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Beyond symbolism ~ 4-14

To the abandoned child wailing in the city street, the mother weeping over her stillborn infant, the man moaning in the torture cell, the parent with no food or medicine to give a dying child, the Indian hunted down by ranchers’ dogs, the one betrayed by a friend–to all the wounded and suffering, despised and dishonored, the Gospel points to Jesus and says, “Behold your suffering, behold your God!” — Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.

Just before the Last Supper, the night before His death, Jesus needed to make a point to His disciples: You need to be sacrificial servants. So He took out the cloth and the wash basin and washed the grimy feet of His followers. It was powerfully symbolic; a real attention getter—the “haymaker” that made His lecture a knockout. Washing feet? Yes, it was the perfect conclusion to the message that He was communicating to His somewhat remedial disciples.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:14-17)

They got the message. The sermon was over. Or was it?

What if the foot washing wasn’t just a “lesson illustration?” What if Christ’s actions weren’t just symbolic? What if the foot washing was authentic—an extension of who Jesus really is?

I worry sometimes that Christian “faith” has become too theoretical and not enough actualPractical Christianity has been put in a symbolic box—particularly the things that require sacrifice and suffering. But again, Christ’s suffering and our suffering are a shared experience. His sacrificial service to us cost Him His life. Our sacrificial service to each other and the world is also costly. But it’s the real deal! And suffering as servants brings about a freedom because it’s actually an extension of who we really are in Him.

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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His pain, your gain ~ 4-13

We have so theologized the passion and death of this sacred man that we no longer see the slow unraveling of his tissue, the spread of gangrene, his raging thirst. — Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

The images in the movie “The Passion of the Christ” stunned us all. After decades of dissecting the meaning of the cross, some of us had become desensitized to the fact that the crucifixion was all too real that day in Jerusalem: Real whips, real nails, scarlet blood, steaming sweat, bitter tears—real suffering.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

The writers of the Gospels don’t go into the gory details of the cross. They described His mode of torture and execution as quite a matter of fact. (Historians and Hollywood have willingly filled in the graphic descriptions.) Prior to the cross, Jesus knew the normal demands and limitations of the human body. We don’t have an indication that He got sick, but He may have. We do see plenty of hunger, thirst, and being physically tired. He definitely understands physical suffering; He certainly sympathizes with our physical suffering.

The important thing is that Jesus is here and Jesus cares. And He did something about it. Because of the suffering that He endured through His death on the cross, we can know a peace that surpasses all comprehension, a joy in spite of our circumstances, and an intimacy with Him through that shared experience.

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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When things go from bad to worse ~ 4-12

I can’t sleep. — J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

He could see it in their eyes. They were starting to get scared. This was not some sort of parable or illustration … this was for real. Jesus was telling them of His impending death and departure, and Judas had already left the group, destined to set in motion the events that would climax in His innocent blood being shed.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Jesus knew that over the next hours, days, months, and years His disciples would have to learn how to trust and believe Him. He knew that in centuries to come, we would need to learn the same. In His final discourse to the disciples, and His future encouragement to us, His teachings were twofold: The Spirit will be in you on earth, and I will come back for you one day. Trust Me—I have it all figured out.

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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Identifying with Christ ~ 4-11

We cannot close our eyes to the reality of suffering, for it is the reality chosen by the one we name Lord and Christ. And the path he walks here is the one he bids us to follow. — Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.

If you’re like me, you sometimes dream of a God who gallops into the scene on His white stallion, takes care of all the bad guys, and then rides off into the eternal sunset with everybody in town saying, “Wow, who was that mysterious God?” And then (in my dream) everybody is knocking down my door begging me to share the Gospel with them so that they can have this God on their team, too!

It doesn’t appear to work that way. “Bad guys” come in many forms today, and bad guys bring suffering of many kinds. It might be physical, emotional, or even spiritual. And no, Jesus doesn’t scare them all away. Suffering was His reality; suffering is our reality.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses … Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

I think God may even allow suffering to gently move us toward Jesus so that we can identify with Him. That’s a deep thought, and it’s definitely worth thinking about as we celebrate Easter. Our suffering is a shared experience with Jesus—something that can bring deeper intimacy in our relationship with Him. He may not rescue us the way that we wish, but in His goodness, I believe He offers some things far more valuable. He invites us to “approach the throne of grace” and “receive mercy.” He’s really offering Himself to us, welcoming us into intimacy through shared suffering.

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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The Holy Spirit lives in you ~ 4-10

Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose. — Last words of French Queen Marie Antoinette. She had accidentally stepped on the foot of her executioner on her way to the guillotine.

Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that His time was up. In a few short hours, He would leave the world and go to His Father. There was no question about His love for the men He was sharing His last meal with. The next day, He would prove His love for the whole world. They had moved beyond the awkwardness from earlier in the meal, but for those closest to Him, the words of His pending departure caused confusion and concern. As part of His “Farewell Discourse,” Jesus offered them words of comfort:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

Help was on the way: An Advocate, a Counselor, the Spirit of Truth. The prepositions Christ used are revealing. This Spirit had been with them. Soon, He would be in them. This is no small distinction! Not for them, not for us. The Holy Spirit of God is not just around us, not just among us. He is IN us. If you have opened the door of your life to Christ, He is in YOU. The movement of the Farewell Discourse is profound: From “with us” to “in us.”

Of all the “famous last words” spoken, are not these, perhaps, the most important we could hear? His final words telling us who we are because of Who is in us.

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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Letting Jesus’ love flow through you ~ 4-9

Why not? After all, it belongs to him. — Last words of comedian Charlie Chaplin, in response to a priest who was reading him his last rites and said, “May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

As Jesus reclined with His disciples during the Passover, His last words to them were pointed and clear:

A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34-35)

A new command only hours before His death? Yes, Christ is just about to usher in the “New Covenant”—a fulfillment of all the law and the prophets, yet a 180-degree shift in the direction of human spirituality. Man-made religion and legalism would soon be nullified by the sacrificial death of Jesus “because God so loved the world…” Love is the new standard. But this new command, is it just a new thing we must do? A new burden to carry? Not if you look at the context and Jesus’ prayer that follows:

I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:26)

At the very end of the discourse, Jesus says that it will be His love in us that will distinguish us as His disciples. He is in you; it’s His love that fulfills this new command to love others!

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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Are you listening? ~ 4-8

I am about to—or I am going to—die: either expression is correct. — Last words of Dominique Bouhours, famous French grammarian

You’ve probably been in churches when the pastor is there for his last Sunday. He’s retiring or resigning—or being retired or resigned—and it’s his last opportunity to preach. If you’ve ever heard one of those sermons, perhaps you said, “Well, if he had preached this way all the time, we would have kept him!” Pastors let it all out on those last Sundays. All the things that they’ve always wanted to say, always felt led to say, but were afraid to say, they finally say. And off they go.

Last words are powerful and often become famous. Jesus’ last words to His disciples during the Last Supper are what many theologians call “The Farewell Discourse.” Jesus holds nothing back (not that He was ever in the practice of doing so!). He makes it very clear what He wants His disciples to know and to remember. Those words transcend time and distance to speak to us today: Love, obedience, truth, fear, loneliness—all important issues we wrestle with as we discover who we are in Christ. Jesus speaks clearly about these things. Are we listening?

I am the way, the truth and the life. — Jesus

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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Resting in His strength ~ 4-7

Pride is to character, like the attic to the house—the highest part, and generally the most empty. — Sydney Howard Gay

Peter was “the man.” Even his name means “rock.” The first to speak, the first to take up the sword—yeah, that guy. As Jesus continues the Passover meal with the disciples, bold Peter provides the next moment of awkwardness—a turn of events that no one was anticipating. They start to have conversation again. Jesus actually does a little Q and A time. (Now the favorite teaching method of unprepared Sunday school leaders worldwide.)

Peter asked a question; Philip asked a question; Jesus answers those questions and in the course of this conversation, Jesus talks about the fact that He’s heading to death. Peter opens his mouth and prepares to insert his foot:

“Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:37-38)

Ouch. That must have stung. Or not. My guess is that Peter didn’t believe it (even though it came from the lips of his Lord). Peter’s good intentions, vocal professions, and public declarations of allegiance were not enough. Such bold confidence was likely the source of his demise. He believed himself to be strong, but before the rooster crowed, his denials were complete.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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What to do when you feel like Judas ~ 4-6

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved—loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves. — Victor Hugo

By the time they shared their last supper alone together, Jesus and His disciples had been living day in and day out together for three years. They knew each other very well… or so they thought. One of them was about to betray Jesus, and the moment must have been intensely awkward:

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” … Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” So Jesus told him [Judas], “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him … As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (John 13:19, 21, 27-28, 30)

Our flesh and mind are still vulnerable to temptation. This can lead to “betrayals” of many kinds. Sometimes, you might even feel like Judas… a haunting awkwardness followed by the feeling that you have left Jesus and gone out into the night by yourself. Yeah, you might feel that way, but the cool thing is that Jesus hasn’t left you at all! If you have given your life to Christ and asked Him to come in, He has done just that! His Spirit now lives in your spirit. You can rest in His promise that He will never forsake you and never reject you (Hebrews 13:5).

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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Letting Jesus serve through you ~ 4-5

Quit being so selfish and give it to ME! — 4-year-old to a sibling

Jesus was letting them have it all. During the last meal He shared with His disciples, He was simultaneously putting them in their place and communicating who they would shortly become in Him after Pentecost. No doubt, the boys were a little confused and conflicted at that moment. He had just told Peter that unless he let Him serve him by washing his feet, he had no place with Him. “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). Jesus had just reversed the roles, then He changed the rules, and then He threw a major curve ball:

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

Do verses like these feel like a burden to you? They shouldn’t, if you consider the full “example” that Jesus set for us. He was fully dependent on the Father every step of the way. God moved Him so that He could serve us… and now He calls us to the same. This very Jesus, the servant Jesus, lives in us. As we live in Him, it will be the most natural thing in the world for us to serve others.

Where has God placed you today so that He can serve others through you?

Pete Briscoe’s Daily Devotional – ‘Experiencing LIFE Today’

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