Devotions

Author Archives: Ferdinand Sanders

The Resurrection • Devotion #4: As He Said

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be amongst the crowd during the crucifixion of Jesus or being one of the ones to see that the stone was rolled away? Whenever I read these passages, I often find myself wondering what would I feel or see – what would the setting be? I would imagine feeling entirely heartbroken seeing Jesus on the cross, unable to even look. I would sense the dark clouds, empty streets – feeling lost and defeated. I have often imagined the morning of the third day. Something is different. The streets are still empty and the weight was still very present, but there is work to be done as life presses on. I imagine it is a quiet morning, the warm sun is peeking over the trees, and dew is still on the ground. This is the setting that I often picture when I think of Mary Magdalene approaching the tomb that morning. Across the four Gospels (although we get some variance on details) we get one glorious message – the tomb is empty! However, as I read through these verses, two things stand out to me.

In each of the four Gospels, we see doubt and disbelief from the very closest followers of Jesus that this really happened. Luke captures this perfectly when he writes, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). They were even in the same place as Jesus, in person, and still doubted! In Matthew’s Gospel, he accounts a conversation between the group of women who went to the tomb and an angel, in which the angel says, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said” (Matthew 28:5-6). Those three words at the end really stand out to me – “As He said.” The resurrection of Jesus was prophesied all throughout the Old Testament. It was not a secret! Between you and me, I am always a little encouraged and comforted when I see the disciples miss things or struggle as they were His closest followers and were with Him in person (John 20:29). On a serious note, it made me wonder, “How often do we read the promises of God in Scripture but do not believe it is actually for us?” To take it one step further, “How many times do we doubt or disbelieve the living work of God in our lives?”

The second thing that stood out to me was an interesting interaction that John records of Mary Magdalene at the tomb. In John chapter 20, we read, “They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus” (John 20:13-14). She did not even recognize Jesus. She thought He was a gardener! Now, I have no doubt that this was a very confusing interaction, not to mention after over 48 hours of weeping and grieving, but as I read that Jesus was standing right in front of Mary having a conversation with her, but Mary failed to recognize Him – it caused me to pause and examine myself. If Jesus was standing right in front of me, would I recognize Him? How often do we let the circumstances of our situation cause us to miss what God is doing, or how He is moving in our lives? A lot of times we can focus so much on what is in front of us, that we may miss “who”is in front of us.

With all this in mind, it is a reminder for us all to be in the living, breathing Word of God. That is how He reveals Himself to us. When we know what His Word says, we will better see when He is “right in front of us” through His promises and His work in our lives.

Cleansing the Temple • Devotion #5: Only the Best

“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, ‘Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” Mark 11:15-18

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all account the events of Jesus’ life during His earthly ministry. We get a front-row seat to certain events, conversations, and teachings. Sometimes, we get it from four unique perspectives. One of the events recorded leading up to the crucifixion (and resurrection) was the “Cleansing of the Temple.” This was not “yo mama’s” cleansing.” We are not talking about Lysol wipes or hand sanitizer here! As a kid, it was fascinating to know that “flipping over tables” was in Jesus’ arsenal. It definitely added a layer of relatability to the Holy Son of God for me!

At Passover, first-century Jews would travel from around the world to the Temple to offer a sacrifice to the Lord (Exodus 12:1–28; Leviticus 23:4–8). It did not take long for even a spiritual act to ultimately become perverted by man. Knowing that many would be traveling from far distances, an “opportunity” to make a few dollars had presented itself by making sacrificial animals available for purchase. Throughout the books of Jewish Law (the first five books of our Bible), we find instructions on these sacrificial offerings, “Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated” (Numbers 18:29).

We are called to offer our best sacrifice! How much more convenient would it be to offer our worst sacrifice, or better yet to simply purchase one from someone else on the way into the Temple! I do not even think that it is even considered a sacrifice at that point. Just as water will find the path of least resistance, I would argue human nature tends to do the same. This act completely negated the significance of the sacrifice. I would also imagine that the hustle and bustle of vendors within the Temple distracted and even detracted from the experience of everyone at the Temple.

Though only a handful of verses, I think this event holds a great deal of significance for our lives today. If the Holy Spirit has not led you there already, I think we need to look inwards into our own lives. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” Are there things in your spiritual life that maybe you are holding back? Are you offering your “best sacrifice?” Though we do not have Jesus in the flesh to come in and flip over the tables of things in our life, we have been given the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, and as the Church, I pray we never stop self-examining our hearts in what we practice and preach.

Grow More and More • Devotional #1: “A Quiet Life”

“And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11

The rapid advancement and integration of technology in our everyday lives have been such a positive thing. However, it comes with negative elements, too. With unlimited access to information and connection to others, why is it that we feel more disconnected than ever? That is not to mention that hostility levels are at an all-time high. From the moment you wake up, to the moment you lay your head on your pillow at night, the world is fighting for your attention. Be it the internet, billboards, tv, movies, or radio, there has never been more “noise” than there is right now. With schedules packed to the brim and an infinite amount of media to be consumed, Paul urges us in his first letter to the Thessalonians to “aspire to live quietly.”

This verse in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 is found within a portion of Scripture that has been labeled as “A Life Pleasing to God.” I do not know about you, but those five words hold a lot of weight! I find it interesting when I read this passage that a “quiet life” makes the list of a life pleasing to God. Are we not told, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15)? Yes, but I think this is a great reminder of how the manner in which we present the message may in fact be just as important as the message itself. The “quiet life” that Paul references in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 does not mean retreating from the world or moving out into isolation. It is the lens or the filter that drives the decisions on how we live and interact with the world.

In the context of the world we live in today, we need this now more than ever. I cannot help but also bring attention to our presence on social media as well. I do not think Paul had Facebook in mind when he wrote his letters, but these principles hold just as true. I love the way Paul words this in 2 Timothy when he writes, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). Even behind the safety and separation of a computer screen, phone, or tablet, we need to be careful to not entangle ourselves into “civilian affairs.” Even if our intention is “good” in our eyes, we can end up doing more harm than good.

As the salt and light of the Earth (Matthew 5), we are not to retreat or go hide until Jesus comes back. There is a quote from St. Francis of Assisi that says, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” I love this quote as it embodies the reminder that our “walk” is just as important as our “talk.” This matches the call for us “to live quietly,” which does not need to compromise our presence and impact on the world around us.

Peacemakers • Devotion #6: Save the Lost

In Matthew 5:9, within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” As all Scripture should, as I was reading and pondering this verse, especially in the greater context of the Sermon on the Mount, it forced me to take a closer look at myself and where my focus and priorities lie. I would argue that peace is obtained when we have Christ at the top of our list and allow Him to be the lens or filter through which we view and approach everything that we face. Knowing that we have the keys to true peace through Christ, what then does it mean for us to be peacemakers?

Not only is Christ our source of peace, but He is also the perfect example of what it means to be a peacemaker. If you had to sum up the purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry into one main concept I would say that Luke 19:10 might fit the bill, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”Through Jesus taking our sins upon His shoulders and dying the death we all deserved, we were reconciled and now have peace with God, through Christ. Jesus’ life and ministry were to be a peacemaker to all mankind.

Paul writes about this in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”  (Ephesians 2:13-19).

Not only have we been given the direction of the Beatitudes found within Matthew chapter 5, but we are also called to be imitators of Christ. John puts it simply when he writes, “Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked”(1 John 2:6). Sometimes I think it is easy to fall into a trap of seeing others in a judgmental way when they do not walk or believe the same way that we do, or how we think they ought to be living. In order to be the peacemakers we are called to be, we need to go out of our way to listen, love, and serve those that we disagree with or differ from.

Philippians 2:3-7 adds, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Hunger • Devotion #5: Spiritually Hangry

I find it equally interesting and humorous to see what happens to people when they get hungry. When our newborn baby starts to fuss or cry, my first thought is, “Is he hungry?” On most days, the first words out of the mouth of my four year old are, “Dad, you make me breakfast?” On a good day, she might say, “Dad, please you make me breakfast?” If you are anything like me, you may be familiar with the term “hangry” (anger as a result of hunger). In those moments, my emotional and mental well-being starts to come into question as if I transform into a completely different person if I go too long without eating (apologies to my family and those around me when I reach that point). The decisions surrounding how we approach hunger or eating (what, when, and how much) has huge implications on more than just our physical being, but our mental, and in some cases, our emotional state. Jesus alludes to the concept of hunger within His “Sermon on the Mount” as it pertains to our spirituality.

In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). Be it from reading the Bible, growing up in church, or being raised in a Christian home, if you classify yourself as a Christian, I think it would be safe to say that we share a general awareness or idea of who we are called to be. We look to the Ten Commandments, the Fruit of the Spirit, even the Beatitudes here in Matthew chapter 5 for some descriptors of a Christ-follower. What is fascinating about this passage is the language that Jesus uses to convey His message. Rather than just saying, “Blessed are those who pursue righteousness,” He says, “hunger and thirst.” In typical Jesus fashion, Jesus takes a common idea or concept that everyone would understand, but presents it in a way that packs it to the brim with life-altering meaning.

When reading this passage, I was reminded of the Pharisees who were the experts of religious practices, law, and tradition of that time. If anyone were to know the way of righteousness it would be the Pharisees. Listen to how Jesus refers to the “religious elite” later in Matthew, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). The Pharisees were full of spiritual knowledge, but they did not hunger or thirst for righteousness. Just like the Pharisees, we miss the mark unless our lives are changed through the acknowledgment that we ourselves are unrighteous apart from the redemption through Christ’s blood.

Having attention or awareness of righteousness is a good start (I certainly would not say that it is a bad thing), but Matthew 5:6 shows us that there is a lot more to it. This pursuit of righteousness is something for which we need to hunger and thirst. It needs to be the sustenance with which we regularly fill and fuel ourselves. Much like food and drink, it is a basic need – the essence of life.



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