{reflection}

{ lenten reflections : curses and comforts }

Day three of Jesus’s final week was a Tuesday, and so today we pretend it is Tuesday as I share my Holy Week reflections on His activities and teachings that day.


After clearing out the temple on Monday, Jesus again spent the night in Bethany. Tuesday morning He awoke and headed back into the city to teach at the temple some more. On the way, the disciples were shocked to see that the fig tree Jesus had cursed the morning before was already withered and dead, so there was some discussion about that. The real fireworks started once Jesus arrived at the temple. The religious leaders challenged Him openly, once again, because of His actions the day before, the teachings He’d given before and after, and His supportive and accepting response to the people’s claims that He was the long-prophesied Messiah. In Jesus’s three years of open ministry, He had never really backed down from verbal sparring with the religious leaders, but He hadn’t necessarily unleashed the full truth on them, either. He submitted to the wisdom of His Father and waited until the time was right.

That Tuesday, the time was finally right.

Jesus taught many wonderful things in the temple that day, including some very familiar parables: the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants, and the parable of the wedding feast. He also answered questions about the resurrection and the kingdom of God that were meant to trap Him but which opened the door for Him to nail the religious leaders for their hypocritical and ungodly dealings with the people they were supposed to be shepherding into God’s love and presence. His teachings that day included some pretty scathing accusations and judgements, often called “the seven woes” (Matthew 21:28-23:39), in which He pointed out the very specific ways the Pharisees and religious leaders were full of death in their own hearts, were leading separating people from God rather than uniting them with Him, and were the bearers of God’s judgement and wrath because of it all.

You did not want to be a Pharisee that day, and I promise you do not want to follow their example any day thereafter!

The She Reads Truth Lent readings for “Holy Week in Real Time: Tuesday” pick up in Luke 21. Jesus has just finished cursing the Pharisees for their death-bearing hearts and actions toward God’s people by pointing out their hypocritical and hyper-obsessions with the finest details of the law, as seen in how they even tithed separately for the quantity of individual spices they owned, but their neglect for the weightier matters of the law, like justice, mercy, and true faithfulness of the heart. Luke 21 opens at this moment with Jesus looking up from his curses to see the rich depositing their offerings in the temple treasury boxes, followed by a solitary widow who deposited only two little coins. He looks at those Pharisees, points her out and tells them,

“This poor widow has put in more than all of them. For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

He then gets up and walks out of the temple, his followers in tow, while the religious leaders stew and plot together in their embarrassment and arrogant indignation.

Talk about a divine mic-drop exit!

But the rest of Luke 21 is focused on the conversations Jesus had with His followers after they walked out of the temple and headed back to Bethany. He overhears their discussions about the beauty of the temple and he comments that it will one day be nothing but rubble. I imagine their next question was drawn from their shock at such a statement, but it was a believing question nonetheless: “When will these things be?” He then begins to offer a series of predictions—the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D., various seasons of persecutions (some of which may have been in reference to the various waves of persecutions that happened to the early church in the first couple of centuries after Christ’s ascension), and even His second coming and the final end. But couched in all of those predictions, Jesus offers comfort.

This seems especially significant in light of some historical context offered in the devotional reading accompanying the She Reads Truth collection of Scripture passages. The writer, Pastor Russ Ramsey, says this:

“After Jesus ended the confrontation on Tuesday by refusing to regard [the Jewish leaders] as having any authority over Him, He elected to spend the rest of the day right there in the temple—His Father’s house—so that He might teach the people the Word of God (Matthew 21:28-23:39). Consider for a moment the strength and resolve that standing His ground would have required.

“But Tuesday afternoon would be the last time Jesus would publicly teach in the temple as a free man. His words on that day would be His closing argument—His manifesto.”

He spent His final moments in the temple tearing down the authority that the Jewish people had looked to for hundreds of years, and establishing His own authority and the security to be found by submitting to and following Him, even when that would mean uncertainty, suffering, and even death.

I am especially struck by His statement to them in Luke 21:8 (HCSB):

“Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and ‘The time is near.’ Don’ follow them. When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. Indeed, these things must take place first, but the end won’t come right away.”

Don’t be alarmed?? We hear about wars and rebellions, tsunamis wiping out entire towns or islands, genocides, terrorist attaches, and persecutions and alarmed is exactly what we are! And, please hear me when I say I am not condemning anyone for alarm and concern and action in response to those events, because they are worthy of our emotions and our efforts of every kind. Those events affect real live people, just like you and me at their core, who are suffering truly, and we absolutely should be spurred to action in response.

But Jesus did say, “Don’t be alarmed,” and I think the key to this statement is found in the parable of the fig tree that he relates to them in this same discourse (vv. 29-31):

“Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they put out leaves you can see for yourselves and recognize that summer is already near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.”

He reminds them of the bigger story at play, of how all of these things will happen as part of getting to that final day, that day when all the pain and tears and suffering will cease and they will be united with Him once again and forever free of any hinderance or obstacle to His presence and love. That sounds really similar to all the times He told them that horrible things were about to happen to Him, but that they should take heart in knowing that those things had to happen in order for all the things that had been written to finally be fulfilled.

Folks, there is more to be fulfilled!

Jesus spent His last teaching hours comforting His own by reminding them that He would always be with them, always provide the words and the strength that they needed, even when destruction would descend upon them. He reminded them that they needed to be watchful of their hearts, to stay immersed in Him and His never-failing words, but that ultimately, in and with Him, they had nothing to fear. He told them to be on guard against the things that would dull them, and that list included “the worries of life.”

Do not miss this! Here is the Son of God about to bear the weight of the sin of the world reminding them that worry would dull them to the life and strength that were theirs in Him, to the life and strength they would need to stand firm and endure:

“. . . but not a hair of your head will be lost. By your endurance gain your lives.” (Luke 21:18)

The atrocities and sufferings and disasters and catastrophes are all things we are supposed to expect. We should absolutely grieve and mobilize and serve and aid and defend, but we should not be surprised. And honestly, we have nothing to fear; remember, Jesus Himself said,

“Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul . . .” (Matt 10:28, HCSB)

These things have to happen. As much as it pains me to type that (and it truly does pain me!), I think Jesus’s overwhelming grief on Palm Sunday is evidence that it pained Him far more. But there are so many more wonderful things that are still to be fulfilled, and these horrible things “will lead to an opportunity for you to witness” (Luke 21:13). Witness about Him and witness His greatness in fulfilling all the rest that is to come! And we will be part of ushering in that fulfillment as we tell people about the One who suffered for them, to bring them life and eternal security even in the face of suffering, great loss, and possibly death.

Daniel 7:13-14 are also part of today’s meditations about that Tuesday. Daniel tells us about a vision He had of Jesus when He finally comes in all His glory to claim His everlasting kingdom:

“And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

For those who are His own, the destruction is temporary and the reward is worth it. Jesus knew that, and He spent His final teaching hours reminding His followers of just how worthy it was.

It was worthy of His life, and it is worthy of ours as well. He will preserve us, so do not be alarmed!

 

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