The Tomb of the Unknown Savior

Scripture Focus: Matthew 27.63-66
“Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Reflection: The Tomb of the Unknown Savior
By John Tillman

Christ’s mission and calling were a secret hidden in plain sight.

Jesus spoke about everything else in parables and spoke about his death in plain language, so perhaps we can forgive the disciples for not realizing that he meant what he said about his death literally.

Mary of Bethany may have been the only disciple who realized Jesus was about to die a sacrificial death, but it seems only his enemies remembered that Christ also promised to come back to life.

No one else seems prepared for Jesus’ resurrection as extensively as the chief priests and the Pharisees. Their concern is so urgent that they risk being made unclean for the remainder of the Passover week’s celebrations by going to Pilate on the Sabbath, the day after Preparation Day.

They outline the details of what they believe will be a conspiracy to fake a resurrection. (This is a conspiracy they will bribe the soldiers to maintain later.) Pilate grants their request, giving them a selection of the highest paid, best trained, best equipped soldiers in the world to guard a tomb.

Guarding the tomb of a penniless, itinerant prophet, with the equivalent of US Navy Seals might seem like overkill when the sneak attack you are expecting is from untrained tradesmen like the disciples, but the enemies of Christ knew how explosive his message was.

Fear of the political fallout of Christ’s message was one of the main reasons the religious elite had sought his death. For them, a violent, idolatrous, pagan government that allowed them to continue in power was preferable to following Jesus and losing their wealth and influence. In our heart of hearts we can certainly identify with their concerns.

When it came to Christ’s teaching about death and resurrection these corrupt men, who were Christ’s harshest critics, knew him better than his followers.

Jesus was a man even his closest friends didn’t fully know. He lay as a guest in a tomb belonging to a secret disciple. His followers, once considered so dangerous they were an existential threat to the state, scattered, abandoned him, and hid.

Jesus in the grave is the unknown savior. What happens next will change the world forever.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Turn to me and have pity on me, for I am left alone and in misery.
The sorrows of my heart have increased; bring me out of my troubles.
Look upon my adversity and misery and forgive me all my sin. — Psalm 25.15-17

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle


Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 13 (Listen – 4:11) 
Matthew 27 (Listen – 8:45)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 14 (Listen – 3:51). Matthew 28 (Listen – 2:39)
Jeremiah 15 (Listen – 3:49). Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

Read more about The Importance of Resurrection :: Throwback Thursday
If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves.

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What post lifted your spirit?

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Living is Harder

Scripture Focus: Matthew 26.35
“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Reflection: Living is Harder
By John Tillman

“Dying to self” and “carrying our cross” are biblical metaphors for self-sacrificial living, but sometimes they become a literal, lived reality.

Many sermons (mostly to youth groups) challenge believers with the stories of modern Christians who were killed while doing ministry or who refused to denounce Christ to save their own lives. These sermons ask, “Would you be willing to do the same?” 

These well-meaning sermons are intended to be inspirational. (And they are.) They don’t truly intend for us to follow these human martyrs, but to follow Jesus in the same, self-sacrificial manner they did. However, an unintentional lesson in these sermons is that the hardest or greatest thing we could do for Christ is to die in some violent way. We can unintentionally denigrate living for Christ by glorifying dying for him. 

The truth is that living for Christ in the mundane and ordinary is far more difficult than dying for him. Dying is momentary. Living stretches on. Paul recognized this, stating that he would rather die and be with the Lord, but it was better for all if he continued struggling and living for Christ. (Philippians 1.20-24) Living for Christ in the world often makes a larger difference in the world than dramatic sacrifices. 

Peter gets a lot of flack for being the first, loudest, and proudest to declare that he would die for Jesus without following through later that night. But all the disciples did the same. May we have the passion of Peter and the disciples, yet retain the humility and wisdom of knowing that despite our best intentions we may fail.

Just like Peter, don’t many of us feel that we would give our lives for Jesus? Why then do we resist giving of our time for him in service, in study, or in prayer? 

It matters less what we might say about Christ when someone puts a gun in our face than what we do say about him to a friend who is hurting. It matters less how willing we are to give up our lives while sharing the gospel in a dangerous place than how willing we are to give up our rights, or give up our money, or give up our time when we are living in comfort.

In the end, it is what we do in life that makes the biggest difference for the gospel, not what we do in death.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 12 (Listen – 3:06) 
Matthew 26 (Listen – 10:01)

Read more about Where Martyrdom Begins Part 1
It is in the so-called small, everyday sacrifices that we give our lives for each other.

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Wake-up Call

Scripture Focus: Matthew 25.44-46
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Jeremiah 11.11-14
11 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes. 13 You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.’
14 “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.

Reflection: Wake-up Call
By John Tillman

The three stories of Matthew 25 are connected, presented in series with an intentional theme. Last January we wrote:

Matthew 25 is famous for the sheep and the goats parable. But really, the entire chapter is about people who shirked their responsibilities to themselves, to their master, and to others. The foolish virgins, the wicked servant, and the goats are a trinity of spiritual neglect.

The sin of neglect seems to be one that surprises each of the condemned groups and individuals in these stories. Pray that you may not be surprised.

During seminary days, while traveling on a ministry team on a long drive, someone suggested putting on a Keith Green album. The driver, a good friend, responded, “Oh good. I haven’t doubted my salvation in a while. Put it in.”

We all laughed but I will never forget it. Because, the truth was, and is, that we don’t often listen to music that challenges us. We tune in for encouragement.  We don’t often listen to sermons that challenge us. We tune out words of conviction.

This is bad news for us because when we tune out the voices correcting us for long enough, God lets us tune out. He allows us to develop spiritual cataracts and tunnel vision. He allows us to blow out our eardrums so that we can’t hear him anymore.

We need things in our spiritual lives to jar us out of our complacency and cause us to reevaluate our dedication to Christ. We need a wake-up call.

From the careless virgins buzzes an alarm: Take initiative! Don’t be passive about personal spiritual disciplines!
From the slothful servant rings a reveille trumpet: Be invested! Give your all to what providence invests in you!
From the goats, a clamorous claxon resounds: Serve Others! Serve the poor! Serve the hungry! Serve the outcast!
And from Jeremiah, we see the outcome of ignoring God’s calls—God will block our calls. “…I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”

Don’t push “snooze” on the alarms sounding in these passages. Their intention is not to terrify us, but to guide us to action. His desire is for no one to perish, so open your eyes, open your ears. Attend to your spiritual responsibilities to yourself, to Christ, our master, and to those around you.

Music: The Sheep and the Goats (Live Performance) — Keith Green

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, right at the gates. In truth I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.”

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 11 (Listen – 4:09) 
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

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Read more about A Trinity of Neglect
The foolish virgins, the wicked servant, and the goats are a trinity of spiritual neglect.

Cherishing Chaff

Scripture Focus: Matthew 24.1-2
1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Jeremiah 10.19-21
19 Woe to me because of my injury!
    My wound is incurable!
Yet I said to myself,
    “This is my sickness, and I must endure it.”
20 My tent is destroyed;
    all its ropes are snapped.
My children are gone from me and are no more;
    no one is left now to pitch my tent
    or to set up my shelter.
21 The shepherds are senseless
    and do not inquire of the Lord;
so they do not prosper
    and all their flock is scattered.

Reflection: Cherishing Chaff
By John Tillman

Some buildings are great by age and grandeur and some by the gleam and glisten of modern glass and steel. However, no matter how impressive a building is when you walk, ride, or drive by it regularly, it becomes just a part of the scenery. 

How impressive does a building have to be for you to still comment on it as you pass by, years later? Why would the disciples call Jesus’ attention to the impressive buildings of the Temple that both he and they had been worshiping in their entire lives?

The Temple had been standing for 500 years and had been extensively renovated and repaired by Herod during the disciple’s lifetimes. Perhaps the disciples were happy to see some scaffolding come down on an area that had been newly restored. 

But the Temple’s shiny new sheen couldn’t distract Jesus’ eyes from the self-righteous deceit within and the suffering he saw over the horizon. The disciples saw the Temple as grand, renewed, and a symbol of strength and status. Jesus saw its present and future, sinful, destroyed, and humiliated.

Herod was a ruler of nominal faith at best. (Even that is being extraordinarily generous.) Herod was corrupt, a womanizer, boastful, and lived in a sinful relationship. He “liked to listen” to John the Baptist, but that didn’t stop him from cutting off the prophet’s head. 

Herod’s work on the Temple wasn’t faith-driven. It was a political tactic to boost his status and generate support among the people—and it worked. Even the disciples of Jesus were impressed.

The Temple, and Herod, are just two examples of things unworthy of the esteem and attention the disciples gave them. Many things the disciples prized, Jesus recognized as poison. Many things they cherished Jesus called chaff in the wind. 

What catches our eyes? What chaff do we cherish or poison do we prize? A building? A politician? A charismatic leader? An institution? Point out to Jesus what catches your eye. Seek his opinion on whether you should hold it up for honor or whether it is destined to be thrown down.

Physical idols, whether statues, buildings, institutions, or living humans, are the product of inward sin. We worship them instead of God because inwardly we refuse to trust God or we have denounced God. Allow the revelation of outward idols to lead you to discover inward attitudes that must be torn down.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. — Psalm 84.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 10 (Listen – 3:51) 
Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)

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Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
Judah treasured the Temple’s importance but not its inhabitant. They treasured the regalia, not the relationship.

Praying Through Weeping—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 9.17-18
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come;
send for the most skillful of them.
Let them come quickly
and wail over us
till our eyes overflow with tears
and water streams from our eyelids.

Reflection: Praying Through Weeping—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

If prayer is relationship then when God weeps, we should join. What friend would weep, whom we would not join in weeping? Weeping for our own hurts and harms is one thing. Weeping for what grieves God is a prophetic task and a work of faith.

Weep in prayer with the weeping prophet. Jeremiah’s tears, just like his words, are not his own. They are as much a part of the revelation of God as the words he writes.

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people. — Jeremiah 9.1

Jeremiah expresses our desire to escape evil—fleeing to the desert to be away from wrongdoers.

Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people. — Jeremiah 9.2

We confess we are part of a culture that seeks out its own version of truth.
We confess that we live in echo-chambers of the lies we prefer rather than the truth. Any lie or obfuscation is acceptable as long as it can be weaponized to help us win.

“They make ready their tongue
like a bow, to shoot lies;
it is not by truth
that they triumph in the land.
They go from one sin to another;
they do not acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord. — Jeremiah 9.3

Weep with Christ prophetically. He weeps that our hypocrisy not only harms us, but blocks the path of redemption for others.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. — Matthew 23.13

“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.” — Matthew 23.35-36

More specifically, judgment would fall within the next week. And more personally, it would fall on Christ himself.

Christ can weep with us and wipe away our tears because he took the just payment for their cause.

Divine Hours Prayer:
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, but you take not delight in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; and a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51.16-18

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 9 (Listen – 4:38) 
Matthew 23 (Listen – 4:53)

Read more about Undignified Weeping and Dancing
Hannah carried the weight of her grief to God’s presence and broke open her heart with shameless weeping.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.

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