Satan remains as a menace — a lion roaring in the darkness — he is a defeated foe and has no ultimate power over the elect of God. That, loved ones, is a reality that ought to drive us to worship.

But doesn’t the jealousy of these chief priests hamper us yet today? Or perhaps the kind of jealousy that these priests had? They were jealous of the attention and glory that was being given to Christ. How often the work of Christ is hampered by the egos of people who would rather the glory come to themselves. Sad, isn’t it? Beloved, don’t let this trap befall you in the work you do in Christ’s church and don’t let this trap befall your pastor. We are not building our own kingdoms personally or denominationally; we are building Christ’s kingdom — everything else is secondary.

I love thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of thine abode,

the Church of our blest Redeemer saved

with his own precious blood.

-Timothy Dwight

False Witnesses

“Now the chief priests and the whole of the Sanhedrin were looking for a false witness against Jesus so that they might put him to death. Yet, though many false witnesses came forward, none could be found until eventually two emerged.”

(Matthew 26:59-60)

 

“Now the chief priests and the whole of the Sanhedrin were seeking a witness against Jesus to put him to death but none could be found, for though many bore false witness against him, none of the witnesses agreed.”

(Mark 14:55-56)

 

This is one of those areas where a harmony is extremely helpful in trying to sort out what was taking place. It is clear that the leaders in the Sanhedrin have already decided what the outcome of this trial is to be. At the same time, they are still going through the motions, trying to make this seem a legitimate trial. Realistically this could be explained on the basis that they wanted to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the Jewish people and likely they were trying to save face with the Romans by presenting Jesus as a tried and convicted man.

To do this, they entertained many false witnesses. You can almost imagine the chief priests rounding up their cronies and manufacturing stories against Jesus, twisting the truth to suit their own ends. Yet, something wonderful happens. The Sanhedrin sitting as judge and jury over Jesus cannot find two witnesses that agree on their stories. You can almost see the frustration in their faces as they bear the contrived stories of witness after witness (that they have sought out even!) who cannot agree on what they heard and saw.

So what is the big deal? Why bother finding witnesses who can corroborate each other’s stories? It is meant as a false trial anyway. Their goal was not to slap Jesus on the wrist nor was it to imprison him. Their goal was to see him dead and according to Jewish law, no person can be put to death unless on the testimony of two or three reliable witnesses (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6). They looked hard and wide and eventually found their witnesses, but it likely took some coaching. That is the significance of Matthew’s statement that eventually two emerged — they were looking for, as Mark points out, two false witnesses whose false accounts agreed with one another.

God is Truth and there is no darkness within him. The only way one can accuse the Lord of Truth is with the lies of the devil — false and manufactured — twisted realities to suit wicked ends. The bottom line is that while Truth can exist on its own, evil must have truth to twist and manipulate. Yet, how often we are guilty of allowing our ideas to be warped and twisted by the false witnesses out there in the name of tolerance or out of the fear of consequences if you speak truth in an unpopular way. The bottom line is that we must let our witness of Christ be visible and clear in this world around us, if we don’t, we are no less guilty than the procession of false witnesses that walked before this morning of Jesus’ trial.

Held by Christ (Luke 22:31-32)

“Simon, Simon, Satan has appealed to sift you like grain, but I have interceded regarding you in order that your faith might not fail. And at the point when you return, undergird your brothers.”

(Luke 22:31-32)

Though Satan sought to sift, just as in the account of Job, Satan needs to ask permission. The word translated here as “appealed” refers to a strong and pleading request—an impassioned plea of sorts—Satan’s hands are clearly tied here just as they were tied in Job’s day. How often we find Satan portrayed otherwise. We see him portrayed as strong and deadly and mighty beyond comparison, and while we should never underestimate our foe, he is restrained by our mighty God. Satan must ask and Jesus’ petition is not that Satan not be allowed to test Peter, it is that Peter’s faith might remain intact and thus after his time of breaking, that he would return to Christ in brokenness.

How often our God allows Satan to test and break us to strip us of our pride. Jesus has rebuked Peter on multiple occasions before, but this will be the point in Peter’s life where he will be changed and transformed from the headstrong spokesperson of the Twelve to the humble Apostle that will proclaim the gospel boldly at the day of Pentecost. No one proclaims the Gospel so boldly as the one who has really experienced the Gospel. It is one thing to have an intellectual understanding of the Gospel, but when you finally get to the point where you realize that by all measure you deserve to be condemned to Hell, then you truly will understand what Christ came to do. Peter understood that only as a result of the experience that would take place a little later this night. Paul understood this as he traveled the road to Damascus. And it was God, then, that used both of these men to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the known world.

Yet, in our time of sifting, where will our comfort be? Will God leave us for a time?  No, and absolutely no!  Jesus will never leave nor forsake his own (Hebrews 13:5). Our hope, beloved, is in the intercession of Christ for us as we walk through life. He will lift us in prayer before his Father, he will send his Spirit to comfort us and to strengthen us, and he will not allow Satan to pluck us from his hand. Though the darkness may seem to surround us, the plunge into darkness is not without the tether line of Christ’s intercession. What an amazing gift that Christ offers to us as his people. Though trouble assail us and loved ones fail us, we need not fear, for the Lord of all creation has not renounced his claim on the totality of our lives. Be of good cheer, beloved, for even Satan must ask permission and be told the boundaries when he seeks to sift our lives.

For I have been persuaded that neither death nor life, angels nor powers, neither that which has been nor that which will be, neither powers nor heights, neither depths nor any other creature is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:38-39)