Running on empty?

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:1-2 NIV).

Summer is here. School is out. Now what?

What we feel like doing is getting away from everything.

We say to ourselves, “Perhaps if we just escaped for a week or two, we could refuel and be ready to return to work with a full tank.”

With the goal of escaping and refueling in our minds we head to the beach or mountains and exhaust ourselves further with driving, chasing the kids, spending money, and trying to uncoil that tight feeling in our souls. We often return from these so-called “vacations” feeling more exhausted and empty than before. Some of us have to get back to work just to get some rest!

We’re so used to living life in the fast lane with our gas pedal pressed to the floor that we don’t know how to let up. Even our vacations look like work!

Is there a better way? Is there a way of life that is more balanced between work and rest?

The Bible says there is. The Psalmist said that there is a certain “vanity” in rising early and staying up late to toil in your own strength. There is an emptiness and a futility that comes over us when we build a life without the Lord’s help.

Some good diagnostic questions are implied by Psalm 127. “Do you feel so tired that you can’t even sleep? Do you feel like you’re working, but nothing is being accomplished. Does life feel like a constant treadmill?” Then, perhaps you’re doing all the work in your own strength. Perhaps you’re building a life that excludes the Builder… God.

When we work in the strength of the Lord, when we receive His supply and direction, we will experience the real rest that He gives to those He loves.

This doesn’t mean we stop working. It means that we learn to let the Lord lead us to work and rest according to His direction and power.

So let’s enjoy our vacations. But a vacation won’t be enough to “refuel” our tanks. We must learn to lean on the Lord. Otherwise, not only will all our work be in vain, but all our “vacations” will be too.

THE SINCERE FAITH OF MY MOTHERS

“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV).

The church of my youth had annual revival services. We would often have an evangelist come and share how God had miraculously saved him from a life of sin. He would preach with fiery enthusiasm and through tears about how God had taken a former drunkard, (or addict, thief, murderer, etc.) and saved him.

These “Damascus Road” testimonies were amazing to me. I was envious of their certainty and passion. As a boy, I often doubted my salvation because I hadn’t had such an awesome conversion. I had no flash of light, no voice of God. At age eight, I had just decided to give my life to Jesus the way my mother and grandmother had taught me.

As I grew in my faith, I no longer doubted my salvation, but I still sometimes wished that my testimony was more exciting. Why couldn’t I have a testimony more like the apostle Paul’s?

Maybe that’s what Timothy was feeling when Paul wrote him that second letter. Paul was so fearless and certain when he testified of his faith, but Timothy was a little timid. When he compared himself to his mentor he just didn’t feel like he measured up.

Paul would have none of that. He reminded Timothy of the spiritual legacy that his mother and grandmother had given him. Timothy had been spared the suffering and sorrow of Paul’s many mistakes before coming to Christ. Paul reminded Timothy that the “sincere faith” which had “lived” in his mother and grandmother, now “lived” in him.

As a grown man, I’m glad that I have a “Timothy testimony.” The two most influential people in my spiritual development were women. They were my grandmother Ettie and my mother Wilda. They didn’t have the same names as “Eunice and Lois”, but they did have the same “sincere faith” living in them.

Sincere faith. The kind that is more than religion, more than rules and ritual. These women loved and lived for their Lord in such a sincere way that what they passed on to me was more caught than taught.

My mother and her mother are with Jesus now, but their sincere faith still lives here in me.

Happy Mother’s Day.

This article is a reprint of my original post on May 7, 2010.

Ask the Pastor – 4/28/22

Pastor Gary Combs responds to recent questions from Matthew 28 about the women who came to the tomb of Jesus expecting to anoint His body and the burial practices of first-century Jews.

QUESTION: If it was customary for women to go to the tomb and put perfumes on the body how did they normally roll the stone away? I know that the tomb of Jesus had guards so no one could steal the body but normally their were no guards. Right? Did the Mary’s have a plan to roll the stone away? Were they going to ask the guards to roll it away? If a son of a ordinary family past away and the women were going to the tomb how did they roll away the stone for minister to the body?

BURIAL OF JESUS IN THE GOSPELS

Matthew 27:57-61 (ESV)Mark 15:42-47 (ESV)Luke 23:50-56 (ESV)John 19:38-42 (ESV)
57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

FACTS:

When: On the Day of Preparation (Friday, the day before High Sabbath during Passover). After 3PM when Jesus died, but before 6PM, when Sabbath begins.

Who: Joseph of Arimathea, rich man,  respected member of the Jewish council (Sanhedrin), a good and righteous man, who had not consented to the council’s decision to crucify Jesus, a seeker of God’s kingdom, secret disciple of Jesus, courageously asked Pilate for His body for burial, wrapped in linen and laid Jesus’ body in his own new, unused tomb. 

Nicodemus, came to Jesus at night, brought 75 pounds of spices (In John 3, he is identified as a Jewish ruler and Pharisee. In John 7, he defended Jesus before his fellow Pharisees and the chief priests.) Both Joseph and Nicodemus would’ve been ceremonially unclean for seven days after (Num. 19:11).

Pilate. Pontius Pilate, Roman Governor of Judea. 

Mary Magdalene. The woman whom Jesus had set free of “seven demons” (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). She was also at the cross (John 19:25).

Mary, the “other Mary,” the mother of Joses.

What: Burial of Jesus. 

Tomb. In a new tomb, cut in the rock, with a great stone to the entrance, where no one had ever yet been laid, the tomb was in a garden near the place where He was crucified.

Linen shroud. Joseph wrapped Christ’s body in a clean linen shroud, Joseph bought the linen shroud. He and Nicodemus bound Jesus’ body with the linen cloths with the spices, as was the burial custom of the Jews.

Spices. Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of a mixture of spices made up of myrrh and aloe to anoint the body. The women who went to see where they lay His body, returned and prepared spices and ointment, but had to wait until the Sabbath ended.

Stone. Joseph rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb. “it was very large” (Mk. 16:4).

Luke 7:11-17 (ESV) 

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

Mark16:1-4 (ESV)

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.

SEVEN LAST WORDS FROM THE CROSS

“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” – Mark 15:37 (ESV)

On this Good Friday let us meditate upon the seven last words of Jesus from the cross:

  1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
  2. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
  3. “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26).
  4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34).
  5. “I thirst” (John 19:28).
  6. “It is finished” (John 19:30).
  7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

These seven last words are like seven diamonds on a necklace, each perfect in color, clarity and cut, but varying in caret. They hang in three groups, three sayings each in the first and last group and one saying of greatest weight hanging prominently in the middle. 

In the first group of three, Jesus expressed his concern for those surrounding the cross. To the Jewish leaders who had condemned Him and the Roman soldiers who were crucifying Him, He said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” To the thief hanging on the cross next to Him, He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” And to His mother He said, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple John, “Behold, your mother!”

In the last group of three, He expressed His determination to accomplish His purpose, saying:  “I thirst,” and “It is finished,” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

In the middle, He cried out in despair as He experienced the weight of sin fall on Him and separation from His Father, so that He called on Him as God, saying: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Notice that Jesus’ last statement from the cross before He died was similar to His first. Like bookends to His seven last words, these two are prayers and in both, He addressed them to His Father, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” 

This last saying is like a child’s prayer, a cry for reunion. The Son is ready to go home to His Father. “Father, I’m ready to come home!” He cried. “Come and get Me, Abba!”

In 2017, we preached a seven week sermon series entitled, “SEVEN WORDS: A Study of Christ’s Seven Last Words.” If you’d like to watch those seven sermons, you can click on the link above. In preparation for our series, we worked to verify the last sayings of Christ, discover which gospels reported them, and place them in the best chronological order. Here is a link to a PDF of the chart that we made: “A STUDY OF THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS.” You really should take a look at this chart because it will help orient you to the way the four gospels together give us a fuller picture of Christ’s last words from the cross.

The great British expositor, C. H. Spurgeon has said on this subject, “There is a fulness of meaning in each utterance which no man shall be able fully to bring forth, and when combined they make up a vast deep of thought, which no human line can fathom.”

Yet, we would invite you to join us this day, as we endeavor to try and fathom them, diving deep into these seven last words of Jesus to meditate on their meaning.

DAILY BIBLE READINGS FOR PASSION WEEK

Visiting The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

“And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’” (Luke 22:15 ESV).

This coming Sunday begins what many Christians call Holy Week or Passion Week. It is called “Passion” week because of its connection to the Greek word πάσχω (pas’-kho), which means to feel heavy emotion or passion, especially due to suffering. This is the word that Jesus used to describe His coming crucifixion.

A wonderful way to remember Christ’s passion is to visit the Holy Land. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Israel several times. In the attached photo, I’m visiting The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the traditional location of the empty tomb. Here, I’m touching the Stone of Anointing, a slab of reddish stone flanked by candlesticks and overhung by a row of eight lamps. It commemorates the place where the body of Jesus was laid, anointed, and prepared for burial.

But you don’t have to go to Israel to remember Christ’s suffering and resurrection. In fact, all the church buildings, slabs and memorials added through the ages by well-meaning church folk can be a distraction. I’ve found that reading the Scriptures that describe the Lord’s final week leading up to the Cross, the Tomb and the Resurrection to be just as moving and beneficial to my spiritual life. With this in mind, I offer this daily reading plan for Passion Week for your edification.

  • Palm Sunday – The Triumphal Entry. Read Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19.
  • Monday – Clearing the Temple. Read Matthew 21:10-19; Mark 11:12-18, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-22.
  • Tuesday – Teaching in the Temple. Read Matthew 21:23-24:51; Mark 11:27-13:37, and Luke 20:1-21:36.
  • Wednesday – Resting In Bethany. Read Matthew 26:1-16 and Mark 14:1-11.
  • Thursday – Last Supper & Gethsemane. Read Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-23, and John 13:1-30.
  • Good Friday – Trial & Crucifixion. Matthew 27:1-56; Mark 15:1-41, Luke 22:66-23:50, and John 18:28-19:37.
  • Saturday – In the Tomb. Read Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-42.
  • Easter Sunday – The Resurrection. Read Matthew 28:1-13; Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-31.

In addition to the daily Scripture readings, you might want to watch my daily video devotions for Passion Week. These were originally in recorded in 2020 as Facebook live events, so they’re pretty unprofessional. But the content is there and hopefully it’s beneficial and encouraging. You can follow this link to watch them:  Passion Week Devotions.

There are two weeks recorded in the Bible that the Lord inspired its writers to make daily diary entries. They are the seven days of creation and Passion Week. In the first week, He made the world, and in the second, He brought its redemption. God must have thought these two weeks important enough to keep a journal…

… And one worthy of our reading and meditation.

ASK THE PASTOR – 4/8/22

Pastor Gary Combs responds to a question about a recent sermon. The question is from the reading in Zechariah 11:10, which reads: “And I took my staff Favor, and I broke it, annulling the covenant that I had made with all the peoples.”

The question submitted was: “Which covenant was annulled by the breaking of the staff Favor? I thought God would not break a covenant?”

In his answer, Pastor Gary referred to eight biblical covenants. The chart below is offered as a help to those who would like to consider this further.

COVENANT SCRIPTUREDESCRIPTIONCONDITION
1. EdenicGenesis 1:28–30; 2:16-17For all humanity. Sets out the conditions for the life of unfallen man.Conditional. Broken by Adam and Eve
2. AdamicGenesis 3:14-19For all humanity. Sets out the conditions for man’s life on the earth after the fall.Conditional. Much in this covenant is perpetual throughout all generations until the curse is lifted (Rom. 8:19–23).
3. NoahicGenesis 8:20–9:27For all humanity. Discloses the divine intent respecting humanity in all succeeding generations beginning with Noah.Unconditional. This is the “rainbow” covenant, promising that God will never destroy all life by flood again.
4. AbrahamicGenesis 12:1–3; 13:14–17; 15:1–18; 17:1–8For Israel This covenant guarantees everlasting blessings upon Abraham, his seed, and all the families of the earth.Unconditional. Primarily for Israel, but also that all nations would be blessed from their Promised Seed, namely Jesus.
5. MosaicExodus 20:1–31:18For Israel. This is the Old Covenant, which directed the moral, social, and religious life of Israel, promising either blessing or curse based on their obedience.Conditional. Broken by Israel. And later fulfilled and made obsolete by the New Covenant given through Christ Jesus.
6. PalestinianDeuteronomy 30:1-9For Israel. Discloses what Jehovah will yet do in regathering, blessing, and restoring Israel to her own land.Both conditional/unconditional. If Israel repents, they will be restored to the land.
7. Davidic2 Samuel 7:5–19For Israel. Secures three advantages to Israel through David, namely, an everlasting throne, an everlasting kingdom, and an everlasting King.Unconditional. This has been, is being, will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Son of David.
8. NewJeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 8:1-13For all humanity. This covenant is “new” in the sense that it supersedes as a rule of life the Mosaic Covenant that Israel broke.Both conditional/unconditional. If we believe in Christ, will be saved.

Ask the Pastor – 3/14/22

Pastor Gary Combs responds to a question about a recent One Year Bible reading. The question is from the reading in Leviticus 23, concerning the “Feast of Weeks.” This feast is also called the Feast of Harvest. The question was: “Isn’t the Festival of Harvest a fall festival? Whereas Jesus was crucified after Passover in the Spring. Why is the Festival of Harvest now called Festival of Pentecost? I’m missing the connection.

The Lord instituted seven “festivals,” or feasts for Israel. These feasts were to remind Israel of God’s provision and to prepare them for the Messiah. It can get a little overwhelming reading the description of these feasts, but they are worthy of our meditation as we see how they point to their fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

JEWISH FEASTSCRIPTUREJEWISH MONTHMODERN CALENDARCHRIST’S FULFILLMENT
Passover (Pesach)Lev. 23:4-8Nisan 14March/AprilCrucifixion
Unleavened Bread (Chag Hamotzi)Lev. 23:6Nisan 15-22March/AprilBurial
First Fruits (Yom Habikkurim)Lev. 23:10Nisan 16March/AprilResurrection
Weeks (Shavu’ot) Harvest, PentecostLev. 23:15-16Sivan 6May/JuneHoly Spirit given
Trumpets (Yom Teru’ah)Lev. 23:23-25Tishri 1Sept/OctRapture/Christ’s return
Atonement (Yom Kippur)Lev. 23:26-32Tishri 10Sept/OctJudgment
Tabernacles (Sukkot)Lev. 23:33-36Tishri 15Sept/OctMillennium/heaven