SISTERS OF LAZARUS Devotional

The following are seven devotionals centered around the SISTERS OF LAZARUS series. They were originally used as part of a Lenten devotion, but they can be used at any time of the year and for any setting, from personal quiet times to book studies.

Each devotion will include a reading from either “SISTERS OF LAZARUS; Beauty Unveiled” or “GLORY REVEALED; Sisters of Lazarus, Book 2.” It will continue with scripture, a devotional thought, and end a music video that compliments the devotional thought.

 

 

DEVOTION 1: LOVE

[Based upon Chapters 1-10 in SISTERS OF LAZARUS; Beauty Unveiled.]

From “Beauty Unveiled” Chapter Ten

*Intro to the story: Lazarus ben Jacob has invited his old friend, Judas Iscariot, to have supper at his and his sisters’ home. As Judas was traveling with the new teacher, Jesus ben Joseph, and eleven other disciples, Lazarus extended the invitation to the other men as well. After supper, the siblings and their guests went onto the rooftop to enjoy the cool night air and get to know this new teacher.

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“Enough about our families,” Lazarus set his cup down on a small table and turned towards Jesus. “I would learn more about you. We have heard stories of you from many people; stories that liken you to one of the prophets of old. Some stories tell of miracles; the lame walking or people healed from various illnesses.”

“My wife’s mother was ill with a fever,” Peter said, “and Jesus healed her.”

“I’m thankful he did,” Andrew grinned as he took a cake from the platter Martha held. “Like Martha bat Jacob, Peter’s mother-in-law is a remarkable cook.”

Martha bowed her head, “Your words are kind.”

“Teacher,” Lazarus said, “my future father-in-law, Rabbi Nicodemus, told me he met with you last year.”

“He did,” Jesus nodded.

Martha touched Mary’s arm. They carried the platter and amphora of wine to a small table on the side of the roof and sat on two thick cushions to listen.

“He said he wanted answers for himself and for others,” Lazarus said. “He did not identify who ‘they’ were, but I suspect one is his friend Rabbi Joseph bar Neriah, from Arimathea. Rabbi Nicodemus said he believes you are a teacher sent from Yahweh. He told me some of the things you spoke about including…” Lazarus spread his hands, “‘a new birth?’” He smiled slightly.  “I honor him, but the rabbi is growing older. It would appear that he did not hear you correctly.”

“No,” the young teacher set his cup down. “He heard my words correctly. I told him that no one would see Yahweh’s kingdom unless he is born again.”

“Please forgive me, Teacher,” Lazarus shook his head, “I have no problem understanding the kingdom of Yahweh. What Jew does not pray for Yahweh to return Israel to the glory of King David’s reign? But this, ‘new birth;’ how is that physically possible?”

“Lazarus, no man can enter Yahweh’s kingdom unless he is first born physically and then born spiritually.” Jesus looked his host. “Everything on earth is born of its own nature. Human children are born of human parents. In the same way, spiritual things are born from the Spirit of Yahweh. To enter Yahweh’s kingdom, you will have to be born the first time, as a human, and then born the second time, from above.”

Lazarus thought for a moment and then shook his head, spreading his hands. “I still do not understand how someone gets this ‘new birth’ you speak of, Teacher. Where is this, ‘above’ and how does one get there?”

The Teacher did not respond in frustration over her brother’s lack of understanding. He smiled gently and leaned in. “Lazarus, no one has ever gone into Heaven except the one who came from above—from Heaven—except the Son of Man. Do you remember the story of the bronze snake?”

Mary nodded along with her brother. It was a story that every Jewish child learned almost as soon as they were weaned.

“After Yahweh delivered the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage,” Lazarus said, “they disobeyed Him many times. Once, they spoke against Moses and Yahweh, complaining of Yahweh’s deliverance and His care for them.

“As a punishment, Yahweh sent venomous snakes came into the camp. Many people died. The people cried out to Moses, asking him to pray that Yahweh would forgive them.”

Jesus nodded. “Then Yahweh instructed Moses to make a snake out of bronze and put it on a pole in the middle of the camp.”

“When a person was bitten,” Lazarus said, “all they had to do was look up at the bronze snake and they would live.’”

“It was more than merely looking up at the bronze snake, Lazarus. They had to believe that, by looking at the snake, they would live. In the same way, the Son of Man must be lifted up. If anyone believes in him, they will have eternal life.”

“The Son of Man?”

“For Yahweh loves the world so much,” Jesus’ voice took on an intensity, echoing across the rooftop, “that He sent his only Son, and whoever believes in Him will not die from their disobedience, but will have eternal life.”

Her brother stared at the Teacher for several moments; then he spoke. “The Son of Man? The Son of Yahweh? Death? Eternal Life? I have never heard teaching like this before. I am sorry, Teacher; I am trying, but I don’t understand.”

“Do not worry, Lazarus ben Jacob.” The wind shifted the clouds away from the moon. In the orb’s soft light, Mary could see that Jesus’ smile was gentle and understanding. “You will understand.”

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“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

We throw the word, “Love,” around so casually. “I love roses.” “I love chocolate.” “I love football.” “I love this show, or that artist/actor.”

One reason for this flippant use of the word is that, in the English language, we have only one word to represent the broad spectrum of affection. In Greek, there are six different words that represent love: Eros is sexual passion; Philia is deep friendship; Ludus is playful love, such as between children or flirting between young lovers; Pragma is long-standing love, as between couples who have been married a long time; Philautia is love of self, both the unhealthy narcissism and the healthy love that broadens your own capacity to love; Agape is selfless love. Agape would later be translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word “charity.” In his book, “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis referred to agape as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love.

It was this agape love that Jesus referenced in His discourse with Nicodemus in John 3. John would later write that, “God is love.” Rather than think of ‘love’ as a character trait of God, I prefer to think of it as an appositive for God.

In case you have forgotten basic grammar, an appositive is a noun or noun phrase that renames another noun. For instance, “Vincent, Rachael’s black cat, likes to sit in the window.” “Rachael’s black cat” renames “Vincent.” The noun/noun phrase is interchangeable with the other noun/noun phrase.

I prefer to think that in 1 John 4:8, “love” is not just a character trait; it is an appositive for “God.” God and loveagape—are interchangeable. With this thought, it’s interesting to go through the Bible and insert “Love” for “God” or “LORD.”

“In the beginning, Love created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1)

“Then the LOVE said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the LOVE? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’” (Genesis 18:13-14)

 “…O great and powerful Love, whose name is the LOVE Almighty, great are Your purposes and mighty are Your deeds.” (Jeremiah 32:18-19)

These sound wonderful; however, let’s look at other scriptures.

“Abraham answered, ‘Love Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’” (Genesis 22:8)

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the Love we serve is able to save us from it,  and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17)

“For Love so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Many people describe God as being loving and Jesus as meek and mild; the Good Shepherd. In their concept, He is the source of good things and when faced with hard situations, they question, “How can a God of love,” they ask, “allow all the sorrows and tragedies in the world?”

The truth is that God is Love and that He has our best at His heart; sometimes, that best is brought about through hard times. The older I get, the more I can look back over my life and see the hand of God moving in different situations. However, not all of these times did my prayers get answered the way I prayed. In fact, many times I had to face tough situations while continually reminding myself that God had not abandoned me, that He still loved me, that He was working everything for my good; even when I didn’t understand.

It is because of a lack of understanding this type of love, this type of God, that throws many people off from having a relationship with God or Jesus at all. The Jewish people didn’t understand Jesus. The Temple leaders didn’t understand Jesus. The Romans didn’t understand Jesus. It was this lack of understanding that made many people fear and even hate Jesus, who was Love incarnate.

Another thing we need to remember is that, while we have a personal relationship with God and Jesus, it is not all about us. God’s plans are broader than our plans; we are only a small part of His plans. We need to remember that the scripture says, “For God so loved the world.”

Pray with me?

Father God, God of Love; Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate: Thank You for being Love, real Love. The Love Who knew all the days of my life before the foundations of the world. Thank You for Your loving hand on my life, for all the blessings You have given me. I ask that, when the clouds of life descend, and I can’t see You, help me to hold tight to Your hand; knowing that Your Love is holding me near.

TWILA PARIS: “WARRIOR IS A CHILD/DO I TRUST YOU”

 

DEVOTION 2: “WOUNDED”

[Based upon Chapters 11-18 in SISTERS OF LAZARUS; Beauty Unveiled.]

From “Beauty Unveiled” Chapter Eighteen

*Intro to the story: Mary, Martha and Lazarus are at their Capernaum home, where the family spends the summers. They are hosting Jesus ben Joseph and several of his disciples. Mary has wandered into her mother’s flower garden and is pondering the changes that knowing Jesus has brought in her sister.

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Martha. Complimenting my appearance. Mary shook her head. From the day Simon had returned, Martha had changed. She still cared for the house and spent time preparing the meals, but she did not get angry if every dish was not perfect or if dust had settled on a table. She was gradually changing her wardrobe, selecting softer fabrics in beautiful hues, wearing jewelry, and even asking Mary’s advice on hair styles. The greatest change was the veils. Martha still wore veils, but not made from thick, opaque fabric. Her garments looked like the ‘tapestries of rich silk’ of the woman in King Solomon’s proverb. Martha had worked hard to be like that woman; and now she was.

Mother would be pleased with Martha, Mary smiled sadly, but not with me.

“Hello, Mary.”

She looked up to see her brother walking across the path towards her. “Am I disturbing you?”

“Oh, uh, no”’ She stood and busied herself with smoothing her garments. “Did Martha send you to look for me?”

“No, no, no,” he said, patting the air with his hands. “Sit down. Abigail and her father and Ruth will be here soon and I wanted to cut some lilies for her.” He smiled. “They are her favorite flowers.”

“What a kind thing to do,” Mary said. “Abigail is blessed to have you as her betrothed husband.”

Lazarus grinned. “I am the one who is blessed. She will be the perfect wife.”

“I am happy for you, Lazarus.” She paused. “From all appearances, Martha and Simon will not be long in following you and Abigail into marriage.”

“I agree.” He shook his head. “Martha… a wife; who would have imagined it?” He smiled. “Mother and Father—may their memories be blessed—would have been pleased. One day I will be happy for you, when you become a wife.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Mary, is something wrong? You’ve been crying.”

“No,” she shook her head and then paused. “Well, yes.” She took a slow breath. “I was just thinking about Mother.”

“I know you still miss her,” he sat down next to her.

“I do miss her,” she said.

Lazarus said nothing and waited.

“I was such a disappointment to her,” she said in a rush.

“What?” he opened his eyes wide. “No. No. No. She loved you.”

“I know she loved me,” Mary said. “But I was not the daughter she wanted. Martha was.”

“Mary, Mother boasted to everyone of your beauty.”

She blew out a breath. “What value is beauty?”

“Mother was confident your beauty was all that was needed to attract a rich and powerful husband.”

“That is what she told other people.  But she told me that a goat was a better cook than I.” Mary’s voice cracked, “She said that it was a good thing I was so beautiful, otherwise I would never find a husband.” Leaning her head on her brother’s shoulder, she dissolved into tears.

*****

Lazarus was shocked. He had never heard his younger sister—beautiful Mary—say these things. He didn’t know what to do. As he opened his mouth, another voice spoke.

“Your mother was wrong.”

Lazarus looked up to see Jesus standing near the planting of lilies. Dressed in a plain white tunic and black robe, he could have been a simple farmer or merchant; but the Teacher’s bearing—assured and wise yet without arrogance—could have rested upon the shoulders of a king.

Jesus crossed to them as Mary lifted the lower edge of her head covering to wipe the tears from her eyes. “Mary bat Jacob,” he said, “look at me.” His voice was soft and kind.

She hesitated and then lifted red-rimmed eyes to his.

“Your mother was wrong,” he repeated. “Beauty of face or form—or skills—are not of value.” He swept out his hands, indicating the lush garden. “Look at these flowers. They are beautiful, but they will soon die and then where will their value be?

“You, Mary bat Jacob, are worth so much more than these flowers. You have value because you are created by Yahweh and He loves you.

“What is true beauty? It is written in the Holy Scriptures that Abraham’s wife Sarah was beautiful. She had a face and form that many men desired, but that was not what made her beautiful. Sarah was beautiful because she was gentle and kind. She was beautiful because she loved and obeyed Yahweh and used that love to serve others.

“If you seek to love and obey Yahweh above everything else in your life,” Jesus took a step towards them, “if you love others as yourself, that will show in your actions and in your countenance. You will be beautiful; and that beauty will never fade.”

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“Adam and Eve in Paradise” by Peter Paul Rubens

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not  eat from any tree in the garden”?’

The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden,

and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’

‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:1-5)

Beyond not truly understanding the God Who is Love and His Son, the next challenge mankind faces is that we believe lies. When Eve responded to the Devil/serpent’s oily suggestion—that God was withholding something wonderful—that poisonous lie pierced her heart.

From the Fall, mankind has been wounded by the lies of the Devil. “I’m ugly,” “I’m stupid,” “I will never be able to do fill in the blank.” “I will always be poor.” “I will never overcome this sinful habit.” “I will never be healed from this illness.” Satan’s list of lies goes on; at one point or another, we have all believed the lie that God isn’t Who He said He is and that Jesus lied when He said,

“how much more valuable you are than birds!”  (Luke 12:24)

In John 10:10, Jesus said:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;”

The Devil/Enemy of our Soul/Thief has come to do whatever he can to destroy the belief in what God has promised us; to steal what God has given us; and to kill our God-given life. And he’s good at it; he’s had millennia to sharpen his lying tongue. There is another description of Satan that we often hear:

“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Peter 5:8)

Many people misquote this scripture—I have no doubt that it is Satan who suggests that error—by switching the verb “like” with the verb “is.” Rather than remembering that the devil is like a lion, they believe he is a lion. But Satan is a pretender, he is a poser. He wants you to give into your woundedness and be afraid of him and his thieving/killing/destroying ways to the point that you forget what Jesus said after His description of the thief:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  (John 10:10b)

Jesus went on to say:

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

The truth we need to remember and believe is this: If God is Love—which He is—then we, as His children, are born out of Love by accepting the sacrifice of our Good Shepherd. If Jesus came that we might have life—which He did—then we need to hold the light of these truths up to the suggestions of Satan and see them for what they are: Lies.

Pray with me?

Father God, forgive me for listening to the lies of Satan and believing that You do not love me and that Your plans for me are to harm me. Help me, when Satan whispers his lies, to proclaim that You created me in Love, that my value is found in Your Love and in the blood of Jesus. Amen.

TRAVIS COTTRELL: “JUST AS I AM/I COME BROKEN”

 

DEVOTION 3: “WHYs and Ifs”

[Based upon chapters 19-24 of SISTERS OF LAZARUS: Beauty Unveiled]

From “Beauty Unveiled” Chapter Twenty-three 

*Intro to the story: Despite the physician’s medicines, Martha’s care, and everyone’s prayers, Lazarus died in Abigail’s arms. For days, their prayers and cries have gone up, hoping that Lazarus’ spirit might hear and return to his body. As the sun rose on the fifth day, their hopes died. It was too late; Lazarus’ spirit had gone to Abraham’s bosom. Mary and Martha are at their home when their uncle Joktan announces that he is now their near kinsmen and will take charge of their wealth, their possessions, and even their lives. At this point, Simon brings word to Martha: Jesus is coming. Martha rushes out to see the Teacher. 

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“None of this would have happened had Lazarus lived.” She paused, thinking. “Where is the Teacher?” she asked.

“The messenger, who brought news of his arrival, said Jesus was coming from the Jordan River. He is heading towards the tombs.”

She started walking again. They passed through the marketplace; there were a few booths opened and a handful of people buying and selling, but she knew everyone else were at the tomb. “Then we will meet him there.” She set her mouth. Lazarus was Jesus’ friend. We opened our home to him and his disciples, here and in Capernaum. We sent him money. She lifted the hem of her tunic and hurried down the street. After all we’ve done for him, I have to know why. Why didn’t he come earlier?

They turned towards the Mount of Olives. In the distance, coming from the west, was a small group of men. Martha didn’t need to count to know that their number was thirteen and she didn’t need to be closer to know that the one at the front was Jesus ben Joseph.

“Simon,” she touched his forearm, “I need to speak with the Teacher alone. Please?”

He looked at her for a moment and then nodded. He crossed to a large rock on the side of the road and sat down. “I’ll wait here for you.”

As Martha took a step towards Jesus, she remembered Lazarus as a boy, running through the streets of Bethany, along the shore in Capernaum. She took another step; she remembered him as a mischievous youth and a generous young man, who wouldn’t hesitate to invite thirteen strangers to his home. Another step; he was a wise and loving brother who never shied away from being responsible for two emotional women. She picked up her pace; she saw him smiling whenever he spoke Abigail’s name. He was respectful of Rabbi Nicodemus. He rejoiced when old friends returned. She started running; she remembered overhearing him promise Abigail he would return. She remembered him wan and thin and writhing in pain. She remembered him retching and tossing and shivering with a fever that burnt to the touch.

She was a few feet away from the Teacher; she remembered hearing that horrible, gut-wrenching shriek when Lazarus – her sweet, kind, loving, wonderful brother Lazarus – died in Abigail’s arms.

Opening her arms wide, she threw herself against Jesus’ chest. She felt a broad shoulder – a shoulder made rock hard from years working in a carpenter’s shop – beneath her head. She felt a hand, callused and rough, holding her head while she wept. She felt the feather touch of his breath on her cheek as he murmured soft words of comfort.

“Lord!” she wept, “if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died!” Those were the words she had planned to say, but suddenly the statement seemed lacking. Then, in a heartbeat, other memories came; listening to Jesus teach on the coming kingdom; healing a lame man; giving sight to the blind; restoring Simon, restoring her life. “But even now,” she added, “I know that Yahweh will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus held her at arm’s distance. His dark eyes searched hers. “Your brother will rise again,” he said.

A thrill rushed through her body. Lazarus will rise again? But wait; it had been four days – too long – his spirit had already gone. She responded with the lesson she had learned at her mother’s feet. “I know he will rise again, when all those who are dead rises on the last day.”

“I am the resurrection and the life,” his voice resonated. “Whoever believes in me, even though his body dies, yet he will live; and whoever lives and believes in me will never taste eternal death. Do you believe me?”

The resurrection and the life. Never taste eternal death. That means that I will see Lazarus again. Believe? Do I believe?

“Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the promised Messiah, the Chosen One Yahweh sent into the world.’

He looked into her eyes for a moment longer, a gentle smile tugging the corners of his mouth. ‘Where is Mary?’

[Story interlude: At this point, Martha and Simon return to bring Mary to Jesus.]

Some of the mourners were returning from the cemetery when Mary and Martha rushed through the town. They called to them, wanting to know if they were going to the tomb. When neither sister responded, the mourners followed.

Jesus was in the same place where Martha had met him. Seeing him in the distance, Mary lifted the hem of her robe and ran to him. Dropping to her knees, she spread her arms wide and lifted her head to the skies as a moan rose from deep within, erupting from her lips as a sobbing wail. She remained kneeling at Jesus’ feet, the wind carrying the sounds of her grief down the slopes of the Mount of Olives to the cemetery. She cried the same thing her sister had, “Lord, if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died!”

She felt hands grasp her forearms and lift her up.

Jesus gazed into her eyes. Dust and fatigue covered his face, but there was something more. Something radiated from his penetrating eyes. “Where is his tomb?” he asked.

Mary looked at her sister and then at Jesus. “Come and see, Lord.”

The sisters and Simon, along with Jesus and his disciples, walked the short distance to Lazarus’ tombs, where Abigail, Nicodemus, Michael, Ruth and many friends stood, weeping and comforting each other.

Jesus looked around and then lowered his head and wept, tears filling his eyes and streaming down his cheeks to drop on the path.

“Look!” Mary heard someone whisper. “The Teacher is crying. He loved Lazarus so much.”

“If he loved him,” another said, “why did he not come and heal him? After all, he healed a blind man; couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Crossing to the tomb, Jesus extended a hand to touch the stone covering the entrance. “Roll away the stone.”

Mary’s eyes widened. She looked at Martha who shook her head.

Walking up to Jesus, Martha said, “Lord, Lazarus died four days ago. His spirit has already left this area for Abraham’s bosom and his body has begun to rot.”

Jesus turned to look at Martha. “Do you remember I said if you believe, you would see Yahweh’s glory?”

For a minute, Martha looked at the Teacher. Then she turned to Simon. “Please move the stone.”

The crowds gathered as Simon, along with Michael and some of Jesus’ disciples rolled the large stone away from the tomb’s entrance. They gagged as the smell of rotting flesh mingled with perfumed oils permeated the air.

Jesus walked to the door of the tomb. Stretching his arms wide, he lifted his face to the grey sky. “Father,” his voice echoed through the rocky tombs, ‘I thank You that You heard me. I know that You always hear me, but I say this so that those standing here will hear and believe that You have sent me.”

Looking into the tomb’s darkened door, Jesus extended a hand. “Lazarus,” the words echoed, “come out!”

There wasn’t a sound on that slope as the mourners held their breaths. A minute passed as the wind whipped around the tombs with a moaning keen.

Nothing.

First one person, then another, turned to walk home, each pausing to touch Mary or Martha’s shoulder and whisper to them. Half of the crowd had reached the path to town, when Mary’s scream brought everyone running back.

Mary stood, pointing at the tomb where, in the doorway, Jesus stood with his hand on the shoulder of a linen wrapped body, the hands and feet bound with strips of cloth. Jesus reached up and removed the large white cloth covering the head.

“Lazarus!”

Mary ran to the tomb, Martha a step behind. They embraced their brother, as Abigail ran up to them, with Michael following helping Nicodemus up the rocky path. They threw their arms around Lazarus, around each other. The mourners crowded around them, crying, laughing and shouting praises to Yahweh.

Over the cacophony of joy, Jesus spoke. “Here,” he said, removing his robe and unwinding his girdle, he extended his garments to Simon. “Take off his grave clothes and set him free.”

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“Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead” by Carl Bloch

“Why?”

That’s a question that is often asked of God and it’s generally about hard challenges that we face. It was certainly true of people in the Bible.

“Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, why have You brought trouble upon this people? Is this why You sent me?’” (Exodus 5:22)

“But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?  There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’ ” (Numbers 21:4-5)

“‘But sir,’ Gideon replied, ‘if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?  Where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, “Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?”But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.’” (Judges 6:13)

There are many more, “Whys,” in the Old Testament; it’s mentioned in 43 verses in the book of Job. In the New Testament, the most well-known questioning is not a, “Why?” but it carries the same question.

“‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21)

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:32)

It’s easy to skim through the story in John 11 with excitement and anticipation; after all, we know that Jesus resurrected Lazarus.

But that’s just it; we know it because it’s written in the Bible. But Mary and Martha didn’t know it. What they knew, what they had experienced was, despite all their efforts, despite all their prayers, God had not responded and their brother—who was a close friend of the Teacher—had died.

Ah, but God did respond; just not in the way they wanted. But when He did show up…

For Mary and Martha to receive their brother back, they had to lose him. For Lazarus to receive his greatest miracle, he had to die.

This might sound like I’m repeating this message, but it is a central message to BEAUTY UNVEILED, and it’s important for us to remember. Sometimes we must go through hard times—sometimes we must face not having our prayers not answered—to receive the greater gift.

What is that greater gift?

In some situations, it was God delivering the people. God providing for His people. God destroying their enemies. However, in other situations:

“Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:35-40)

Keep these people in mind as you read the verse that follows it.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,  and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

For nothing else, our tests and our testimonies are so we might join that, “great cloud of witnesses,” so we can be used as an encouragement for others, to point them to the goal at the end of the race: our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Because, in the end, it’s not about us. Remember, “For God so loved the world…”

Pray with me?

Father God, forgive me when, in my weakness, I question You. Help me, even when I don’t understand, to remember that You have a greater plan, for the world and for me. Help me lift my head and run, knowing that many saints that have gone before are surrounding me, encouraging me to run the race that You have set before me. As a testimony for Your glory. Amen.

Click here to read about “BECAUSE I AM” by Harvest; the song that inspired BEAUTY UNVEILED.

 

DEVOTION 4: “WORSHIP”

[Based upon Chapters 1 – 6 of GLORY REVEALED; Sisters of Lazarus, Book 2]

From “GLORY REVEALED” Chapter Five

*Intro to the story: The Teacher, Jesus ben Joseph, had entered Jerusalem to the clamorous shouts of “Hosanna.” The scene picks up inside the Court of Gentiles in the Temple, where Lazarus and Simon are presenting their Passover Lamb to Michael and Nicodemus for inspection.

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A group of men were climbing the stairs in the tunnel that led to up to the Court of the Gentiles, with an even larger group of people following them.

“Look!” One of the people who had pointed out Lazarus said. “It’s Jesus ben Joseph!”

The crowd following Jesus and the twelve surged out of the tunnel and onto the marbled floor, waving palm branches and headcloths, startling the people and animals in the court. Over the bleats and cries, the crowd following Jesus called,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!”

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Hosanna in the highest!”

As if by a command, the crowd silenced. All watched as the Teacher walked around the marbled court, staring at the Temple built by Herod. It was common for visitors to Jerusalem to be awed by the beauty of the holy place. When the Teacher drew near, Lazarus opened his mouth to greet him, but was stopped by the touch of Nicodemus’ hand and slight shake of his head. The older priest studied the young prophet as he walked towards a nearby table of a moneychanger.

Jesus reached out, laid a hand on the edge of the table and closed his eyes.

“Hey!” said a moneychanger, “remove your hand from—Iiiieee!” he screamed and jumped backwards as Jesus, drawing in a deep breath, squatted slightly and, grabbing the wooden edge, stood, overturning the table. Sunlight flashed on gold coins as they pinged and spun and skittered over the stone floors.

Before the moneychanger could recover from his shock, the Teacher stepped to the next table and turned it over. He moved from table to table, upending them, scattering bags and stacks of coins. He opened the cages of doves and pigeons, releasing the birds. Shocked by the Teacher’s actions, the moneychangers scrambled around, trying to gather their coins or catch their birds.

As one, the crowd erupted into shouts as people dropped to their knees, grabbing coins from the marble floor and shoving them into the folds of their girdles. Fights broke out among people and moneychangers. The Temple Guard tried to intervene; however, the crowd outnumbered them and kept them from reaching the Teacher.

From the hall leading to the Court of Israel, black robed priest spilled out like ants whose hill had been disturbed. Joktan and Abel were among them, waving their arms, demanding silence, ordering the people to leave immediately and calling for the guards to do something. At the back of the group of priests, Caiaphas ben Joseph and his father-in-law, Annas ben Seth stepped out of the hall, wearing their dignity and authority as a robe.

Jesus, having upended the last table, crossed to the center of the court and stood, staring at the leaders of the Jewish people.

“Silence!” Caiaphas’ voice echoed off the stone walls.

The cacophony stopped. People froze as they were—some standing, some kneeling, hands clutching coins or spears. All eyes swung between the High Priest and young prophet from Nazareth.

Caiaphas lifted a hand to point at Jesus. “What are you doing, Jesus ben Joseph?” He demanded. “You are disturbing the peace of Yahweh’s Temple!”

Most people cringed when the gaze of High Priest rested on them and trembled if he spoke to them. Jesus did neither.

“It is written,” Jesus’ voice resounded around the marbled courtyard, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’” he lifted a hand to point at Caiaphas and Annas, ‘but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”

A collective gasp rose. All Jews recognized that Jesus had quoted the prophet Isaiah:

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

He had also quoted the prophet Jeremiah:

“‘Has this house, which bears My Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!’ declares Yahweh.”

As if dismissing the High Priest, Jesus turned and walked up to a man who was standing near the wall. His left foot, wrapped in dirty linen, was lifted up and he used a tall stick to support his weight. Jesus placed his hands on the man’s shoulders and closed his eyes. Then, opening his eyes, he knelt and, gently grasping the man’s left foot, lowered it.

The man looked at Jesus and then at his foot. He gingerly shifted his balance and put weight on his left foot. His eyes shot open. “It doesn’t hurt.” He moved his foot forward and put more weight on it. He dropped the stick and took a step. “I can walk.” He walked in a large circle, blinking away the sheen of tears that gathered in his eyes. “I can walk! I can walk!” Then turning to Jesus, he dropped to his knees and grabbed the edge of the Teacher’s tunic.

“You healed me! Thank you, Sir! Praise be to Yahweh!”

From the crowd, a woman hurried across the marble floor to Jesus, leading a man with a bandage wrapped around his eyes. “Sir,” she said. “My husband lost his sight last year. You have healed others,” she glanced towards Lazarus and Simon. “Please heal him.”

Jesus smiled at her before stepping up to her husband. He found the edge of the cloth on the man’s face and unwrapped it; eyes, white and cloudy, did not flinch at the sunlight. Jesus placed his hands gently over the man’s eyes and leaned in to whisper in his ear. Then he stepped away.

The man lifted a hand against the sunlight. His hand began to tremble as he lowered it, to stare at his palm. He lifted his face to his wife…and smiled. He held out a hand to her.

She threw herself against his chest, crying and laughing. The man looked around at crowd; milky white eyes were now black as opal.

“I can see,” he said. “I can see.” The man looked at Jesus. “Thank you! Praise be to Yahweh! I can see!”

Pandemonium erupted as people cheered and danced. Young children jumped up and down, chanting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

Caiaphas tried silencing the crowd, but to no avail. Gathering their robes, the High Priest and his father-in-law crossed to Jesus. Pointing to a group of children dancing and chanting around the Teacher, Caiaphas said, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus reached down to ruffle the hair of a young boy before looking at the High Priest. “I hear them,” he said. “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise?’”

********

“The Triumphant Entry” by Felix Louis Leullier

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, He went into the Temple area known as the Court of Gentiles. No Gentile was allowed beyond this outer court. It was in this court that the historic high priest Caiaphas had authorized a market for the sale of ritually pure items necessary for temple sacrifice: wine, oil, salt, approved sacrificial animals and birds.

In that time, the money circulating in Palestine came from three sources: the Roman imperial coins; the provincial Greek coins, and the local Jewish coins. The Greek and Roman coins featured human portraits which were considered idolatrous to Jews. Money changers provided the required Tyrian (Jewish) coins needed to pay the annual half-shekel tax [Exodus 30:12-16] required of all male Jews wo years of age and up.

“Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the LORD.” (Exodus 30:13)

It was an accepted practice for the moneychangers to add a surcharge for exchanging coins; however, these surcharges were not free from fraud and extortion. This was also true for animals brought for sacrifice; when a person presented a lamb for examination, it was not uncommon for the priest to ‘find a flaw’ in the animal and require the person to purchase one of their flawless animals, with the understanding that some of the profits would be shared among priests and moneychangers.

From the location of the Temple, the Court of Gentiles provided a convenient shortcut from one part of Jerusalem to another. In Mark’s account of the Cleansing of the Temple [Mark 11:16] Jesus prevented people from carrying merchandise through the Court.

Jesus was outraged that the Jewish leaders—who were fastidious about the areas set aside for their own worship—blatantly disregarded the area set aside for Gentiles who wished to worship Yahweh, stating that they used it as a “den of robbers.”

Rather than answer Jesus’ accusation of their misuse of the Temple, the Jewish leaders pointed to the children.

“But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked Him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise?’” (Matthew 21:15-16)

There is an ongoing debate about the proper way to worship the Lord. There are those who believe that liturgical is the acceptable way, while others condemn it as being boring and point to a seeker-friendly service as the best. There are those who state that hymns sung from hymnals are the only proper worship songs, while others state that scripture songs are better. Some churches tout their exuberant worship services, while others their quiet, contemplative services. The debate goes on to include frequency of services, how and when to serve communion, the size and decoration of the church buildings, and even organized churches verses home churches.

Sadly, many of us are just like the Temple leaders, focusing on the wrong thing; the technical aspects of worship and not on the fact that the Lord was being worshipped.

When my children were little, I tried to get up at least an hour before they woke, in order to have time for Bible reading and coffee.

Generally, one of my children would wake up during that time and would come and climb into my lap. I would wrap my arms around them and we would sit there, sharing a quiet and intimate moment. Later in the day, they would all be running around the house playing. It was not uncommon for one of them to stop, run over, hug me and say, “I love you, Mama,” before rejoining their siblings in play. Now that our children are grown, they no longer climb in my lap, but their expressions of love for me are no less precious.

God created everyone differently. For those of us who are believers, our worship of the Lord is as unique as our fingerprint. Jesus accepted Mary pouring spikenard over His feet as well as the adulation of the children’s “Hosannas.” If it is accepted by God, who are we to question how our brothers and sisters in Christ choose to worship their Heavenly Father?

Pray with me?

Father God, thank You for creating me uniquely. Please forgive me for the times I have looked down upon the way my brothers and sisters in Christ worship You. Let me instead rejoice in the fact that You are being worshipped. Amen.

FIRST CALL: “UNDIVIDED”

 

DEVOTION 5: “OUR FLAWLESS LAMB”

[Based upon Chapters 7-12 of GLORY REVEALED: Sisters of Lazarus, Book 2]

From “Glory Revealed” Chapter Eleven

*Intro to the story: In the days leading up to Passover, instead of examining the lambs presented by the people, the priests were thrown off their schedule by Jesus ben Joseph, who had shown up each day in the Temple courts.

********

“Jesus ben Joseph is a trouble-maker!” Joktan fumed. “I wish an earthquake would split the ground beneath him and swallow him whole, just as it did when Korah, Dathan and Abriham opposed Moses and Aaron. If not for this man we would have been finished with our Temple duties hours ago and would be home by now.”

This day of Passover week was always busy for the Joktan and Abel along with the other priests and Temple leaders on duty at the Temple. On this day each year, the Temple was packed with people retrieving the lambs they had presented for examination as their Passover sacrifice.

Whatever time of the year, the priests had other duties in the Temple and they were not set aside because of the Passover examinations.

Most duties surrounded the sacrifices. The Law Yahweh gave to Moses contained five different types of sacrificial offerings; the meal offering, the peace offering, the trespass offering, the sin offering and the burnt offering. In many of the sacrifices, after the priest presented, waved or sprinkled the item offered—whether grain, oil or animal—the priest would take a portion of the sacrifice. The rest was returned to the person who brought the sacrifice.

The sin offering paid for the worshippers’ unintentional weaknesses and failures against Yahweh and His Law. The burnt offerings were to atone for the peoples’ sins against Yahweh and was a continual dedication of one’s life to Yahweh. These sin offerings and burnt offerings were completely consumed by fire.

One daily burnt offering was the Tamid, the ‘perpetual sacrifice.’ Twice each day, at the third hour and again at the ninth hour, a male lamb—without blemish—was sacrificed in the Temple and was offered along with flour and wine.

The most holy of all days to the Jewish people was the Day of Atonement, known as Shabbat Shabbaton, “a Sabbath of Sabbaths.” On the tenth day of Tishri, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to present a blood sacrifice for himself and for the people. The sacrifice was to avert Yahweh’s wrath for the sins of the past year and reminded all Jewish people that—in spite of all of the other sacrifices presented throughout the year—sin was never fully atoned for.

The priests and Temple leaders had developed a routine for handling the extra duties during Passover. This year, however, the Nazarene had showed up at the Temple each day. Instead of attending to their Temple obligations, Rabbi Annas and Rabbi Caiaphas—along with other priests and Temple leaders—had spent most of each day questioning Jesus, hoping to catch him in something that they could use against him. When not challenging the Teacher, they met to plot their next move to trap him.

Despite their collective years as elders of Israel, teachers of the Holy Scriptures and priests of the Temple, they were unable to determine a question or argument that would best this teacher from Nazareth.

Not only were they unable to trap him, Jesus ben Joseph did not appear to be impressed or intimidated by their position and authority. Just that morning, Abel had been tending the offering box and overheard Jesus commend the miniscule offering of a widow, declaring it of more value than the rich offerings of the wealthy Jews.

Since that first day he rode into Jerusalem to the cries of “Hosanna,” Jesus had come to the Temple, to openly denounce the Jewish religious leaders. Earlier that very day, while people were waiting for their turns to be present while the Passover lambs were sacrificed, Jesus entered in the Court of Gentiles. Spreading his arms wide, he said,

“The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees interpret the Law given to Moses. You must obey Yahweh’s Law and do what it tells you.” He pointed a finger towards Annas, Caiaphas and the group of priests who, hearing the crowd call Jesus’ name, had stopped their duties and crowded into the Court of Gentiles, open distain painting their features. “But do not do what they do,” Jesus ben Joseph had said, “for even they do not practice what they preach.

“They take the Law given to Moses and, by their interpretation, add to what Yahweh said and create heavy loads that they force men to bear, but do not wish to help these men.

“Everything they do, including the clothes they wear, is for position and for men’s honor. They love the place of honor at banquets and in the synagogues and love being revered as, ‘Rabbi.’”

With each word the Nazarene spoke, the countenances of Rabbi Annas, Rabbi Caiaphas and the other priests—including Joktan—grew darker. After telling the crowd about Yahweh being the only Father, that all men were brothers and encouraging the people to humble themselves, Jesus turned back to the

“Jesus Casts Out the Money Changers” by William Hole

priests with a vengeance.

“Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees. You are hypocrites. By substituting the Law of Yahweh with your wretched traditions, you have shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces. You do not wish to enter it and neither will you let those enter who wish to.”

Annas and Caiaphas gaped at Jesus’ words; before either could respond, he continued.

“You travel great distances to win a single convert to Judaism yet, after he becomes one, you make him twice the son of hell that you are.

“You are all blind guides. You say, ‘It means nothing if anyone swears by the Temple. But, if they swear by the gold of the Temple,’” he swept a hand towards golden plates on the white marbled walls of the Court of Priests gleaming in the sunlight, “‘he is bound by that oath.”

Caiaphas took a step towards Jesus, but stopped when the Teacher pointed a finger directly at him. “You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?”

Abel stared in shock. Jesus ben Joseph had openly called the High Priest a fool?

His father was furious. “Who does this man think he is,” Joktan hissed, “that he addresses the leaders of the people thusly?”

Jesus continued criticizing the Tradition of the Elders, their tithes, their ceremonial washings, causing a gasp—mingled with quickly subdued laugher—to ripple around the courtyard when he likened them to the whitewashed tombs outside of the city. “These tombs look beautiful on the outside, but are full of dead men’s bones and all manner of uncleanliness. In the same way, you appear righteous, but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

“You built and decorated the tombs of the righteous. You say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would have been on the side of the prophets and not on the side of those who killed them.’ But, by your very words and actions, you prove that you are descendants of these murderers.

“Listen! I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. As a result, the righteous blood of these people will fall on you.

“Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” Spreading his arms wide, Jesus turned in a wide circle, his voice echoing over the marbled walls to the city beyond. “You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again,” he stopped and—arms still wide—lifted his gaze upward, “until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh.’”

********

According to the Law, three days before Passover, the Jews were to present their lambs to the priests. For the next three days, the priests would examine these animals, to determine if they were flawless or to uncover any flaws. If the priest found flaws—whether real or not—he would sell the animal’s owner with a substitute.

Beginning with His Triumphant Entry, for three days, Jesus presented Himself at the Temple. Every day, while the Temple leaders were busy examining the sacrificial lambs, they also examined Jesus. They questioned Him about His actions, about His teachings, about His interpretation of the Law. The priests were determined, hoping to find some flaw, something to discredit Him, something that would condemn Him.

Despite all their attempts, however, the Temple leaders could find nothing; the priests would not be able to present a substitute. Jesus, our Passover lamb, was perfect. On the third day, when everyone came to retrieve their examined lambs, Jesus told the priests,

“For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.’”(Matthew 23:39)

Pray with me?

Father God, thank You for providing my Passover Lamb. A Lamb Who was so perfect that He did away forever with the need for future sacrifices. I look forward to the day of His return when we cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” Amen.

TWILA PARIS: “LAMB OF GOD”

 

DEVOTION 6: “HIDDEN BLESSINGS”

[Based upon Chapters 13-18 of GLORY REVEALED: Sisters of Lazarus, Book 2]

From “Glory Revealed” Chapter Eighteen

*Intro to the story: Jesus ben Joseph has been arrested. Throughout the night, He was questioned by Annas, tried before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin—a trial which broke multiple Jewish laws—taken to Pilate, then the Herod and back to Pilate. He was slapped, beaten, ridiculed and endured the Roman flogging, a punishment that had no limit on the number of lashes of the flagrum taxillatum, a whip that had pellets, bones, or metal tied along each strand and a hook at the end. Pilate has brought the Teacher, beaten and bloodied, back to the waiting crowd in the courtyard of the Antonia Fortress.

********

They turned back as Pilate extended a hand towards Jesus. “Behold the man! I have brought him out to you, so that you may all know that I find no fault in him.”

“No!” Caiaphas yelled.

“Crucify him!” Annas’ scream echoed by Joktan, “Crucify him!”

“No!” Pilate shook his head. “He has done nothing worthy of death!”

“According to our law, He should die,” Annas shouted, “because he claims to be the Son of Yahweh!”

**********

Abel saw Pilate startle at Rabbi Annas’ accusation. The Governor lifted a hand to silence the crowd. “What did you say?” Pilate asked the elderly rabbi.

“I said,” Annas replied, “this man claimed to be the Son of Yahweh!”

The Governor’s eyes widened as he turned to stare at the Nazarene. He turned back to the elderly priest. “You told me that he claimed to be your Messiah. You said nothing of him claiming to be the son of your god.”

“Why should I think that would matter to you?” Annas replied.

Pilate looked from Annas to the centurion, “Bring the prisoner,” and turned to enter the praetorium once again, the scribe following. The centurion crooked his finger to the soldiers holding Jesus up before following Pilate into the darkened corridor.

Abel didn’t need to glance at his father to know he was expected to go. Pilate had gone only far enough into the corridor to be out of the sight of the courtyard. He was talking to the centurion. The other two soldiers continued holding Jesus by the forearms. From the way the prisoner slumped, he would have crumpled to the floor if not for the soldiers’ grasp.

As Abel reached them, Pilate turned to him. “Abel ben Joktan, I know little about your religion. Tell me; has your god ever taken on human form?”

Abel’s eyebrows shot upward. “What?”

“Rome has many gods and goddesses,” the Governor glanced over his shoulder at the prisoner and lowered his voice, “and some have been known to take on human form and walk among humans.”

“How dare you suggest such a thing!” Abel spat. He was surprised at his own vehemence, but he did not stop. “Our Yahweh is not like your pagan gods!”

Pilate glanced at Jesus ben Joseph again and then turned to the centurion. “Maximus, what do you think?”

“I am a soldier,” the centurion replied. “I offer sacrifices to Mars, the god of war, on his feast days. Beyond that, I do not concern myself with the gods and goddesses, whatever form they take.”

Despite the centurion’s brave words, Abel noticed that he, too, slanted his eyes towards the Nazarene. He’s frightened, Abel realized. He knows that he was responsible for allowing his men to beat Jesus ben Joseph.

Pilate followed the soldier’s glance and then looked back at Abel. “What if this man really is the Son of your Yahweh, but in human form?” He studied the floor for a moment before shaking his head. “No. I won’t be responsible for the blood of a god.” He turned to walk over to the Nazarene. “Annas ben Seth said to you claim to be…” he licked his lips, “the Son of Yahweh?”

Abel noted that the Governor’s tone was diffident and cautious. He truly believes this man might be a god.

Jesus said nothing, but stood with his eyes closed. Pilate flicked a glance at Maximus and

then back to the prisoner. He took a deep breath.

Where are you from?”

Nothing.

The Governor frowned. “Why don’t you say anything? Don’t you know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?”

Jesus ben Joseph opened his eyes and looked at the Roman. He filled his lungs with a ragged breath. “You have no power over me,” although he spoke softly—painfully—his voice echoed in the stone corridor, “that was not given to you from above. For this reason, he who brought me to you,” he looked at Abel and then back at Pilate, “is guilty of greater sin.”

Abel stepped back as if the Nazarene had broken his chains and attacked him. Are you saying that I am guilty? How dare you! I never had any choice; my father made me go to Judas. He made me follow you in the crowds, question you, help arrange your arrest. My father made me lie about you. Now I am guilty of a greater sin? How dare you!

Pilate studied the prisoner for a second longer before turning to his scribe. “Arrange for a bowl of water.” He looked at the soldiers. “Bring him.”

The scribe scurried away while the soldiers with Jesus followed Pilate and the centurion back to the platform.

Abel, only steps behind them, found his spot on the platform. He kept his gaze on Pilate to avoid looking where his father, Rabbi Caiaphas and Rabbi Annas stood.

The Roman governor crossed to the edge of the platform. “I have examined this…man,” he swallowed, “and to appease your desire for his blood, I had him flogged. I will release him as I find no basis for a charge against him.”

“No!” The crowd surrounding the Chief Priest screamed. “Death!”

“Yes!” Michael tried to out-scream the crowd. “Release him!”

“Kill him!” Caiaphas yelled.

“Crucify him!” Joktan shrieked.

Pilate raised his hands to silence the crowd. “He has done nothing wrong!”

“If you release this man,” Annas said, “you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

Abel watched as the crowd erupted again, screaming for Jesus’ blood and repeating Annas’ words. It didn’t take one skilled in the art of subtly to recognize the veiled threat in the rabbi’s statement. Unless Pilate killed Jesus, Annas would see that word reached Tiberius that Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, Samaria and Idumea, had released a man who was plotting to overthrow the Emperor.

Looking at Pilate, Abel saw that the Governor understood Annas’ warning.

Turning, the Roman crossed to the center of the platform and sat down upon the bema. He extended his hand towards Jesus ben Joseph. “Behold!” he said, “Here is your king.”

“No!” Caiaphas screamed. “He is not my king!”

“Away with him!” Joktan shrieked. “Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“He is not our king,” Annas said. “We have no king but Caesar.”

The cacophony of the crowd continued to rise. The centurion stepped to the edge of the platform, directing his men in trying to control the crowd.

The scribe, followed by a servant carrying a towel and a large bowl, stepped out of the corridor. The scribe directed the servant to the Governor’s side.

The High Priest lifted his hands to silence the crowd and then turned to watch.

Pontius Pilate dipped his hands into the bowl and brought them up, dripping with water. He rubbed his hands together and dipped them back into the bowl. “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.”

Abel bit back a gasp. Pilate told me that he wasn’t familiar with our religion, yet he is using the law concerning innocent blood! According to the Law, if someone was found murdered, the man who owned the land was to offer a sacrifice and wash his hands over the sacrifice, while declaring, “Our hands did not shed this blood.”

The crowd understood the Governor’s reference. “Let his blood be on us,” they screamed, “and on our children.”

Taking the towel from the servant, Pilate dried his hands. He turned to face the courtyard. “Centurion; release Jesus Barabbas,” his voice carried over the crowd, “and crucify Jesus ben Joseph.”

“Noooo!” A scream echoed around the walls of the fortress.

Michael turned to see the Teacher’s mother at the back of the courtyard, falling to her knees. Standing next to her was Mary.

“No!” the older woman screamed again. “You cannot! You cannot!” Grabbing the neck of her tunic, she pulled, ripping the cloth. “My son! My Son!

Michael ran to the back of the courtyard, his father and Rabbi Joseph moments behind him.

Mary had dropped to her knees next to the Teacher’s mother and was cradling the woman’s head against her shoulder as if she were a child and not nearly three decades older.

“Shhhh,” she crooned. “Don’t cry. Something can be done.” She looked up at Michael, lifting an eyebrow in a pleading question.

Michael didn’t even look to his father for an answer; Pontius Pilate’s pronouncement of judgement doused any flames of hope for Jesus. He shook his head.

Tears drenched Mary’s amber eyes and trembled on her long lashes. She dropped her head on Mary bat Eli’s shoulder and began sobbing.

The sound of the two women’s grief left his throat constricted and his chest aching. He ran his hands over his head covering and looked upward, his mouth stretched in a silent scream. Yahweh! Help us! Help Jesus! Help me! This was the first time Mary asked me to do something and I have failed her!

********

“Jesus Before Annas” by Jose de Madrazo

There’s an old hymn—written in 1897–that encourages us to, “Count your many blessings and see what God has done.”

I’m sure that Mary, Martha and Lazarus, along with all those who loved Jesus, did not look upon that moment as a blessing. I’m certain they were horrified that—despite everything they had done—they could not save Jesus. He would be crucified.

I’m sure they asked, “Why would Yahweh allow this to happen?”

We can look back from the comfort of two thousand years and know that all of this was in God’s plans from the creation of the world. We are thankful, knowing it was necessary for our sins to be covered, our redemption to be paid for and our relationship with God to be restored. We can smile, knowing that in three days, Jesus’ enemies—Satan and his demons—would be disappointed and Jesus’ friends would rejoice.

Yes, what Jesus went through—God saying, “No,” to their prayers—was for the greatest blessing of all eternity. It just didn’t look like it at the time.

Knowing all of this, why then do I question God when bad things happen to me? When Mike and I went through seven years of infertility testing, desperately wanting a baby? When God didn’t answer our prayers and give Mike a job so we could stay in Texas? When my prayers for healing went unanswered and I was hospitalized with double pneumonia?

I can look back on those situations now and see the blessing, I can see God’s hand.

I share with others of the miracle that, despite being medically infertile, God blessed us with five children within five years.

I tell people that if God had answered my prayers the way I wanted them, we’d still be in Lubbock. We wouldn’t have moved to Tennessee. Our children wouldn’t have met their spouses; they wouldn’t have had our precious grandchildren. Mike would still be working in a corporate job instead of us both earning our living as professional writers, novelists, playwrights, and actors.

Having double pneumonia was the sickest I had ever been. Yet, while I was laying in my hospital bed, I felt the Lord’s presence all around me. He used kind and skillful health care professionals to treat me. He opened my eyes to poor lifestyle choices I had made and gave me the strength to make wise changes. The years since that time have been the healthiest of my adult life.

These are only three instances from my life. There are many other stories I can point to from my past and say, “Look; there is the hand of God.” I’m sure you have these stories as well; stories of healings, stories of provision, stories of guidance, stories of reconciliations and restorations.

So, how do we deal with challenges, with trials, with unanswered prayers? Remember God’s promise in Romans 8:28-39:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God Who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, Who died–more than that, Who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Pray with me?

Father God, thank You for the hard times. Thank You for what appears insurmountable. Thank You that when I am weak, You are strong. Thank You that, through Jesus, we are more than conquerors and that nothing can separate us from Your love. Thank You for the greatest-tragedy-turned-into-the greatest-blessing; the sacrifice, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amen.

LAURA STORY: “BLESSINGS”

 

DEVOTION 7: “IT. IS. FINISHED. GLORY REVEALED”

[Based upon Chapters 19-25 of GLORY REVEALED: Sisters of Lazarus, Book 2]

For the final devotion, I wanted to share some of the prophecies of our Messiah, followed by snippets from GLORY REVEALED, and then the fulfillment of the prophecy in the Gospels.

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The serpent would bruise the seed of the woman.

Prophesy: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He will bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

From GLORY REVEALED: “When I am lifted up,” Jesus said, “I will attract all peoples to myself.”

Jesus’ words drew the crowd’s attention back to him. Every Jewish child learned the story of Moses ‘lifting up’ the bronze serpent in the wilderness after the people sinned. However, the phrase was also used by many as a reference to execution, either by hanging or crucifixion.

The crowd erupted again.

“What are you talking about?” the woman near Jesus asked.

A man near Mary spoke up, “Are you saying you’re going—” he glanced towards the street where the soldiers had turned, “to die?”

“Wait!” another man said. “The prophets and Holy Scriptures state that the Messiah will live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die?”

“And who is this Son of Man, anyway?” a woman on the other side of the crowd demanded.

“‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

At the voice quoting Daniel’s prophecy, Mary’s head spun like the whorl of a spindle. Standing on the edge of the crowd was her cousin, Abel. He did not look at her or at anyone in the crowd; he glared at the Teacher.

“Jesus ben Joseph; are you claiming,” he asked Jesus, “to be the one spoken of by the prophet Daniel?” 

Prophecy Fulfilled: “‘Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to Myself.’ But He said this to signify by what death He was about to die” (John 12:31-33).

Betrayal by Judas:

Prophesy: “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” (Psalm 41:9)

From GLORY REVEALED: Nicodemus nodded mutely and then touched his son’s arm. “Look over there. By the wall.”

Michael turned to follow his father’s gaze to the courtyard’s western wall, near the underground passage which led from the fortress to the inner court of the Temple. There, in the shadow of the doorway stood a man.

Michael’s eyes widened. “Judas Iscariot!” he spat. “What is he doing here?”

As the Teacher’s disciples had shown up at his home, each had shared what they remembered of the events in the garden. While their descriptions varied to some degree, without fail, all remembered one thing: Judas had betrayed Jesus.

Prophecy Fulfilled: “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order that he might deliver Him up to them. And after hearing this, they were delighted and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray Him” (Mark 14:10-11).

Jesus’ disciples would abandon Him.

Prophecy: “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zech. 13:7).

From GLORY REVEALED: “I had to come. When the Temple guards arrested Jesus, we…” the disciple’s voice cracked, “we ran away.” His hands trembled on Michael’s arm.

Michael’s eyes widened. “You…ran away? You mean, you abandoned Jesus?”

John nodded. “I was a coward. We all were…”

Prophecy Fulfilled: “Then they all forsook Him and fled.” (Mark 14:50).

Jesus was beaten.

Prophecy: “Many were astonished at Him—for His body was so disfigured—even His form beyond that of the sons of men.” (Isa. 52:14)

From GLORY REVEALED: Mary covered her face with her hands. She couldn’t bear to see what the soldiers, what the people—what their own priests—had done to the Teacher. Jesus, who had taught everyone about the love of Yahweh, had been beaten and tortured beyond recognition.

Prophecy Fulfilled: “But after scourging Jesus, he delivered Him up so that He might be crucified.” (Matt. 27:26).

“A Crucifix” and “Christ Glorified” by Tracy H. Sugg

Jesus was crucified between two criminals. 

Prophecy: “He was counted among the transgressors…” (Isa. 53:12).

From GLORY REVEALED: “Your King of the Jews will have company today,” the centurion walked up to them. He nodded towards the other prisoners. “Those two are Joses bar Abidan and his brother Jachin. Those brigands were part of Barabbas’ rebellion last month.” He snarled.

“Barabbas killed six of my men before we captured him and nearly two dozen of his rebels. We have been crucifying several each week as a warning against those who would defy Rome’s authority.”

Prophecy Fulfilled: “And also two other malefactors were led away with Him to be put to death. And when they came to the place called ‘Skull,’ there they crucified Him and the malefactors, one on the right and one on the left.” (Luke 23:32-33)

Dividing and gambling over Jesus’ garments.

Prophecy: “They divide My garments among them and cast lots upon My vesture.” (Psa. 22:18)

From GLORY REVEALED: The soldiers saw to their horses’ needs and stacked their lances in a circle before settling beneath the crosses. One soldier brought out several skins of wine, another gathered the condemned men’s clothing, including the purple robe worn by the Nazarene. The centurion poured out dice from a leather bag while another carved the squares and circles for the Game of the King into the hard earth beneath the crosses.

Prophecy Fulfilled: “Then they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but let us cast lots for it to determine whose it shall be’; that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which says, ‘They divided My garments among them, and they cast lots for My vesture.’ Therefore, the soldiers did these things.” (John 19:24)

Gave Jesus mixed wine to drink. 

Prophecy: “…in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” (Psa. 69:21)

From GLORY REVEALED: The Nazarene moaned as he pulled up for another breath. “I thirst.”

“Please!” Rabbi Nicodemus said. “Give him something to drink.”

“Why?” the centurion sneered. “He’s going to be dead in a few minutes.”

“And how much time will it take to give him one last drink?” Nicodemus glanced over his shoulder and then stepped closer to the officer. “That woman is his mother. Please.”

The centurion looked at the women gathered beneath the cross and then shrugged. “Why not?” He leaned over to pick up a wine skin and lifted it to his nose to sniff. He shivered. “I think this wine has turned to vinegar, but if he’s really thirsty, he won’t mind.” He handed the wine skin to Nicodemus. “There’s a sponge in the basket. Pour the wine over it and put it on a long stick. You can hold it up to your King of the Jews.”

Prophecy Fulfilled: “Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.” (John 19:28-29)

Jesus would commit His spirit to God and His last words.

 Prophecy: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit…” (Psa. 31:5). “They shall come and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall yet be born, that He has done this” (Psa. 22:31). The Hebrew literally reads, “For it is finished.”

From GLORY REVEALED: Jesus lifted himself once more to fill his lungs. “It. Is. Finished.” His voice was strong, ringing across the hilltop of Golgotha, echoing to the City of David below.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus ben Joseph bowed his head. With a sigh, a final breath left his body.

Prophecy Fulfilled: “And after crying out with a loud voice, Jesus said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” (Luke 23, 46) “Therefore, when Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished.’ And after bowing His head, He yielded up His spirit” (John 19:30). 27)

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“It. Is. Finished.”

From the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the prophecies of a deliverer for the enslaved Jews, to the prophesied Messiah; all of mankind—all of creation—was looking towards this moment.

There is more to the story of Passion Week: the burial; the sealing of the tomb; the excitement when Mary and the other women discovered the empty tomb; the Risen Christ; seeing Him multiple times over the next 40 days; the Ascension. All of that was encapsulated in the last words of Jesus on the cross.

His mission on earth was complete. Every sin was covered and mankind—through the redeeming power of His sacrifice—was restored to the Father.

Nothing more was needed from mankind. No more sacrificial animals, no more pouring out wine and oil, no more burning incense. Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection completed it all. All we have to do—all anyone has to do—is accept it.

Why did He do it? Why did Jesus suffer humiliation, torture, and death? For one reason:

“For God so loved the world.”

Pray with me?

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for being our flawless sacrifice and laying down Your life for me. Now—through Your death and resurrection—I can have a daily, restored life here with the Father and with You. I have the promise of eternity with You and the Father in Heaven. May all praise and glory be to Your Name. Amen.

As a special gift for my book series, my husband Mike created this beautiful video.

SISTERS OF LAZARUS

[“A Crucifix” and “Christ Glorified” used with permission from Tracy H. Sugg. Click here to visit her website to see more of her artwork.]