Tag Archives: crucifixion

The Message of the Trees: The Cross: A man-made tree

This is the second of three sermons spinning off the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window as seen below.  The website is https://sacredspaces.cor.org/leawood/


Scripture connections:

 Old Testament: Isaiah 53:7-12 (NLT)

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.[a]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.[b]
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.


Gospel: Luke 23:44-49 (NLT) [also found in Matthew 27:45-56, Mark 15:44-49 & John 19:18-27]

44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”[a] And with those words he breathed his last.

47 When the Roman officer[b] overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.[c]” 48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.[d] 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

New Testament (from Paul’s letters)

I Corinthians 1:18-21 (NLT)

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”[a]

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.

Galatians 3:1-3 (NLT)

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?


As I started working on the images of the three trees in the COR’s stained glass window, I struggled to understand how the cross could be identified as a tree. Trees are living, breathing organisms, and a nature-loving mother raised me to respect them. The cross was not a living organism so the only correlation I could make was that it was made from a tree.

Last week we talked about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The image in the window is surrounded by the visual representations of the Old Testament stories. The Tree of the Cross is surrounded by the images that tell the story of Jesus Christ, from his birth in a manger through his crucifixion on the wooden cross.

The cross is a man-made shape used to hang a man. Man destroyed a living tree to destroy Jesus Christ. This tree represents all the evil that God tries to teach us to avoid—and it was man-made rather than God created.

Why, then is the Tree of the Cross the central figure of the three trees? Turning to scripture, references to the cross are buried even in the prophecy of Isaiah:

But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.


Even though the verses do not use the word ‘cross,’ the typical method of sentencing a criminal, especially if considered a rebel, was crucifixion—a horrible, cruel death meant to serve as a deterrent to others who might encourage rebellion against authorities.

And all four gospels describe Jesus’ death in almost the very same words. The description of the actual crucifixion is minimal, but the method is not as important as the purpose Paul outlines in I Corinthians 1:18-21:


18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.


The message, as we prepare to come to the table today, is that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be saved—granted eternal life.

Paul continues to explain the meaning of the cross to the Galatians:

For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.


The cross is our symbol of God’s effort to keep humanity from self-destructing. The cross is a constant reminder that God loves all so much that he joined us—all humanity—by stepping into human form as Jesus to teach us how to love one another.

The cross triggers us to remember the stories of Jesus’ teachings and his efforts to model how to love one another. The cross, man-made from a tree, carried the weight of Jesus as the body of God died.

Do not leave worship today without keeping image of the Cross with you. Look around in our community and in our homes to see where the Cross is visible. Reflect upon the cruelty that God endured as he completed his work in the body of Christ.

Yes, the Cross was man-made from a tree. In fact a tree had to be destroyed in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. The Old Testament tells the stories of how the ancient Israelites failed to remain faithful to God or failed to follow the Law of Moses beginning with the story of Adam and Eve failing to follow God’s rule. The stained glass artist demonstrated the destruction of the Garden of Eden as God created by the choice of yellowing, withering leaves from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Tree of the Cross symbolizes humanity’s failure to remain faithful. Even legends have developed about the choice of wood used for the cross. The choice the ancient Romans used cannot be proven because the ancient crosses deteriorated and there is no archeological evidence of the wood used. Possibly it was olive wood, cypress, or cedar, but as a native Missourian, I am familiar with the Legend of the Dogwood Tree.

Googling the legend, I found the story:

In Jesus’ time, the dogwood grew 
To a stately size and a lovely hue.
‘Twas strong and firm, its branches interwoven.
For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen.
Seeing the distress at this use of their wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
“Never again shall the dogwood grow
Large enough to be used so.
Slender and twisted, it shall be
With blossoms like the cross for all to see.
As blood stains the petals marked in brown,
The blossom’s center wears a thorny crown.
All who see it will remember Me
Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree.
Cherished and protected, this tree shall be
A reminder to all of My agony.”


[Accessed on February 2, 2018 at https://www.gotquestions.org/legend-dogwood.html]


This legend helps me remember the message of the Cross, especially when the dogwoods bloom in the Spring. But, I was curious:  Did dogwood trees grow in Jerusalem? No. I learned that the dogwood is native only in the United States.

The Legend of the Dogwood was created to help remember the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Other cultures have different legends, and one of them includes a connection to Seth, a son of Adam and Eve. The story is complex, but it challenges our sense of chronology that our human minds comprehend.

In a doctoral thesis by Nicole Fallon from University of Toronto, Canada, legends share that the wood on the cross came from the trees in the Garden of Eden:

The notion that wood was taken from paradise goes back to Jewish tradition . . . [when] Eve and Seth bring herbs back from Eden; another tale recounts how Adam and Eve took wood with them at the time of the expulsion, which was later used as a rod by Moses and was eventually incorporated into the Tabernacle. A third account tells how Moses went to paradise personally and cut his staff there from the tree of life.

[Accessed on February 2, 2018 at https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/19188/1/Fallon_Nicole_A_200911_PhD_thesis.pdf%5D

The Cross represents the story of God as the man Jesus Christ. As we continue to study the Bible and work at hearing God talk to us, it is important to remember that the Bible, like the stained glass window, is filled with stories to guide us in living the very principles God taught us and continues to teach us. In the window, the New Testament images revolve around the Cross, a man-made tree.

We must be disciplined to read The Word as John Wesley instructed the earliest Methodists. Sometimes the scriptures do not make sense based on our personal experiences, but if we study the scripture together in small groups we can help each other find God’s message.

The Tree of the Cross reminds us of God’s promises. This week as we think about the message in the visual images of crosses that surround us in our churches, in our homes, and even around us in our community, we remember God’s promise that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be granted eternal life symbolized by the Tree of Life, the third tree of COR’s stained glass window.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father,

We look at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

And know we must be disciplined to read scripture

So we can choose good over evil in our lives.

Yet today we know there is much we do not understand.


Today, we consider the Tree of the Cross

And remember Jesus Christ is your son

Who died to pay for our sins.

Yet today, we know there is much we do not understand.


As we come to the table for the bread and the cup.

We recommit ourselves to be disciples

Who strive to live the life you give us

So that others, too, may understand your love. –Amen

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Graduating in Faith

sermon given on Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016

Scripture Connection: Romans 5: 1-5, NLT

12 “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’


Certainly you have noticed that it is graduation time around our communities. The stores remind us with the displays of graduation gifts, decorations, and cards. Snippets from graduation speakers are shared in the news. And school is out, so kids are sleeping in before heading out to enjoy summer vacation.

Graduation signals transitions from one level of education to the next. For some, graduation closes the door of school but opens the door to the work world. In truth, though, graduation does not signal the end of learning, just a change in settings.

The book of Proverbs is filled with advice. In the eighth chapter, Solomon introduces wisdom much like one introduces a guest speaker at graduation. Graduation speakers are selected because of their experiences, contributions, or relationships with the goal of providing the graduates insights into life’s continuing journey:

12 “I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment.
I know where to discover knowledge and discernment.
13 All who fear the Lord will hate evil.
Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance,
corruption and perverse speech.
14 Common sense and success belong to me.
Insight and strength are mine.
15 Because of me, kings reign,
and rulers make just decrees.
16 Rulers lead with my help,
and nobles make righteous judgments.[a]

These words were written almost a thousand years before Jesus was even born. This year’s graduates will hear words of wisdom that often reflect Biblical truths shared over the millenniums.

Do we acknowledge that developing our Christian beliefs is much like developing academic knowledge? Do we acknowledge that our faith education is a developmental process? Do we ever graduate in our faith?

Solomon’s introduction of wisdom along with the words of Paul in Romans and Jesus’ words in the gospel of John creates a graduation speech for Christians who are developing wisdom in faith. Christians develop a lifetime relationship with God without any formal, published, or prescribed curriculum.

Christian knowledge develops in a very-customized curriculum based on formal and informal learning experiences. Graduating in faith cannot be packaged and prescribed. Faith education is God-driven and no one can predict when graduation will occur.

Even if one graduates in faith, learning does not stop because life’s journey does not stop. And consider this, once the Christian students accepts Jesus in their lives, they accept the gift of life-everlasting even when death ends earthly life. Graduating in faith leads to eternal life.

Education begins at birth and continues throughout our life. I cannot imagine living without faith in God. I see faith as a developmental process that never ends. I was fortunate to be born into a Christian home in which my education began with the love of parents who wanted me to develop the faith that would sustain me throughout life’s journey.

The beginning of faith often depends on the examples of those in our lives. Faith that there is a God, that God is with us despite what life delivers us, and that God experiences the same pains and joys we must experience provides another critical component in our Christian education: Hope.

Hope in necessary. With hope we wake up each morning to begin a new day. What happened yesterday is over, and a new day means new opportunities. Hope is key to continuing our Christian education. Hope becomes a fuel that pushes us to do more and to do it better and to share what we believe with others. Hope is phase two in our Christian education.

Each Christian discovers that even on the worst of days, faith in God provides us hope that even in death there is life. Hope keeps us alive in the moment and pushes us to share the excitement of living with others. Graduating in faith means we continue growing with hope.

Jesus provides hope. Historically, Christian education teaches us that when hope fails, life fails. God saw that the evil in the world was destroying his creation and when no other means was available, he stepped in personally in the form of his son, Jesus Christ. Faith alone needed a tangible example to follow.

Jesus exemplifies hope. The knowledge base provided in the historical teaching and the literature of the Jewish people needed a real-life example of how faith worked. Jesus’ teaching, healing, and modeling of faith provided clear evidence that hope makes living a faith-filled life possible even through persecution as vicious as his own crucifixion. Graduating in faith leads to hope. Hope develops the ultimate degree of faith: Love.

Love is God in action. Love becomes the final product of a faith-filled life. Love is hope-fueled faith doing all that can be done for all who may need it and in as many different formats as possible. Love is good triumphing over evil. Love is personal and can be demonstrated in every facet of one’s life.

God provided each of us the model of living a faith-filled life in the form of his son, Jesus Christ, but even more he provides us the Holy Spirit to live within each one of his faithful servants. The Holy Spirit makes it possible to manage all the trials and tribulations that life hands any one of us. The Holy Spirit transforms wishes into love-based actions.

The words from “Diamonds” remind graduates in faith that God is never done teaching us how to graduate in faith, how to maintain hope, and how to love one another. The lyrics explain how God works in our lives:

Here and now I’m in the fire, in above my head
Being held under the pressure, don’t know what will be left
But it’s here in the ashes
I’m finding treasure

He’s making diamonds
Making diamonds
He’s making diamonds out of dust
He is refining
And in his timing
He’s making diamonds out of us


Graduate in your faith. The process will take us from being lumps of coal into precious diamonds.

Graduate in your faith knowing hope makes life manageable. Hope polishes us into the diamonds carefully cut and polished into gems.

Graduate in your faith, fueled with hope, and live God’s love in action. The lumps of coal pulled out of the earth, cut and polished with hope reveal the sparkles created by life’s challenges.

Love given is the greatest gift of all. God loved us so much that he gave us life. God loved us so much that he gave us the greatest teacher to provide us hope. God loved us so much that he now trusts us, graduates in faith, to love one another. Graduating in faith means we are diamonds sparkling here in God’s light. Nothing can destroy the diamonds, not even death because as graduates in faith we continue on with life eternal.

Closing prayer

Dear Master Teacher,

We lift up the graduates from our schools.

So many are still lumps of coal

Not understanding how faith works in our lives.


We lift up the souls struggling to find hope

Managing lives without faith

Crumbling under life’s pressures all alone.


We lift up your faithful

Continuing to learn how faith and hope

Transforms into love sparkling like diamonds.


Thank you for the gifts you give us

As faith provides hope

Leading us to share love with one another.


Thank you for the wisdom shared in scripture.

Thank you for the wisest teacher, your Son.

Thank you for the power of the Holy Spirit.


May we graduate in our own faith

Teaching others how hope sustains

Creating love-filled gifts for others.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,


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God’s Mission Never Ends

given on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Story: John 20:1-9, NLT

Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.


The Story continues:     John 20: 11-16, NLT

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).


Reflection on the story:            God’s Mission Never Ends . . .

Reading through the gospel story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so many thoughts erupt in the mind. First, how? How in the world, especially today as we scientifically study the physical changes in our bodies from birth through death, how can a resurrection happen?

Thousands of years of questions cannot be answered, but the story hinges on the resurrection. Read the scriptures, not only in John, but also in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The stories are eerily identical. The most historical data collected apparently cannot void The Story as recorded in scripture. The Story continues, just as God’s mission continues.

If science and non-religious documents cannot refute God’s story, then the story continues along with the mission. Remember, God created the world but he gave his human creations free will. Sadly, free will lead to evil.

As Satan’s influence seemed to attract more and more human attention, evil became overwhelming. God made a decision that evil had to be eradicated. God now needed a team. As we read in the Old Testament that team was lead by Abraham, chosen for his faithful obedience.

The story continued through thousands of years with the descendants of Abraham and even the prophets. The evil continued and God made the decision to intervene personally with the birth of Jesus Christ.

And Christ, after three short years of ministry made a difference in God’s mission. Just three years, and God confidently decided the faithful were strong enough to carry on the mission independent of Jesus.

During Passover, the most holy of Jewish festivals, the Story shifts from the Jewish traditions to what are now the Christian traditions. Christ knew, he did all he could to prepare the Apostles, but he had to demonstrate his humanness being charged, tried, and crucified.

The details were horrific, the Apostles were confused and frightened, and the reality of Jesus’ death made no sense. Huddled together for a very long Sabbath, one can only wonder what these faithful disciples were saying or what would happen next.

Sunday morning arrived, and the Story continues. Numbly those closest to Jesus took up the typical tasks of the day. Quietly. Slowly. The women made their way to the tomb. . . .

The Story goes on: John 20:19-23

That Sunday evening[b] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”


Further reflection . . .

            . . . Shock! Fear! Confusion and chaos filled the lives of the Apostles and the earliest disciples. Rumors raced around the neighborhoods. The day’s routine had to be maintained, but at the same time so much was happening so quickly. What was going to happen next.

The women now knew the truth of the resurrection; and the men too had gone to witness the empty tomb. Yet, what were they going to do? What did this mean? How were they going to continue spreading the Word? How?

The questions had to be outnumbering the statements of belief. The chaos of loss turns into chaos of excitement with no clear plan of how to use the new reality. There would be those who believed, but what to do about those who did not. . . .


The Story resumes          John 20:26-29, NLT

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”


Concluding reflection . . .

            God’s mission remains. The Story carries God’s message forward. The Apostles and the earliest disciples were given the mission—do all that you can to love God and to love one another in all the ways that you can for as long as you can.

The Story shares all the different ways evil can attack us. Evil has many faces as close as our own family and even our neighbors. Evil can look so inviting, but the intention turns so revolting. Decisions we make must be based on our Christian beliefs.

And what reality of the Easter story makes God’s mission easy? Christ lived. Christ died. Christ arose from the dead and lives. We, made in God’s image, must believe in the power of the cross. God sacrificed himself for us. By accepting this truth, we are forgiven. God’s mission succeeds when we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we are given life eternal and evil is destroyed.


The Story for today        John 20:30-31, NLT

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe[d] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.


Reflective benediction . . .

            The subtitle on the last two verses of John 20 is “The purpose.” God’s mission is our purpose and each time we share the Story with others, each time we serve one another in love, and each time we remember Jesus’ resurrection, we are blessed.

Your purpose is God’s mission. This Easter Sunday, as you leave this holy place, may you find the joy in knowing that you are forgiven and you are redeemed by your faith in God.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly, Loving Father,

Thank you for loving us day after day.

Thank you for forgiving us our sins.

Thank you for promising us life ever lasting.

We may not understand the Story.

We may not show our faith openly.

We may not shout out the love we feel .

Yet we love You and one another.

Yet we quietly serve one another in love.

Yet we believe in Your love and the promises.

May we live our days filled with love.

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Man the Mission: The Passion of Jesus Christ

given on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016

Reflection: Man the Mission: The Passion of Jesus Christ


The Story continues today, Palm Sunday. Typically images of Palm Sunday is one of kids running up and down the aisles with palm fronds waving as though there were a parade. History has created images of a parade route lined with palms honoring Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, God promised written in the books of the prophets.

Yet the story continues and reading the scripture from Luke, we know Luke’s record of the last week of Jesus’ human life is the basis for celebrating Palm Sunday, but it also shares God’s passion for his mission that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus on the day before the Jewish feast of Passover.

God’s mission continues even through the birth, life, and death of his only son Jesus. Jesus was the incarnation of God’s passion for his creation. Jesus is God, and that means he is the man for the mission—and Jesus had chosen 12 men for his mission team. These were the men who joined him in the Upper Room for the Last Supper:

The Last Supper

. . . 14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table.[a] 15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

. . . 21 “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. 22 For it has been determined that the Son of Man[c] must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” 23 The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.

24 Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. 25 Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. 27 Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You have stayed with me in my time of trial. 29 And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right 30 to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.


Imagine sitting at the table with your teacher. You have come to love him like a brother and have literally picked up and walked after him without even tying up loose ends at home. You have completely turned your life’s direction to pursue God’s mission. You were literally a handpicked member of the Jesus Team!

Consider what Jesus required of his team members. He had to have commitment, even if they had a business or a family. He asked them to come–no clothes, no material possessions. The request must have challenged these individuals, but they did choose to follow him.

Sitting in that upper room after only three years together, the words Jesus shares are filled with references to what is going to happen. At least the words seem subtle to us, yet this team knew how Jesus talked. He was teaching them in the same way the scriptures teach us—through metaphors, analogies, and parables.

Reading on through the chapters, more of the story shows the seriousness of Jesus’ final weeks for his earthly life. Even Simon Peter cannot figure out why Jesus would question his loyalty:

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

33 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”

34 But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you did not have money, a traveler’s bag, or an extra pair of sandals, did you need anything?”

“No,” they replied.

36 “But now,” he said, “take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! 37 For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’[d] Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.”

38 “Look, Lord,” they replied, “we have two swords among us.”

“That’s enough,” he said.


Be loyal. Be prepared. Jesus’ handpicked mission team did not seem very prepared to take God’s mission forward without him. Simon Peter is believed to be the favored of the twelve apostles, but even Jesus knew Peter would deny him three times under the pressure from the coming days.

Loyalty. Simon Peter certainly did not think anything could shake his loyalty to Jesus, but Jesus makes one more attempt to prepare the apostles for the persecution that would be inflicted upon the earliest Christians. The reference to having swords was such a hint as to the type of problems that would be following after he was gone.

In the brief years of teaching Jesus’ followers, the emphasis had been on the peaceful methods. Heal the sick. Love one another. Care for the poor. No mention was made of planning and carrying out a military battle plan; weapons were no match for love. Still in these last few moments of preparation, Jesus tells the apostles to prepare. For Jesus to man the mission he needed commitment, loyalty, and preparedness as well as content knowledge of God’s story, the Word, and the mission.

Only a few hours remained and all the enormity of the impending arrest tired Jesus. He turned, asking his apostles to go with him, to the Mount of Olives, for a time of prayer. For the mission team, he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” And then . . .

41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.[e]

45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”


The next few days challenged each Apostle’s commitment and loyalty. Judas, of course, could not remain faithful taking a bribe to turn Jesus in to the authorities.

. . . 47 But even as Jesus said this, a crowd approached, led by Judas, one of the twelve disciples. Judas walked over to Jesus to greet him with a kiss. 48 But Jesus said, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

49 When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” 50 And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear.

51 But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.


The mission team selected and lead by Jesus was down one Apostle, but the final days were racing ahead. Three short years of teaching, healing, and serving were almost completed. Were the Apostles ready to take up the mission of God and transform the word?

Luke continues the story. Peter had not believed he could deny Jesus three times and he was one of the most trusted of the Apostles.

54 So they arrested [Jesus] and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. 55 The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there. 56 A servant girl noticed him in the firelight and began staring at him. Finally she said, “This man was one of Jesus’ followers!”

57 But Peter denied it. “Woman,” he said, “I don’t even know him!”


Peter’s first denial, yet the night was not over:


58 After a while someone else looked at him and said, “You must be one of them!”

“No, man, I’m not!” Peter retorted.


Luke’s story records a second denial.


59 About an hour later someone else insisted, “This must be one of them, because he is a Galilean, too.”

60 But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.


And Peter denied knowing Jesus the third time!


61 At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” 62 And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.

63 The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. . . .


The mission of God depended on Jesus’ ministry to secure success in combatting evil.  The events of the three days after Judas betrayed Jesus frightened the Apostles. The stress caused them to run and hide. They knew the passion of Christ first hand. They knew their commitment, their loyalty and their preparation—or not.

The very system that taught the young Apostles was challenged. The crowds had stopped Jesus along the side of the road to learn more about living God’s story. Are we honestly ready to join in God’s mission with passion like Jesus or go on to the next community prepared to share the story of God’s love and forgiveness?

Reflect and pray about your own world. Do not put off preparing for God’s mission. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, even Saturday are the darkest of days. The story continues showing the ridicule, the physical beating, the taunting, and even the stripping that Jesus endured before being hung on a cross, left to die slowly on the hill between two thieves.

Can you join the mission team? Can you honestly say you are committed? Are you loyal attending church regularly, joining in Bible studies, and volunteering to serve? Finally, are you prepared? Jesus will come again and we are redeemed by our faith in God. Be committed. Be loyal. Be prepared to share the story in any manner that you can and God’s mission will be successful.

Closing prayer: (UMH 281)

Almighty God,

you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ,

to suffer death o the cross.

Grant that we may share in his obedience to your will

and in the glorious victory of his resurrection;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, now and ever. Amen

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Would you . . . Easter scripture, questions and reflections

Luke 23:32-34: The Crucifixion

. . . 32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull,[e] they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”[f] And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.[g]

Question A: Would you have been in the crowd?

When work is caught up and a few minutes are left to keep busy, once and a while I will pull out this little book with 1,001 questions to stimulate conversation.

One of the questions this week was: “If you could go back and witness any event in history, what would it have been. The students started listing a few, but I had to fine-tune it a bit—how about a significant world event.

The question hit me that would I want to have seen Jesus on the cross dying. Would I have been in the crowd for the crucifixion? My first reaction was I certainly hope I would not have been there, but then I thought a bit differently.

Consider whether or not you rush to watch something in person or whether you can just hear about it or whether you do not even need to know the details. Just what kind of person would you be?

Would I have been in the crowd? Probably, and I am not proud of my reasoning.

Luke 23:44-49: The Death of Jesus

44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”[h] And with those words he breathed his last.

47 When the Roman officer[i] overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.[j]48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.[k] 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

Question B: Would you have waited to see him die?

Studying a globe, the latitude for Jerusalem is about 31.80 N and the latitude for Kansas City is 39.10 N. The climate is warmer and it sets off the Mediterranean Sea’s eastern edge.

The difference in the climate would make it likely that viewing a crucifixion would be comfortable, and it was Passover so everybody would have been out at the festival and along the streets. Likely, nobody was staying home or thinking about what had to be done for Sabbath in a day or two.

Sadly, the crucifixion was considered a spectator sport, too. The Roman government may have planned a series of crucifixions simply to entertain all the visiting Jewish people.

All of those factors would affect whether or not one could answer the question of staying until Jesus’ last breath or they took him off the cross. Leaving the body up was the usual procedure.

My answer: I probably would have walked away bored—another unflattering admission.

Luke 23:50-53: The Burial of Jesus

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, 51 but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. 52 He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock.

Question C: Would you have taken Jesus’ body down?

The clock was ticking and Sabbath law said all work had to be done before sundown. Passover was a huge holiday, and there were so many chores to do before nothing else could be done to have the perfect holy holiday.

There are two personality types—often referred to as Mary and Martha based on the New Testament story Jesus used to explain that it was okay to give up the tasks of hospitality to learn at the Masters’ feet. Martha was more worried about getting everything ready and Mary was unmoved from her spot listening to Jesus.

Answering this question has be reflect how well you know yourself. But also, you have to wonder just how positive you would have felt about the identity of Jesus. The Gospel of John states that this man was Joseph of Arimathea who was joined by Nicodemus, the same man who visited Jesus in the night just to interview him first-handed.

These two men risked their personal and professional reputations by requesting permission to take Jesus’ body and to bury it. That takes guts! (And there really is no other way to say it.)

Sadly, my answer would place me as a Martha frantically getting ready for the holiday meal, especially since I could do nothing the next day.

Luke 23:54-56:

. . . 54 This was done late on Friday afternoon, the day of preparation,[l] as the Sabbath was about to begin.

55 As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.

Question D: Would you have simply followed Jewish law?

The government was Roman; the religious laws were Jewish. The Roman government bent to the political pressure exerted by the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Agreeing to try Jesus for a questionable charge, kept the Jewish leaders appeased. The crucifixion was a political way of keeping positive relations between the foreign government and the local residents.

Jesus’ followers kept growing. Social changes were happening, and Jewish people were fighting among themselves. The Roman officials knew the risks. This movement was only three years old, and in the ancient culture that was such a short time it was not a major concern.

Jewish Christians had to battle a crisis of which law was God’s law. Was the Jewish law about honoring Sabbath more important, more lasting than breaking the law and taking care of Jesus’ burial?

Change does not come easily. Answering that question today seems so obvious—break Jewish law and take care of Jesus’ body. But change was too risky yet so that meant keeping the law and being safe.

Luke 24:1-5: The Resurrection

1But very early on Sunday morning[m] the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?

Question E: Would you have gone to the tomb?

Passover Festival was over. Sabbath was over; and even the crucifixion was over. Sunday morning the sun came up just like it always does. There are hundreds of chores to do just to clean up the mess left from a week of festivities and visitors.

No one has any time to attend to a buried body. Now the message seems to have died, too. Or has it.

The closest women disciples did not forget. They bundled up the ointments, oils, perfumes, and clothes needed to finish a proper burial and went to the tomb.

No reason to run or to hurry. The body was not going anywhere and this was not going to be a pleasant chore. The walk was quiet; there was no reason to be joyful and they were exhausted.

Would I have walked along the path to the tomb? Today, I would have to say no since I know how tired I am after a huge holiday affair. I would want to clean up the mess at home before I did anything else.

Jesus? He died and nothing appears to have changed for the Jewish people even if his message made me feel good.

Luke 24:25-27: The Walk to Emmaus

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Question F: Would you have believed—then or now?

Of course, you say. You believe. But would you have been a believer who was in Jerusalem for Passover, who witnessed the crucifixion, who walked away and observed Sabbath, and then even visited the empty tomb?

Today, the story is captured in print, it has been translated and evaluated word by word.   Scientists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and theologians have provided evidence repeatedly that supports the written word. All this makes the question easier to answer: Do you believe?

Today’s worldwide community has instant communication in visible, in audio and even in print format. Every language can be translated by a few clicks on the computer. Why is it so hard to answer that question?

Would I have believed in the ancient days when Jesus and I lived in real time together? I think so. And as I continued living, I think I would have become even a stronger believer.

But, I also have a few doubts. During the Cold War, I asked myself how strong my faith was. I wondered if I could keep my faith during an interrogation.

Today, my experience leads me to say, “Yes, I believe. I have experienced God’s grace. I have witnessed his miracles. I have received his forgiveness. I know the is life eternal.”

given on Sunday, April 5, 2015

Luke 24:28-34:

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,[p] he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.[q]

My answer: Yes, I believe in the mystery of faith. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

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