If you have ever wondered how the stone sealing the entrance of Jesus’ tomb could be rolled away, watch this. It will probably make more sense afterwards.
Four videos, four Scripture readings and three sermons intended to lead you to the cross of Jesus. You are welcome to use these as you prepare for Holy Week, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.
Stop ONE: The GARDEN of GETHSEMANE
Stop TWO: The MOUNT of OLIVES
Stop THREE: CAIAPHAS’ HEADQUARTERS
Stop FOUR: GOLGOTHA, the PLACE of the SKULL
A Scripture reading from Mark 15:33-39.
I bet you never envisioned the Jordan River to look like a KY backwoods creek. Well here it is in living color. Plus a reading from John 1 about a voice crying out in the wilderness. This is wilderness my friends.
It was just a passing comment from our tour guide Andy while teaching on Mt. Arbel overlooking the region of Galilee. As we looked down on the valley floor below, our eyes rested on the fertile fields of west Galilee or the Jewish region. Then he directed our eyes to east Galilee, on the other side of the lake, where he explained lived a majority of Greek Gentile pagans in the time of Jesus.
One side of the lake was primarily Jewish settlers; the other side was primarily Greek Gentiles or pagans.
He kept saying “pagans,” “pagans,” “pagans.” And it hit me, all Gentiles were pagan idolaters. All of them.
Every time the phrase “Gentile” is used in the Old or New Testaments, it is referring to someone who was not monotheistic, but someone who worshiped false gods. It is meant to describe someone who bowed down in pagan temples, who sacrificed in the name of idols. Every single time the word is used, it is meant to tell you something specific about the religious practices of that person. A Gentile is a pagan. Only the Jews, and later the Christians, were monotheistic in the biblical narratives; every body else was a pagan idol worshiper.
Our American, 21st century understanding of the term “Gentile” is neutered of its biblical meaning. Today we hear it simply as a non-Jewish person and that’s about it. We do not attach any additional meaning to the term. We see the Apostle Paul as sent by God to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles and in our minds those Gentiles were basically non-Jewish unbelievers living in the Ancient Near East.
But they were much more than that. They were worshipers of others gods, other idols. They worshiped Greek gods, Roman gods, mythical gods, ancient Egyptian gods. They worshiped Roman Emperors as gods in human flesh. They worshiped statues crafted by human hands, images standing in great temples. They were pagans through and through.
In summary a Gentile in the Bible is a pagan and a pagan in the Bible is a Gentile. This basic truth has peeled back a layer of blindness from my eyes and uncovered how my postmodern mind has inserted atheism and agnosticism into the world of the Bible. But those worldviews are simply not there. Either you worshiped the one true God or you worshiped pagan gods. There was no other option – Jew or Gentile.
This truth may be obvious to everyone else, but it was a breakthrough for me.
Over the past days, I made my second pilgrimage to the Holy Lands of Israel and Jordan. I entered the state of Israel for the first time back in 2010 and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 2011. Both earlier trips were huge in shaping my passionate love for Jesus, the Holy Bible and the lands in which God’s presence has dwelled throughout both the Old and New Testament.
Another trip to Turkey and Greece in 2012 set this flame ablaze again as we journeyed through the Book of Acts, into Paul’s letters and to all 7 Churches of the Revelation. I snapped more pictures on those trips than I could ever look at.
For all three of these journeys I have been primarily a tourist. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist. A tourist takes a lot of pictures. A tourist needs to see the ancient sites with their own human eyes to supply their imagination with visual images and landscapes.
A tourist on these kind of trips is like a baby getting to eat ice cream for the first time – they are not sure what it is, but it is sweet and cold and wonderfully good and they can’t seem to eat it fast enough. A tourist arrives at one site and is so excited about what they see, they anxiously rush to the next, and to the next, and to the next to keep getting their fix. I love being a tourist; there is nothing quite like it.
For this trip, however, I was no longer a tourist. I became a pilgrim. A pilgrim moves slower. A pilgrim is calmer. A pilgrim takes pleasure in seeing the giddiness of the tourist, but doesn’t have to feast at the buffet line of experience. A pilgrim selects 2 or 3 things and relishes in their goodness, their completeness, at a deeper level.
The pilgrim’s journal is filled to the brim but their camera SD card…not so much.
This time I was a more of a pilgrim and less of a tourist. And I liked that fact very much. I moved at a different speed. I sat down at the sites. The texture of the trip for me wasn’t like an over-excited, crazy-wild Jack Russell Terrier, it was more like a solemn owl nestled atop of branch overlooking the beautiful forest.
What is a Pilgrim?
P – Pauses often to breathe and truly see.
I – Is in the moment, not the traffic.
L – Lingers in silence.
G – Grateful for pictures that others take because the camera sometimes doesn’t come out.
R – Reads, writes and reflects a lot.
I – Itinerary is not even on the radar.
M – Measures the experience not in days, stops, sites, or miles traveled, but in meaningful encounters with God, with His Word, and with others.
There was a simplicity to the study and depth of the trip. My eyes were filled but more so my heart. I love being a tourist, but being a pilgrim in the Holy Land is far more gratifying. I hope I can continue growing as a pilgrim.
For the last several weeks, I have been on the road with LifeWay Kids training VBS leaders from around the country and North America. We have traveled to North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and will be in Florida this weekend.
There have been VBS leaders from every state in the union including Alaska and Hawaii and from our neighbors in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Canada.
Once everything is finished, we will have trained nearly 6000 VBS leaders who will in turn train another 70,000+ leaders who will host and lead 3 million boys, girls, teens and adults in VBS this year. I am overwhelmed by the power of multiplication and the enormous influence VBS has on Kids Ministry around the world.
Over the last few weeks of ministry, I have learned several important truths about those who lead and serve in Kids Ministry around the nation.
I have learned that…
1. THEY ARE PASSIONATE. These servant-leaders are absolutely passionate about their own personal faith in Christ and the work assigned to them by God in serving kids and families. They are willing to do whatever it takes to help the next generation know Jesus and grow in Him. Their passion and vitality is infectious.
2. THEY ARE HARDWORKING. These leaders go the extra mile and often do it without any appreciation or recognition. Without exception, Kids Ministry is the largest people and volunteer network in the church. It is usually the most demanding with all sorts of different needs among different age groups. It is usually the most under-funded, yet all the while it is the single most effective evangelistic tool the church has at its disposal. These leaders get it done week after week, year after year and I applaud them.
3. Lastly, THEY ARE HUNGRY FOR HELP. When a KidMin leader attends a training session, they sit on the edge of their seats hungry for any tip, any suggestion, any instruction we can give. They take page after page of notes. They listen with their eyes and ears and hearts wide open. They are starving for anything that will help them lead better.
I have taught similar sessions for pastors, ministers and deacons and I promise you the sessions are not the same. I am not slamming pastors (goodness, I am one), but the intensity level is not nearly the same as these KidMin leaders. Pastors tend to generally appreciate the training but all the while are checking their phones, day-dreaming, catching up on some sleep, and running back and forth to the lobby to take a call. Not so with the KidMin leader. This is their chance to be equipped and they are in it full on.
My heart and soul goes out to these 6000 VBS leaders. In the months ahead, they will labor to get volunteers, make preparations, decide about budgets, argue with the church maintenance staff, stay up late, get up early, all to share the love of Christ with kids and families. We know their labor will not be in vain.
I am simply humbled and honored to be able to meet them, encourage them, and give them a glimmer of hope because I am a VBS salvation. It still works and will continue to work for generations to come.
While on our first Holy Land tour of Israel back in 2010, our Jewish tour guide Shimone told us that every pomegranate grown on the face of the earth had exactly 613 seeds. He explained that if you opened up any pomegranate grown in any part of the world and de-seeded it, you would find exactly 613 seeds. I didn’t believe him then, but I had no way of proving it.
Now why Shimone believed every pomegranate in the world had 613 seeds is important. But you are going to have to wait for it. There is a point, I promise.
So since that trip, I have been on the search for pomegranates. The only problem is that you can only buy them in KY for about 1 month – from late October through early November. And if your local grocery store doesn’t have them (which most don’t in Campbellsville), you are out of luck.
But then yesterday, we were in the Whole Foods Market in Louisville and Jennifer spotted a whole stack of pomegranates. So I bought one (for $2.50 mind you) to test the hypothesis.
I carefully opened the fruit and removed each and every seed. Then I organized the seeds into a muffin pan so I could count them accurately.
The result? The total number did not even come close to 613; instead only a meager 374. Shimone’s little fib had been proven false.
So what is the point to all this seed-counting business anyway? According to a Jewish legend (that obviously Shimone believed), the pomegranate is a living reminder of the Laws of God.
Beyond the 10 Commandments we all know from Exodus 20, there are a grand total of 613 laws in what we call the Levitical Laws given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. These 613 laws govern all of life for the Jewish people.
It is these 613 laws that Jesus came to fulfill (Luke 24:44). The 613 points us to our absolute inability to be good enough to earn God’s favor (Romans 5:20-21). There is no one righteous, no not even one (Romans 3:10). Therefore we need the righteousness that can only come through Jesus Christ. His perfect life given as a sacrifice for our horribly imperfect one.
While the pomegranate may not have 613 seeds, I can assure you it is just as difficult to perfectly obey 374 laws. Each seed reminds us that we have sinned and continue to fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
I give God praise because He knew I would fall short and so made a way for me to be stand right before him. Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. I will never look at a pomegranate the same again.