“Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
“Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).”
Mary Magdalene would’ve been the last one I would have chosen to be the first witness. If it was me, I would have gone straight to Caiaphas, or gave Pilate a good scare–“I told you so.” He didn’t go to the Temple and to show off his resurrection power. He zapped no one.
It fascinates me, but Jesus didn’t show off his power. Instead Mary was chosen, the harlot, and the one who he cast out seven demons. Simple, humble Mary. The one whom he forgave. And he comes quietly, and gently to her.
Brutally killed, taken off the cross and carefully laid in a tomb–but Jesus comes to life!
The most powerful testimony of truth of the Gospel rests here in the resurrection. Our faith hinges on this. If there is no resurrection, Jesus’ bones still lay in a tomb, and we are still dead in our sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)
There is so much in this passage; the implications are enormous.
“What the world calls virtue is a name and a dream without Christ. The foundation of all human excellence must be laid deep in the blood of the Redeemer’s cross and in the power of his resurrection.”
God’s temple was now filled with an evil darkness. King Manasseh made the Lord’s holy place a fountain of sin and filth. Instead of holiness, it was an evil place.
He brought in dark things that were twisted, perverted and clearly forbidden.
“Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”
2 Chronicles 33:9, ESV
His own darkness was now encouraged by others, it became accessible, available and promoted:
The high places were rebuilt throughout the land.
Altars to Baal rebuilt, using images of wood.
In the holy temple, altars to the “starry host,” astrology, plain and simple.
Human sacrifice of his own sons to Molech, a false god. Murder.
He practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists.
Evil was being encouraged and something wicked was replacing all that was good and true. The analysis of Manasseh’s policies was way beyond disturbing. Of all the kings of Judah, he was the most sinful and the most corrupt. He was at the bottom of the barrel.
The Hebrew word for “led astray” can be translated seduced.
Manasseh was an incredibly immoral man, a king who ruled for 40 years. “He did all he could to pervert the national character, and totally destroy the worship of the true God; and he succeeded.” (Clarke)
It’s believed that he put Isaiah to death by cutting him in two.
Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the LORD.
1 Kings 21:16
But then something happened.
And the LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen. Therefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon.
2 Chronicles 33:10-11
Assyria came knocking on Manasseh’s door. I think there was a certain mercy here, but also discipline. Manasseh had “hooks,” inserted through his jaw and out of his mouth. Like a fish he was led to Babylon, a trophy of the power of the army of Babylon.
It was from a dark dungeon that Manasseh cried out to the Lord and repented.
There’s a Jewish fable that when Manasseh cried out to God the angels boarded up the windows in heaven. They wanted to block out his prayer so God wouldn’t be able to hear. But God, rich in mercy, bored a hole in front of His throne to hear Manasseh’s desperate cry.
The Lord’s intention was to forever show His kindness and grace given to the most awful repentant sinner.
I believe that Manasseh was the “Prodigal Son” of the Old Testament.
God is not at a loss when He moves to bring us back to Himself. He can woo or whip. He can draw or drive. He can work rapidly or slowly, as He pleases. In other words, He is free to be God! And in His own way, at His own pace, He brings us back.
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
“Little children, let us not love in words or talk but in deeds and in truth.”
1 John 3:17-18, ESV
Love is a noble idea, it’s admired and extolled by practically everyone–we see it in our music and poetry, ethics and religion. For the most part it’s a word for something decent and virtuous and honorable. It’s a good thing, but I’m afraid it’s not always scriptural.
You see, Bible love wears work gloves.
It labors and sweats. Bible love has chores to do, and it actively looks and sees what needs to be done. 1 John 3 tells us that we shouldn’t deceive ourselves and only see the world’s definition. That love that a believer has is to be different.
Love, in John’s eyes, is most assuredly “doing.” It burns spiritual calories as it labors to serve our brothers and sisters. Love finds things it can do–it doesn’t just talk but it gets busy. Love sees the need and then gets down to serve.
“You must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.”
1 Peter 1:22
Working (serving) has nothing to do with our salvation, that is a free gift. We’re saved by grace through the blood of Jesus–that’s a given. And this serving love isn’t drudgery, as a matter of fact, working and serving each other is a joy. The deepest kind of joy there is.
Our words, although important, are really an insufficient way of proving our authenticity. The love we serve another with isn’t “pretty poetry” kind of love. It’s so easy to just shout out truth and never ever show a working, serving kind of love.
That disconnect is a bit disconcerting.
When do we suppose we figure out that His love is actually a verb?
Our prayer and intercession really begins when we go to work for someone else. (Our lunch box is our Bible.) We read it and it energizes us to work for one another. When we pray we truly are loving another brother or sister. Work that they can’t or won’t do for themselves. At least not yet. So we pray.
John is calling believers to a much more real kind of love. Love that sweats.
“The church is made up of individuals. It can do nothing except as its members work, and work together.”
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’”
13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
He despised others. As a Pharisee he prided himself as a holy person; he stood before God and congratulated himself. I believe that self-righteousness has many levels. You can be blatant and obvious about it, or it can be subtle and hidden. But we must understand that the father sees and knows. Notice the “all” here in Isaiah 64:6:
“We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind.”
Hmm. A menstrual rag? You got to be kidding!
We often advance ourselves by demeaning those who struggle hard with their sin–there are those who see and somehow know that they’re superior. We don’t come out and say so; but we’ve arrived— but guess what— God (and scripture) know better than this.
But we’re not dealing here with a hidden self-righteousness. The Pharisee truly believes that he is different from the tax-collector. He stands and doesn’t kneel. He feels comfortable and confident in the holy presence of God Almighty. He’s not like the others. He is sure that he’s holy.
The tax-collector was brutally honest about himself.
He didn’t need anyone to tell him how sinful he was—he understood his own wickedness. Jesus’ story reveals God’s love for those who know that they’re twisted inside. Notice the heart of the tax-collector:
“He stood afar off” which showed his awareness of his separation from God.
“He wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven,” which declared his humility in the presence of God.
He kept “striking his chest,” which tells us of a deep pain over his sin against God.
He prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ This describes his desperate heart.
These both came to pray, but that is all they had in common.
The Pharisee came to the temple to show off his righteousness, the tax-collector out of a terrible despair. It strikes me that the text in verse 11 says the Pharisee “began praying to himself.” It seems that his prayer never really met God—he was proud and showy, doing the things God hates (Prov. 29:23).
Things really came to ahead in verse 14. That’s the critical point of the entire story—“one went down to his house justified rather than the other.” Wow! What a statement. One professionally religious man, sure of his holiness, the other a sinful sinner, who came humble and broken. One showed off his faith—boasting with a legalistic swagger. The other desperate and desolate, completely undone.
But it was the tax-man who became righteous in the eyes of God.
Humility is the foundation of the kingdom of Jesus. In Matthew 5:3-4 makes a lot of sense—to be “poor in spirit” and to “mourn” are the bedrock of a Christian’s discipleship. To be justified (made right) was a gift. He didn’t try to earn it, and there wasn’t a probationary period. The tax-collector now became righteous; the Pharisee carried his sin.
How much do you love Jesus? This parable looks at the heart of the believer, the person who has been incredibly forgiven of everything–past, present and future. And it’s here we see a woman whose heart is broken by her sin, and she discovers Jesus’ grace, and tremendous mercy.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
44 “Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
47 “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Jesus has been invited to Simon’s home. He’s a Pharisee, and at this point they haven’t quite banded together to attack Jesus, it seems that there were still some Pharisees who were true seekers.
The text jumps right in and we see Jesus reclining at a table (the Jewish people didn’t use chairs–pillows were used instead.) At a feast like this people who weren’t officially invited could come in to stand in the back and listen in on the conversation. (That seems awkward.)
Suddenly a woman enters the room.
She’s described as “a woman of the city,” which is a code word for “a sinner, or a harlot.” (Let your imagination roll that one around.) She comes with a definite purpose, for she brings a jar of quite expensive perfume with her.
The passage reveals that she’s on her knees, weeping on Jesus’ feet, and rubbing her tears with her hair, and pouring out the perfume. She’s kissing his feet. She’s obviously a broken person—someone who knows who Jesus is, and who understands who she is, and how deep sin has destroyed her.
At this point Simon is deeply offended, and probably embarrassed by what’s happening. But he also assumes that Jesus isn’t who he’s saying he is. “How dare does this man let an unclean person even touch Him!” But Jesus understands everything. His parable is short (just two verses) and it’s directed at Simon; and it’s a no-brainer.
The interpretation is obvious: the man who owes the most will love the most.
Jesus accentuates Simon’s breach of protocol. The Lord deftly explains the entire situation and Simon is busted. He’s put on the spot and Jesus has made his point. It’s all so obvious. The essence of the story is clear. How much do you love the Master?
Do you fully fathom how much sin Jesus has forgiven you?
(Or maybe you’re a Simonite?)
Perhaps you’re someone who doesn’t quite accept what’s real? The Bible tells us repeatedly that no one is righteous. No one. Scripture has a very low opinion of the righteousness of men. (That should shatter your thinking.)
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
Isaiah 64:6, KJV
The Hebrew word for “filthy rags” is extremely graphic–literally it means “a menstruating cloth.” It was something that a woman used before Tampax came along. How very descriptive. Do we even have the slightest idea what that means? Are our good deeds that bad?
Yes they are. Isaiah announces that’s exactly how God sees our best attempts to find acceptance apart from grace. It often seems we try to please Him by doing the best we can, but that isn’t sufficient. We always fall short and mess up.
How does understanding this change our discipleship? I’ll let you be the judge on this on this one.
“He loved us not because we are lovable, but because He is love.”
Buried in the Old Testament we discover the idea of the Cities of Refuge.
They speak profoundly to our situation and bring real hope to those who struggle. Six places of safety were given to protect those who accidentally killed another person— maybe an ax head flew and hit someone, and they died as a result.
God told Joshua to establish cities of protection where one could be safe from an avenger. There were six of them, three on the east side of the Jordan river, and three on the west. The cities covered Israel; each was spread out intentionally so they were always close.
That city became a place of asylum for those guilty of manslaughter.
As believers, we know that we’ve committed crimes against God and other people. The burden we carry threatens to undo us. Satan (and his minions) want to destroy us—and honestly, we deserve it. We are essentially spiritual ‘criminals’ who have hurt others and damaged ourselves in the process.
Outside the city, we’re vulnerable—but inside those walls we find safety.
Those who have killed others are protected. If we venture outside, we find our adversary who is waiting. Scripture tells us that we must stay cloistered there until the current high priest dies. Upon his death, we’re released and may leave the city walls.
For broken believers, the whole concept rings true.
The text speaks for itself, and there is spiritual logic in all of this. We see parallels here that speak to our condition. We’ve messed up big time. We also carry issues that the enemy can attack. Depression, bipolar, trauma, and even thoughts of committing suicide— can be a fundamental part of our lives.
I must tell you that safety is found only in the Savior.
Finding God and abiding in him is our place of safety. His walls protect us, Jesus is our high priest, who never dies; that means we need to stay with him, permanently. I like Hebrews 6:18, LB:
“Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without a doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.”
For us especially, we often have problems with the doctrine of assurance of salvation. Our enemy works overtime to accuse us (Rev.12:10). We’re his targets and the lies of many demons assault us. We can, at times, wonder if we’re really saved. We wonder if we are really forgiven, and we doubt our salvation. Satan’s efforts can be constant and crippling.
I encourage you to think this over and pray about this.
St. Francis of Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.”
Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.
I confess that peace has never been really high on my list. Love, joy, kindness, and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence and look for it with manic bewilderment.
Sometimes I don’t understand why God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.
I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’
These matter little without intimacy with Jesus.
I certainly haven’t arrived, and it seems I’m still the hideous sinner I always was. I cannot pretend otherwise, even with a truckload of cosmetics at my disposal. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m still ‘ugly.’ I do know forgiveness, and I do walk in its wonderful light (by grace.)
I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.)
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
This is the first of his 95 Theses nailed to the door of Wittenburg. There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, beer drinking, fornication, or hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.
Repentance is the key to opening the door of grace.
“All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”
Luther’s last words, on his deathbed, written on a scrap of paper words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.
“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Lord,” Peter asked, “Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.
Jesus replied, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly I tell you, a rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.”
John 13:37-38, CSV
Jesus knew. And he still loved him anyway. Can you really quantify the depth of this? Verse 37 claimed Peter’s willingness to follow, and even die if he had to. I believe with all my heart that Peter was sincere. He would follow, and Peter was willing to die.
But Jesus bought none of it. He knew exactly what was going to happen.
He poses a question to ‘Peter the bold’–it became the type of question that could penetrate Peter’s interior bravado. It’s said that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Perhaps this is true here. Maybe Jesus knew? (Or course He did.)
What about you? And me? Peter got it. He could tell us a thing or two. really know us to this degree and depth? When he looks at us, I believe he knows the weakness and faltering steps we all take, and yet his love for us is unconditional.
It doesn’t hinge on a misplaced zeal or faltering commitment. His love for us overrides our weakness. That comforts and disturbs me, and I don’t really understand how he does it. I love and trust God completely (or I’m learning to.)
Have you ever heard your rooster crow?
Maybe that’s His way to teach us the depths of His surprising love and mercy?
The once ashamed Peter would be restored and re-commissioned. “Feed my sheep,” was Jesus’ surprising commandment. That would be Peter’s new assignment.
We’re a people that have come to understand an unbelievable fact, we now believe in the forgiveness of sins. We are also dumbfounded by Jesus’ willingness to restore. That is no small thing.
Peter understood I think.
“Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.”
“Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 “But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 “And he said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The pain was incredible, but I know that deep down I deserved to die. But not like this. Never like this. I was almost out of my mind with fear. What they were doing to me was terrifying.
You must understand that I was a common thief. I had stolen a loaf of bread when I was eight years old and that’s how it all got started for me. It more or else got bigger and easier. I knew how to steal and I was quite good at it. I was Jacob, the master thief!
When I was finally caught, they sentenced me to die. I supposed it was inevitable. I fault no one but myself as I knew what I was getting into. As I dragged my beam up to Golgotha, it was really strange but I suddenly remembered a verse from the scripture and it really did unsettle me.
It’s a terrible thing to die this way. There were three of us, nailed to the wood and lifted up between heaven and earth. Jesus was nailed to the middle cross, not that it really mattered; all three of us were going to die today.
Many hope for a simple and easy death, maybe in their sleep–but that’s not going to happen to us.
The third man could only mock, he was afraid, and I suppose he just echoed those Pharisees who didn’t really understand. But I knew better. I knew who this other man was, I had heard all the stories. Deep down I knew that this man on the center cross was the Messiah.
A crowd had gathered to watch us die. The Romans in their wonderful ingenuity had made a sign that they nailed above Jesus’ head, and it declared to everyone that Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” Even as he was dying, they found a way to malign him and irritate the crowd.
The other man being crucified continued to mock Jesus, and it infuriated me.
Why I defended him I don’t know for sure.
But I understood. Jesus was murdered out of the envy and jealousy of the Pharisees. He didn’t deserve to die like this, but He was hated, and who can confront these religious men without becoming a victim. Jesus had repeatedly crossed the line, so now they were now putting him to death. It seemed evil was really winning today.
I saw the soldiers throwing dice for Jesus’ clothes. He was now being mocked by them as well, even as he was dying on a brutal cross.
But all of a sudden it all made perfect sense, he really was the Messiah, and these bastards were killing him. Crucifixion was starting to work on me now. I began to choke on my words, and it was getting hard to breathe.
“Jesus… please remember me. When your kingdom comes, please let me be a part of it.”
And as beaten as he was, he managed to turn and look directly at me. They had whipped and brutalized him, and yet he was still aware. His words were whispered now, but I understood. “I promise that today you will be with me in paradise.”
I was starting to spasm again, but the horror of death had left me. Some time had passed, and I could hear his breathing stop. But for the first time, I had peace. They used a spear on Jesus, but he was already dead.
The soldiers now came to the two of us, and they were carrying an ax to break our legs. It all had to do with the coming festival, and the Pharisees wanted us dead. When they swung that ax I knew a pain that I could never describe. My own death came quickly after that.
I was suddenly standing in paradise, whole and complete, and loved.
Someone was standing before me. He was shining I remember, and I knew he was powerful; stronger, and he was more glorious than anyone I had ever met. It was crazy but somehow I knew that he was an angel and he had been sent to meet me. It’s funny, but I realized that somehow I really did belong. Me–a dirty rotten thief.
Jesus had promised me, he had pronounced me righteous, me of all people. I suddenly had a joy that I could never explain. I really was a part of the Kingdom that was beyond anything I had ever known. And all I can really say about this was that I was privileged to die with him. That is all I could claim. I simply believed him and asked if somehow I could be part of his eternal rule.
I simply asked and He gave me everything.
Cover Art: “Christ on the Cross between Two Thieves,” by Peter Paul Rubens
I have to admit, I never really appreciated the depth of Psalm 23:5. I supposed that “He anoints my head with oil” was simply just figurative language for something nice. Poetic. I never knew this definite parallel until recently. But David completely understood and was able to understand the full ministry of the Shepherd.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
Psalm 23:5, ESV
“Sheep can get their head caught in briers and die trying to get untangled. There are horrid little flies that like to torment sheep by laying eggs in their nostrils which turn into worms and drive the sheep to beat their head against a rock, sometimes to death. Their ears and eyes are also susceptible to tormenting insects.”
So the shepherd anoints their whole head with oil.
“Then there is peace. That oil forms a barrier of protection against the evil that tries to destroy the sheep. Do you have times of mental torment? Do the worrisome thoughts invade your mind over and over? Do you beat your head against a wall trying to stop them? Have you ever asked God to anoint your head with oil?”
He has an endless supply!
His oil protects and makes it possible for you to fix your heart, mind, and eyes on Him today and always! There is peace in the valley! May our good good Father anoint your head with oil today so that your cup overflows with blessings! God is good and He is faithful!!”