That Terrible Step to Come

We continue to walk with Jesus this Holy Week toward Good Friday and the cross.

John 12:20-36 (NRSV)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.


By Chuck Griffin

During the week that culminated in Jesus’ crucifixion, signs of what was about to happen were everywhere. At the time, only Jesus could see them.

Note how oddly Jesus acted when Greeks arrived seeking him. Rather than welcoming them, he began to speak of obedience, service and death. Eventually, he hid from the crowds for a while.

Jesus knew that while his earthly ministry was designed to bring salvation to the whole world, it mostly was to occur among his own Jewish people. It would be the role of the post-resurrection, Holy Spirit-empowered church to reach the world beyond Judaism. The arrival of Gentiles from a distant place made it clear crucifixion was unavoidably near. 

Jesus’ cryptic talk of being “lifted up” also triggered questions among the common people, who were expecting an invulnerable warrior king to take charge.

How could one anointed and glorified by God, the one we now understand to be God in flesh, die such a horrible, humiliating death? Over time, Christians have gotten used to the idea of the bloodied Jesus hanging on a cross, but we have to admit the image is strange, particularly to people not raised in the faith.

To answer the question raised by the crowd, it is necessary to explore the design of salvation, and that means we delve into a mystery too complex for us to understand in full, at least in this life. Jesus’ answer, rooted in “light” and “darkness,” gives us insight, however.

For all practical purposes, the Son of Man mounted a rescue mission. Because of our sins, we were trapped in darkness—a place that the Holy God, who is light, had every right to disregard. Out of love, however, he chose not to forget us or destroy us.

Instead, the light entered the darkness to find us, taking on flesh. The title “Son of God” reminds us of his divinity; the title “Son of Man” reminds us of his blessed humanity.

To break the grip sin and death had on us, Jesus had to bear our punishment for sin. Or we might say he had to ransom us from sin. Or we might say he carried our shame. Or we might say he became the one perfect sacrifice for sin, simultaneously priest and slain lamb. These and other descriptions of how atonement works mark the point where the mystery becomes almost unfathomable. We use metaphors to understand what can be grasped in full only by the mind of God.

What’s important is that we believe Christ’s death on the cross is effective, that the divine machinery works even if we cannot comprehend all its cogs and pulleys.

Lord, on this Holy Tuesday we reaffirm our belief that the Son of Man died on the cross, knowing our belief is enough to pull us from darkness into light.

Worshiping with Abandon

Welcome to Holy Week! We will walk with Jesus this week toward Good Friday and the cross.

John 12:1-8 (NRSV)

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”


By Chuck Griffin

It’s not difficult to discern that Mary—the sister-of-Lazarus Mary—did something strange and even shocking when she used a small fortune in perfume on Jesus’ feet.

If you see Christianity as a strait-laced, rules-oriented faith, and you would rather hold on to that view, you might want to avoid a story like this one altogether. The characters in this story had been swelling with emotion for days, and Mary finally exploded in an act of love that defied logic and propriety. The only speaker of earthly logic in this story was Judas, who was a few days from falling under Satan’s complete control.

Siblings and Friends

Bible readers will remember Mary and her siblings Martha and Lazarus. There is a story in the tenth chapter of Luke where Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as Martha worked in the kitchen. When Martha complained, Jesus said Mary had “the better part.”

John tells us all three were Jesus’ friends. It’s likely their home in Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, was where Jesus stayed when he drew near to the heart of Judaism. They also may have been wealthy, and because the sisters are described as living with their brother, they either were young and unmarried or widowed.

The described volume of nard, probably spikenard from India, was worth about a year’s wages to a common laborer. It is unclear why Mary had it. In a world without secure bank accounts, it might have been a compact way for her to maintain some financial security. She may have intended it for her wedding night—the Song of Solomon demonstrates that nard’s warm, musky, intense smell was associated with sex. And, as is clear from the story, it could be used to prepare a loved one for burial.

For whatever reason Mary owned it, the nard represented her concern for the future.

Statements of Faith

At this dinner, Mary, Martha and Lazarus must have felt overwhelmed. Just a few days earlier, Jesus had performed his most astounding miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

As you may recall, Jesus deliberately dallied in going to his friends despite knowing Lazarus was sick, telling his disciples this event was occurring so “the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb four days. In the exchange that occurred between the sisters and Jesus, we see they believed in Jesus fully. Martha went so far as to call Jesus “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Jesus, moved by Mary and Martha’s pain, then proved he has power over life and death by calling Lazarus out of the tomb.

We need to keep those events in mind to understand Mary’s seemingly wasteful activity. She was riding an emotional epiphany—she and Martha had a deep understanding of what it means to be friends with someone who has power over life and death. Their beloved brother had been restored. They had experienced the pain and stench of death, and Jesus had replaced all of that with hope and joy.

An Act of Worship

When Mary poured out that overpowering nard and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, she worshiped. There really is no other word adequate to describe her actions. And in her actions, we are reminded why we worship.

I think this woman who had sat at Jesus’ feet to hear his teaching knew in some way that salvation for everyone—ever-present death transformed to everlasting life—was in the works. And knowing this, Mary dropped to her knees before our savior and worshiped, abandoning any concerns or cares she had for this world. She poured out her future on Jesus’ feet, knowing the work he would do as Messiah provided the greatest security.

As we draw nearer to Good Friday and Easter, can we learn to abandon ourselves so? Can we learn to trust so completely?

Those who do so will find true worship, and the scent of eternity will be on them and all who gather around.

Lord, on this Monday of Holy Week, we recommit ourselves to worshiping you as the one with power over life and death. Amen.

Ongoing Concern

By Chuck Griffin

Philippians 2:12-18 (NRSV)

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you—and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.


Few pastors in our Western culture have been chained in prison like Paul, but I suspect most of us who have left a beloved church understand the poignancy of his message to the Christians at Philippi.

Even as we move on to new ministry settings, we want so much for those we led before. We pray their spiritual lives were on an upward trajectory as we left, and we pray they have continued in such a direction.

Paul was still able to advise the Philippians, if only in a letter dictated from his cell. In this part of the letter, Paul encouraged them to maintain that constant tension all Christians need to feel. Yes, it is God who does the work of salvation, and it is God who is at work in us to bring us toward holiness. But simultaneously, we also have work to do, reaching out toward God and each other to accept the grace so freely poured out through Jesus Christ.

As John Wesley wrote, “First, God works; therefore you can work. Secondly, God works; therefore you must work.”

Because of the value of the gift, eternal life, we are to take our very mild share of the responsibility quite seriously, enough so that we trigger both an emotional and a physical response.

Much of our work is rooted in the avoidance of evil and the pursuit of good. Paul described the dangerous people in the world as “crooked and perverse,” at this point feeling no need to define the specifics of crookedness and perversity.

With the Holy Spirit working through the gracious revelation of Scripture and within us, it should not be difficult for a committed Christian to spot what is crooked and what is perverse. That remains true today, even as the world tries to make up new definitions to suit itching ears.

Heavenly Father, as we move into the weekend and toward Palm Sunday, help us to work on our salvation to the point where we do experience fear and trembling. We know your Holy Spirit will comfort us quickly enough, giving us loving assurance we are your children. Amen.

In Christ

By John Grimm

Philippians 2:1-4 (NRSV)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.


I like to have my own personal time of devotion with God.  I need that time to confess sin, hear his forgiveness, and bask in the wonder of God.  My life, however, cannot be only about my own personal time of devotion with God.  For the same Holy Spirit of Christ that resides in me also resides in each disciple of Jesus Christ.

With Christ being in me and my being in Christ, it is reasonable to be in full accord and of one mind with other disciples of Jesus Christ.  This fact assists us in going beyond our own personal agenda, or as Paul writes, we are encouraged to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.

Loving others in the body of Christ therefore is not optional nor a strict mandate.  Loving others by looking to the interest of others happens because in Christ we do have consolation from love, we share the Spirit, and we do have compassion and sympathy.  It is in Christ that we do not struggle against other disciples.  It is in Christ that we can will and work for God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  Thereby, with the Holy Spirit of Christ in us, we live in humility.

Having our own personal time of devotion with God is necessary for our personal faith in Christ.  However, it is when we are with other disciples that our faith and love for Christ is lived.  How good it will be for all disciples to regard other disciples as better than ourselves!

God, thank you that all disciples of Jesus Christ share your Holy Spirit.  As we spend time with you as individuals and as the body of Christ, we look forward to having love, compassion, and sympathy for one another.  Forgive us where we have fallen short of realizing our life together is in Christ.  May we have the mind that Christ has.  In the name of Jesus, we seek to live.  Amen.

Old Memories, Renewed Vision

By Chuck Griffin

Haggai 2:1-5 (NLT)

Then on October 17 of that same year, the Lord sent another message through the prophet Haggai. “Say this to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of God’s people there in the land: ‘Does anyone remember this house—this Temple—in its former splendor? How, in comparison, does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all! But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.’”


See if you recognize this scenario. The best days seem to be in the past. People around us seem too disillusioned or disinterested to seek a better world. When someone says, “Think about the future,” a mental picture takes form in shades of black and gray.

What people in such circumstances need is a prophet like Haggai. About 520 years before Jesus’ birth, the Jews of Jerusalem suffered under the Persian empire, with some of God’s people having returned only recently from exile.

God used Haggai to first instruct the leaders to rebuild what had once been a glorious temple, and then to inspire them when their faith began to flag. Haggai was an encourager centuries before Barnabas showed up to spread the Good News.

Yes, the Lord said through Haggai, the temple is a sad sight when compared with what some of the oldest among you remember. But even while the splendor of the building is gone, the glory of the Lord remains among you. And the temple will again reflect that glory.

Three simple words summarize Haggai’s message to the Jews. As we wring our hands about the secularization of our own culture—developments that seem to mark a decline in Christianity—those same words are applicable today.

Get to work.

The Christian vision remains the same. By loving God (through works of piety) and loving each other (through works of mercy), our savior’s glory is made visible, and the kingdom naturally grows toward fullness. Yes, the work seems difficult at times, but it is holy work, and therefore never pointless or low-priority.

If there is no Haggai in your church community, talk to the Lord about whether you are called to the role. Frankly, no church can have too many.

Lord, raise up within our churches people who passionately pursue holy action, and color our view of a future where you already exist and await us. Amen.

What They Saw

Acts 2:14-24 (NRSV)

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

"In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

The above passage is the beginning of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, delivered shortly after the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the disciples.

Peter referenced a prophecy from Joel, found in Joel 2:28-32, to explain what was happening in the moment, the enthusiastic declaration of the gospel by disciples in languages they should not have known. Peter also continued to quote from Joel about the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood.

I am fascinated by that second part. There is no record of anyone in the crowd asking, “And exactly when did these signs in the sky occur?” It appears there was no need for such a question because these events had been witnessed and discussed widely for more than a month.

In regard to the sun darkening, all we have to do is look at Luke’s account of the crucifixion, focusing on the actual moment of Jesus’ death. According to the NRSV translation, Luke tells us “the sun’s light failed.” 

We can be certain this was not the result of a natural solar eclipse, for reasons rooted in moon phases and how they relate to the Passover, the religious festival that was the backdrop for Jesus’ death. I consider the unknown cause either directly miraculous or a miracle of timing, incorporating a sandstorm or some other strange environmental phenomena.

The moon turning to blood is easier to explain. Again, because of the moon phase during Passover, it is quite possible the moon rose with a deep red tint on the Saturday while Jesus was in the grave, a disturbing reminder of the blood spilled the day before.

Regardless of how these events in the sky happened, they were very much on people’s minds, and Peter was able to reference them without explanation.

The crowd was troubled by all they had seen, just as we sometimes are troubled, and they became even more troubled as Peter offered them their share of blame for Jesus’ crucifixion. Blessedly, his sermon went on to deliver good news.

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Lord, thank you for the signs of love and reconciliation we receive from you now, preparing us for the glorious day of your return. Amen.

Right from the Start

Psalm 119:9-16 (NRSV)
How can young people keep their way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
    do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
    so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
    all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
    as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

Over the last couple of decades, I’ve had a few parents tell me an odd theory about their children’s religious upbringing. Essentially, they told me they intended to bring up their children with no religious instruction at all, allowing their kids to “choose for themselves” when old enough.

Surprisingly, some of the parents had been raised with the benefit of a religious education—Sunday school and such, if not more.

It continues to strike me as a terribly dangerous strategy, one that assumes a child exists in some sort of theological vacuum until reaching adulthood. “Theology” roughly translates as “reasoning about God.” Understanding how God has defined holy and unholy behaviors since the earliest days of civilization is critical to this process.

Children are, of course, deeply impressionable, and if their parents aren’t helping them develop a sense of right and wrong rooted in theology, people in the world will be happy to introduce them to all sorts of notions that may be very ungodly, and even deadly.

Frankly, I doubt if these parents actually left their children to their own devices. They almost certainly told their children what they considered permissible and impermissible, not realizing they simply were teaching their version of righteousness—likely a mish-mash of thought disconnected from the true source of righteousness. “But why?” must have been a tough question to answer.

Today’s verses from Psalm 119 tell us of the importance of exploring God’s word from an early age. In my mind, the pattern for Christian education is simple. Children need to learn the stories of the Bible, being allowed to ask the good questions they always have.

As they grow into adolescence, they then learn to take the principles found in those stories, principles often more fully developed in the non-narrative portions of the Bible, and apply what they have learned to their own lives.

By the time they are young adults, they have begun an ongoing process of interaction with Scripture, a process that should continue for a lifetime. What we pray for them is a life full of deep and nuanced theological thought, one resulting in actions aligned with God’s will.

Lord, bless the children we bring to you with understanding, and may that understanding grow into the wisdom so desperately needed in the future as they take their place among our leaders. May they lead the world down a path headed directly toward you. Amen.

The Great Sympathizer

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NRSV)

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


Just recently my online small group spent some time discussing the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. We were struck by how easily we could relate to the temptations Satan put before our savior.

Yes, the magnitude of what it took to tempt one who is divine is astonishing. After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. He was tempted to fling himself from the pinnacle of the temple and demonstrate his ties to heaven, an act certain to inspire a following. And he was offered a world under his dominion, if only he would place himself below Satan in the grand scheme of the universe.

When we boil those temptations down, however, we see how they appeal to basic human desires for immediate gratification, recognition and control. Satan simply offers us less because he knows how easy it is to draw mere humans toward defeat and death.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that the priest who represents us in heaven, Jesus, is deeply sympathetic toward our plight. He has felt our desires. And while Jesus did not succumb to those desires, he certainly understands how fragile humans can easily do so, making our circumstances even worse.

Jesus went to the cross out of love for us, and even after the terrible pain from bearing the weight of every sin ever committed, he continues to love us. He stands there in the heavenly temple, ready to make us holy despite our sins.

We certainly respect what Jesus has done. Our hearts should be filled with gratitude, and there is no need for cringing fear when the time comes to approach Christ in heaven. He has lived among us and understands our circumstances.

Lord, we thank you for the sacrifice making our forgiveness and restoration to God possible. As you represent us in heaven, may we be so bold as to speak for you on earth. Amen.

The Lord Is Waiting

Isaiah 30:15-18  (NRSV)

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
But you refused and said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”—
    therefore you shall flee!
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”—
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift!
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one,
    at the threat of five you shall flee,
until you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
    therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

To whom do we go for advice? From whom do we gain insight for how to live in this sin-sick world? From whom do we learn how to get through the trouble of our lives?

The rebellious children of Israel sought out Egypt during Isaiah’s life. To counter the approaching trouble from the Babylonians, Israel wanted the strength of Egypt’s horses and armies. These rebellious children did not wait for the Lord. These rebellious children sent donkey- and camel-loads of wealth to Egypt to buy security. It did not work, for Jerusalem and Judah fell in 586 B.C.

How do we answer these questions? Are we spending our wealth to purchase security that we will find only when wait upon the Lord? We might be left as the flagstaff on a hill when troubles pursue us. We will be left as a signal on a hill. Unless we wait on the Lord.

God is ready to be gracious to us. God has wisdom for us. God has insight for us to live while in this sin-sick world. God has mercy so we can get through the troubles of our lives. God will bring justice to us if we wait for him.

God, you are the one for whom we can wait. Charging ahead with our own counsel will give us trouble. It is by your mercy that we live. The only means we have of seeking your grace and justice is to wait for you. We are calming ourselves so that we may know the blessings you have in store for us. Only by trusting in you through Jesus Christ will we receive the blessings you have for us. Thank you for Jesus and the justice you have for us. Amen.

The Real Power of Healing

I have no doubt that miraculous healings from God occur today, and I have witnessed the kind of joy such healings bring. We should intently petition God to heal the sick around us, be they sick in the body, mind or spirit.

As I talk with Christians about the concept of healing, however, I do sometimes wish we could better understand the meaning of healing. For as wonderful as it is to see someone miraculously healed, it is even more wonderful to recognize why healing happens.

Jesus healed a lot of people in the Bible, and those healing stories always point us to a deeper meaning. One of the easiest places to see what I’m talking about is in the ninth chapter of John, where Jesus restores the sight of a man born blind.

It is an astounding healing. For all practical purposes, Jesus creates vision where there has been none. He mixes spit with dirt, kneading it into mud and smearing it on the man’s eyes, telling him to go wash in a pool.

When the blind man washes, he can see. People who witness him freely walking about later with his eyes open are so perplexed that they are not sure it is really the blind beggar they have always known.

In fact, most of the ninth chapter is dedicated not to the story of the healing, but the controversy that ensues. The Pharisees, great lovers of the law, ask, Who did this? And how dare he do it on a sabbath?

As the story progresses and Jesus speaks with the man he has healed, the symbolism of this healing and other healings becomes clear. The world is trapped in spiritual blindness, unable to see God for who God is. But Jesus, fully and completely God, has come to open the world’s eyes to truths hidden by sin.

As we know, Jesus goes on to do a larger work of re-creation. Ultimately, Christ sheds his blood, mixing it with the ground during the crucifixion. Because of his sacrifice, we all have the potential to see the truth that God loves us and will do whatever is necessary to bring us into a relationship with our creator. We simply need to believe to be healed spiritually.

And from time to time, some of us are healed physically or mentally, as a sign of God’s presence among us. When miraculous healings occur, we are reminded that God is in control, despite the brokenness that remains until Christ returns to seal his victory over sin and death.

In many ways, those who have been healed or have witnessed healings have a special responsibility.

We are called to testify that God’s power is present in the world. And like the healed blind man, we should boldly answer those who want to argue that God is not present.

Lord, thank you for what healings signify. As wonderful as they are for those who are healed, they are even more powerful as a sign of what is to come. Amen.