The Way to Destroy Death

When the Roman army came to arrest Jesus, Peter pulled out a blade and cut one of the soldiers. That is how we deal with evil isn’t it? Someone wrongs us and we pull out a knife or a fist or a loud voice and we enact justice. We solve problems by wielding power.

But Jesus did something odd. He told Peter to put away the weapon and then he healed the man who had come to kill him. Then he willingly surrendered to the mob that carried him off to his death.

What is going on here? Why didn’t Jesus fight back? He could have called down an army of angels to take him off the cross but he chose not to. If he had to power to stop it why didn’t he use it? Why would an all-powerful God hold back at all?

The answer simple… Jesus knew something that the world doesn’t understand. There is actually a force that exists which is greater than raw power.

That force is called love.

Paul wrote to the Romans, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Death was the inevitable sentence of humanity. We were enslaved to it. No one could escape its grip. But Jesus didn’t have to die. He was without sin and therefore not bound by it. Yet he chose it freely.

In The Loin, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis wrote, “…when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Jesus did fight back against evil. But his way of fighting is different from ours. The enemy he came destroy was death. And the way to destroy death is not by killing.

The way to destroy death is by dying. And by rising again.

Erik S.

For more reading:

• Luke 22:47-53: Jesus’ Arrest
• Luke 22:54-62: Peter’s Denial
• Luke 22:63-71: Jewish Trial
• Luke 23:1-7: Trials with Pilate & Herod
• Luke 23:8-25: Final Verdict

Many thanks to Erik for filling in for me while I was away on a family vacation. His insights from Scripture are a very welcome and encouraging addition to our reflections on the Cross of Christ. I’ll be back at blogging next week, as we continue our journey toward Easter Sunday.


The day the music died

When we talk about the death of Jesus, we generally look for someone to blame. There are a number of options. Judas betrayed Jesus for payment. His friends fell asleep, leaving him isolated in his pain. Peter denied knowing Jesus and hid in a dark corner. The religious leaders and the Roman army hunted him. All of these people had a part in his death.

And then there is humanity as a whole (us included). We had life and we forfeited it. We caused everything to fall apart. Jesus came to put it back together. Part of that process involved him getting killed. So we all bear responsibility for it.

All of that is true. There were countless human actors who helped carry out the plot to kill God. And yet this explanation is vastly incomplete. The gospel writers mention another force at work that is often missed even though it is clear in the text. Consider the following:

“Then Satan entered Judas…” (Luke 22:3)
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” (Luke 22:31)
“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:40)
“But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.” (Luke 22:53)

While human beings were involved, there was more going on here. Dark forces were reigning and influencing and acting to bring about the death of Jesus. Satan is identified as the fuel that propelled the engine forward. This should not surprise us. Back in Genesis God said that the serpent would strike at the heel of Eve’s offspring (Genesis 3:15).

You may be thinking this is giving Satan too much credit. It seems as though he overpowered God – as though he won. As the songwriter sang, “Satan laughed with delight the day the music died.”

Satan was heavily involved in the death of Jesus. But that is not the full story either. He is a real force in the world but Satan cannot overpower God – not even close. So who else is responsible for the death of Jesus?

Jesus made it very clear. He said no one took his life from him, he laid it down. That’s it. He died on purpose. Why? So he could destroy death by rising again. And so we could rise with him.

Erik S.

PS. Thanks to my friend Erik Swenson for blogging for me while I’m away on a road trip with my family. He’s helping us turn the corner towards Easter–a time we seek a stronger and deeper understanding of the death and resurrection of Christ. ––Kevin

Below are some texts to take the conversation further.

• Luke 22:1-6: Judas’ Betrayal
• Luke 22:7-23: Last Supper
• Luke 22:24-30: Disciple’s Argument
• Luke 22:31-38: Peter’s Challenge
• Luke 22:39-46: Prayer at Gethsemane

Exile & Return: Here Comes the Sun

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter;
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it’s all right.

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces;
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here.*

After seventy years living as refugees, our Old Testament exiles are finally returning home. Bruised, battered and defeated, they meander back to their native soil with lofty dreams of restoring their devastated fatherland.

It would never be the same. Gone were the days of King David’s military might and King Solomon’s majestic splendor. Slowly they hammered together a humble temple for worship and cobbled together city walls for protection. Their era of international renown was now a very distant and rather bittersweet memory.

It would never be the same. It would be better.

It’s true they would never again occupy a kingly palace or initiate far-reaching reforms. Yet their new generation of prophets envisioned a future without boundaries and an influence far beyond their own land and lifetimes. In the closing chapter of the Old Testament, their prophet Malachi offered this vision for their future:

“ . . . for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2

Sounds like spring was in the air as God’s family finally headed back home.

The nation took the first step of the journey home we continue today. Bruised, battered and defeated, we also return to God with lofty dreams of restoring our lives, families and communities. We’re often left with bittersweet memories of a life that didn’t turn out as expected.

It will never be the same. It will be better.

As the spring-like wind of God’s Spirit breezes into our lives, we discover that our joy, peace and love isn’t held hostage by current circumstances. We have a future without boundaries and an influence far beyond our own land and lifetimes. We are no longer ordinary citizens—we are now kings and princes in a kingdom without end.

As we celebrate the coming Easter season, I pray that the power and love of Christ will carry you forward with unimaginable hope and grace.

enCompass Church

* “Here Comes the Sun” was written by George Harrison—the Beatle shadowed behind the star personas of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It’s a warm reminder that us less-known types can still offer enduring hope to many others.

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  •  Captivity: Ezekiel 6:1-10; 37:1-14; Daniel 1. Divinely disciplined for their self-destructive behavior, God’s people must adapt to a new land and a new lifestyle. None of us like unwanted change—but learning to trust God in unfamiliar terrain is always the foundation for building a resilient faith.
  • Return: Ezra 1, Daniel 9. After his people’s seventy years of exile, God is on the move again. He moves the heart of Cyrus—the commanding king of the free world. More importantly, he moves the hearts of his people towards repentance, humility, and greater hope for their future. When we stop trusting in our own ability and start believing in the goodness of God . . . amazing things begin to happen.
  • Restoration: Ezra 3:8-13; Nehemiah 1:1-2:8; 8:1-3, 9-12; Zechariah 8. The rebuilding process for the nation, worship, temple and city would be a slow, often painstaking ordeal for God’s people. In our instant “microwave ready” society, we want God to make quick changes to our lives and future. Sorry—it almost never works that way. Following God requires on-going faith, determination, patience, and a spiritual vision beyond our own lifetime.
  • The Scattered. Esther 3:8-11; 4:13-17; 7-8. Back in the colossal Persian Empire, a young Jewish girl astonishingly becomes queen of the land. That’s all fine and dandy until she’s required to put her own neck on the line when her people are threatened with genocide. What might be God’s astonishing call on your life for our world today?
  • The Coming Kingdom. Ezekiel 34:11-31; Malachi 2:17-3:4, Zechariah 3. The Old Testament closes with both stern warnings and epic hope. It’s real easy for us humans to quickly forget the hard lessons of our past. And it’s also easy for us humans to get lost in our daily routine and forget the grander vision God has for our lives, churches and world.

Thanks for joining along in our journey through the Old Testament. I hope you’re enthused to continue on as we seek hope and inspiration from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the weeks leading into Easter.

The Prophets: Endless Words.

“Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-10

Words get slung around everyday. Experts express. Politicians persuade. Buddies banter. Couples communicate. Pastors pontificate. Gals gab. Colleagues confab. Teens text.

Do any of these words actually stick?

The Old Testament prophets might have asked the same question. During his people’s darkest days, God designated a diverse group of delegates to deliver his directions. Depressingly, it landed on deaf ears. Despite his prophet’s eloquent efforts, the nation remained undeterred in their self-destructive decline.

The prophet Jeremiah might have had it the roughest. This sensitive-souled spokesman was commanded to speak out against a society that had been spinning out of control for a 300-year span. After years of futile forewarning, he helplessly watched the hated Babylonians obliterate his once-proud homeland. (Jeremiah’s succinct little Lamentations graphically describes the deep scars this event left on his own soul.)

The powerful poetry of the prophets fell pathetically short of saving the nation. Was it all a waste of words?

Well . . . no. Fast-forward 2,500 years and look at us. We’re still listening to the prophet’s words. God’s words might not reach everyone at one time, but they’re plenty strong enough to reach many people throughout all times.

Researchers estimate that we’ll speak about 450,000,000 words in our lifetime. Will any of them stick?

As God’s eternal word resonates within us, our own words become far more likely to resonate within the lives of others.

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  • Rift & Rebellion: 1 Kings 12. The rebel Jeroboam successfully leads a coup against King Rehoboam and the House of David—establishing complete independence for the northern ten tribes of Israel. Later he manipulates the public religious system to solidify control over his constituents. It’s a bold move that will backfire—the new nation loses its historic identity as the people of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • Good Kings, Bad Kings: 2 Kings 17:1-23, 2 Chronicles 34. The northern tribe of Israel would experience a succession of 19 kings—all of them essentially corrupt and self-focused. The southern nation of Judah would fare a bit better—with 8 of their 20 kings courageous enough to step forward and seek reform for the nation. These good kings remind us that it’s never easy to reverse a debilitating downward spiritual trend.
  • Elijah & Elisha: 1 Kings 18:17-40, 2 Kings 2:1-14. Some of the best possible stories from Scripture come out of the extraordinary events emanating from these two prophets. We haven’t seen miracles like this since the time of Moses. Despite the steep spiritual decline of the northern kingdom, God keeps going out of his way to get their attention. What has God done in your life to get your attention?
  • Prophets Speak—and Write. Isaiah 5:1-7, 11:1-10, Jeremiah 25:1-14, 29:10-14, Hosea 6. Though the poetry of the prophets is sometimes difficult to understand, they all offer a vision of God as both a tenacious fighter and a passionate lover. God desperately wants his people to return to him, yet is repeated exposed to their constant rejection. Do you know of any modern-day prophets who seem to endure rejection from others?
  • Judgment: 2 Chronicles 36:11-21, Lamentations 1. After all the warnings, pleading and dire predictions, God can no longer withhold judgment from his people. The great city of Jerusalem, along with Solomon’s formerly magnificent temple, is leveled and burnt to the ground. Would the nation ever rise again? Tune in next week for our stirring conclusion to the Old Testament’s epic story.