For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. Mark 13:8
The disciples want to know what to look for to recognize when the end is near. When we feel weary, we too want to know when it will all end. When will Jesus return? When will He make all things right as He promised? When will sin, and pain, and envy, and our repeated mistakes, and suffering, and death be defeated once and for all?
Jesus tells the disciples that the signs to come before the day of His return will be horrible…nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines. And if that isn’t bad enough, He says they are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Pain has a purpose. Progress comes from pain. Pain indicates something is wrong. Pain makes us take a hard look and to try to change something; to fix it. Pain makes us stop, limiting what we can do; forcing us to slow down. Pain is humbling.
Jesus relates the pain to come as birth pains. Pains that increase and intensify, but ultimately produce something new and something beautiful on the other side of it.
Though we groan now under the weight of sin, a time will come when all things that went wrong when sin entered the world, when the pains of childbirth began, will be made right again.
C.S. Lewis says, “If you find yourself with a desire that no experience in this world can satisfy, then the most probable explanation is that you were made for another world.” Indeed, we were made for another world. A world free of sin and suffering. A world in intimate communion and community with God. Until that time, we groan with the sustaining and increasing pains of childbirth. And when that time comes when the birth pains subside, and new life emerges, the pain will long be forgotten. It will again be good. Very good.
Question: How can a painful experience usher in something good?
So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. Luke 20:20
The Jewish elites are dying to catch Jesus in something – anything – but He continues to leave them baffled and speechless instead. Public opinion keeps them from going after Him directly, so they scheme some more.
At last…the perfect plan, they think. Let’s drag politics into it, they devise. Ooohhhh, and taxes…that’ll surely not end well, they plot.
“Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” they ask Jesus, following some manipulative & mocking complimentary words.
If He says to pay the taxes, they reason they can twist it to show He is denying God’s authority. Or, if He says not to pay, Rome will lose it and see Jesus as a troublesome rebel. They are sure it is a plan that can’t go wrong.
“Whose image and inscription does it have?” Jesus asks as He holds a denarius in His hands…the hands that will soon be pierced by the same government pictured on the coin. “Caesar’s,” they reply.
“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” Jesus responds. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. “…and to God the things that are God’s,” He concludes.
What are they to even do with this? Everything is God’s. Everything. Caesar may have his picture on a man-made coin along with a rule and right to taxes and submission for a time, but his power is limited. Jesus essentially says pay the tax but know there is a higher ruling authority under which everything and everyone submits. David Guzik paraphrases, “Give the coin to Caesar, but give your life to God.” It isn’t about two realms – secular vs. sacred; church vs. state; Caesar vs. God. God is over ALL things in ALL places at ALL times.
Questions: Whose image is imprinted on you? Are you giving Him all that is His?
“Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus commands. John 11:44b
No longer dead, Lazarus emerges from the tomb he was in for four days. Hands and feet still bound; face still wrapped with cloth.
Jesus instructs the men to unbind him; to take off the burial clothes.
Pastor Joby Martin says, “Living people don’t wear dead people clothes; they don’t fit anymore.”
We too have experienced death – death to our sins; death to our old ways; death to trying to do the impossible on our own; death to condemnation and shame – when we put our faith in the work of Jesus. We can walk out of that pit of death and into a new life of freedom and purpose.
Do we live like it? Are we still walking around in dead people clothes, doing the same things, wallowing in the same weak faith, striving for the same worldly things that disappointed us in the past, prioritizing the same shallow tasks?
You don’t have to do the things you used to do because you are not the person that you used to be. Not only are you forgiven and free, but you are also now imputed with the righteousness of Jesus. When God looks at you, He sees His Son.
Time to shed the burial clothes and walk in the redemptive freedom of Jesus.
Question: Imagine Jesus saying to you, “______ [your name], come out of the grave! Unbind yourself. Take off those dead people clothes…they don’t quite suit you anymore!” What things might you need to take off to live the life God has called you to?
Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died”… John 11:14
Sometimes we just need to Jesus to tell us plainly what is up. And bonus, He sometimes tells us why. In this instance, with the death of his friend Lazarus, “so the Son of God may be glorified through it…so that you may believe.” This thing that is happening…that is about to happen…It’s not just for Lazarus or his loved ones; it is for us too.
For four days the body of Lazarus has laid in the tomb. Mary and Martha are heart-broken over the death of their brother, while simultaneously conflicted over why Jesus did nothing about it when they called for Him nearly a week earlier, in plenty of time to fix things. They have full confidence that Jesus had the power to prevent his death; to heal him. But there Lazarus lays in the tomb. They have no idea of the extent of Jesus’ power. It doesn’t end with healing the sick and casting out demons. While they are worried about the odor after four days, Jesus is about to blow their minds. Never underestimate the power of Jesus or the purpose of His timing.
Looking to Heaven, Jesus gives thanks to God for what is to come. Gratitude before the miracle. Then looking to the grave, Jesus cries out with a LOUD voice, “Lazarus, come out.” Sometimes we also need Jesus to yell at us. We are stuck in a pit with the linens of the world covering our eyes and ears.
All heads whip toward the tomb. Eyes glued to the entrance. Postures leaning in. Lazarus – still tightly wrapped in burial clothes -- hopping out. Could it be?
Questions: What in the world do you do when you are dead for four days and find yourself alive? How does your life change? How does your perspective change? How does your faith change? How do your priorities change? Stop for a moment and think about this. Things would never be the same.
He [Jesus] said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:13
When Jesus visits Jerusalem He finds that those with stewardship over the holy temple have replaced worship with worldliness and wealth-generation. The outer courts – the only space where Gentiles could come experience God and pray – had become a place of commerce instead of communion with God.
Jesus came to cleanse. And on His way to the cross to cleanse us with His blood, He stops at the temple to cleanse God’s temporary dwelling place. He turns over the tables of the merchants and money changers. He calls them out, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.”
The holy place of God has taken on the look, feel, and attitude of the culture and environment, leaving little room for worship and communion with God. Jesus had no choice but to clean house.
What about the Church at large today? Have we crowded out the paths for non-believers to come and worship? Have we filled the space with individual motives, legalism, hatred, favoritism, leaving no room for others to come and worship?
And on a more personal level, now we as believers are the temple of God. How is our temple looking? Have we squeezed out space for worship and communion with God and replaced it with worldly things? Do we need to clean house to make room for God?
God, please show me where tables need to be overturned in my life. Show me places and things that are crowding out space that should be filled with You alone. Let this temple within me be a place of pure and holy worship to You.
Questions: How is your “temple” looking? Are you making room for worship, or is it filled with things of the world, leaving little room for God? Where might you need to do some “housecleaning” internally?
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. Matthew 21:12
The tension is building as the culmination of what Jesus came for is approaching. It is a mix of people welcoming with shouts of, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and the anger of the religious leaders at a boiling point.
Jesus enters Jerusalem during the Passover Celebration. The once a year commemoration of God freeing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery; from passing over the Jewish houses with blood on the doorposts when death came at the door of all Egyptian firstborn sons.
Jewish faithful from all over the world convene in Jerusalem to celebrate, worship, and offer sacrifices. The temple the focal point; God’s presence dwelling in the innermost parts…the Holy of Holies. The city is bustling; visitors everywhere.
Jesus approaches the temple – the house of God, His Father. Though he has seen injustice, hypocrisy, greed, selfishness, and worse His entire life, the scene at the temple fans His anger and zeal.
The outer court, the only place Gentiles are permitted to enter and pray, is consumed by commerce. Booth upon booth set up to sell animals to sacrifice for those who chose not to travel with them or those who had none pure enough to offer. Booth upon booth set up to exchange currency for the temple tax that had to be paid in local currency. At first glance, this doesn’t appear to be a bad thing. It is a convenience for the travelers and a way to support the temple. But that isn’t how it is operating. They charge an exorbitant fee for both, extorting and taking advantage of the people who have no other option. The religious leaders not only approve of this activity, they too are profiting from it. And they are doing it all on holy temple grounds. To be continued…
Questions: How can things become so routine that we forget how holy and special they are? Where have we tarnished things of God?