Read short inspirational articles by Olive Tree staff members.
By Olive Tree Employee: LaRosa Johnson
Holy Week is a somber time of the year for me. As I look at the gospel accounts that detail the crucifixion of Jesus, I often ask myself, “What’s so good about Good Friday? Jesus died. He was brutally murdered. How can that possibly be good?” From there, I am reminded of the weight of my own sin that forced him to come and die on the cross. Ultimately, I find relief knowing that Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb, but rose again victorious. Yet, why did God do all of that? He did it to pay the penalty of our sins that we might be forgiven.
Yes, when we look at the cross, we are asked to look at the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation. The perfect place for us to turn in the Bible to look at the forgiveness found in the cross isn’t in the gospels, but it is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Romans 5:6-11 to be exact. In this short paragraph we see statements like: “Christ died for the ungodly,” “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” and “we were reconciled to God.” Jesus Christ didn’t come to bring salvation to those of us who were already on his team; no, he came to give his life on behalf of his enemies so that we could be forgiven and found righteous in the sight of the one perfect and holy God. We were saved to be spared from the wrath of God (v. 9), even though it came at the expense of the shed blood of God’s only begotten son.
Now, just think about the cross for a moment and look at Paul’s illustration in verse 7. As a husband and father, the odds are pretty good that I’d risk my life and die to save my family. I might even be persuaded to do it for a friend. Ask me to do it for my enemy and I’d tell you that you’d lost your mind! But, this is precisely what Christ did for us, with us being God’s enemy because of our sins against him. He took our punishment upon himself. By his blood he justified & saved us, and we are reconciled to God through his resurrection life. How mind blowing is that?!
We can still take this a step further. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 tells us that we, as Christians, have now been given the ministry of reconciliation that was once Christ’s. This means that it is now our job to: 1) forgive others like Christ forgave us, and 2) tell others about the forgiveness that can be found in God. First, we should look at our own lives and how awful our sins are in the sight of God; yet, as vile offenders against his law and holiness, he chose to forgive and bring about our reconciliation. If God was willing to do that for us, how much more should we extend that same compassion toward everyone in our lives (Luke 7:41-43, 47)? Even as we’re forgiving others, it is also our job to tell them that their sins can be forgiven through the blood of Christ. Jesus didn’t die just for me, but his mission was to save so many more.
While Holy Week might indeed be a somber time, I’m glad that it can also brighten my spirit. Jesus didn’t just die; he died to pay the penalty for my sin. He didn’t just rise again, but he rose to bring about my forgiveness and righteous standing before God. As a result, the cross demands forgiveness. The cross was the stipulation of our forgiveness with God, and it is also the vehicle that demands we forgive others in the same manner that we’ve been forgiven. For me, that’s what this week is all about.
Easter is less than a week away. As we prepare our hearts and minds for remembering the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, here are a few resources that might help in your final preparations.
The bestselling Evidence for the Resurrection answers each question and addresses each theory with historical, archaeological, and cultural proofs. It presents evidence and logic that has convinced critics over the years and will equip you to with the right information when you talk to someone who questions the resurrection story.
Christ in the Passover looks at the origins and symbolism of the Passover and how the Old Testament Passover is relevant today through God’s Son, Jesus. Christ in the Passover shows six ways that the Passover in the Old Testament points to Jesus, who was called the “Lamb of God.”
Feasts of the Bible celebrates and explains the meaning behind the different feasts and why they are important to God. It contains an easy-to-read chart that provides the name and an explanation of each holiday, date of observance, and reveals how each holiday points to Jesus as the promised Messiah.
The Names of Jesus is a bestselling tool for learning the names, character and personal attributes of Jesus. The 50 names are featured in an easy-to-use format along with their Scripture references, the meanings of each name, related titles, and more. Interestingly, the names of Jesus come from both the Old and New Testaments.
Produced out of the conviction that the Bible is a unified message of God’s grace culminating in Jesus, it is a significant new tool to help readers see Christ in all the Bible, and grace for all of life. The Gospel Transformation Bible Notes features specially prepared material outlines passage-by-passage God’s redemptive purposes of grace that echo all through Scripture and culminate in Christ. The notes not only explain but also apply the text in a grace-centered way.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon discusses the seven words that Christ uttered from the Cross: Forgiveness, Salvation, Affection, Anguish, Suffering, Victory, and Contentment.
Preaching the Cross is an inspiring book containing the reflections of experienced pastors, and dedicated to “the next generation of preachers of the cross.” Collected and introduced by Mark Dever, each chapter of this book addresses a different issue in the lives and ministries of contemporary pastors.
Combining scripture, quotes, and brief but powerful meditations, readers will discover the greatest gift that Jesus Christ offers to us is found in eternal life, but there are so many more things He has done for us – and does for us – when we enter into relationship with Him.
Max Lucado examines the symbols surrounding Christ’s crucifixion, revealing the claims of the cross and asserting that if they are true, then Christianity itself is true. The supporting evidence either makes the cross the single biggest hoax of all time, or the hope of all humanity.
Death by Love is a unique book on the cross of Jesus Christ. While many books debate the finer points of the doctrine of the atonement, what is often lost are the real-life implications of Jesus’ death on the cross for those who have sinned and have been sinned against. Written in the form of pastoral letters, Death by Love outlines the twelve primary effects of Jesus’ death on the cross and connects each to the life of a different individual.
In Jesus: The Only Way to God–Must You Hear the Gospel to Be Saved? John Piper offers a timely plea for the evangelical church to consider what is at stake in surrendering the unique, universal place of Jesus in salvation. If you’re concerned about the current state of evangelism–and the church–this book is a must-read.
We hope that you find these titles not only helpful, but also inspiring and encouraging.
I can’t think of any bigger understatement than saying what we celebrate this coming weekend is ‘significant’. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus absolutely changed everything! When Jesus died and rose again – three days later – it reversed the centuries old curse of sin and death that was over all humanity.
Jesus fulfilled hundreds of impossible to fulfill prophecies about the messiah that had been written centuries before but the most amazing of all was that after three days in a grave, he was alive! What did this mean? In the history of the world no one had ever lived and died a sinless life. Jesus – God in the flesh – did. In that instant the sin that we’re all born into was stripped of its power. Things on this Earth would never be the same. As John ends his account of Jesus life he says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” His resurrection proved he was who he said he was.
What does this mean today? It means absolutely everything! What Jesus did made a way to be free from the power that sin once held over us. Where sin makes us strangers and even enemies of God, Jesus death and resurrection makes us sons and daughters of God. This type of reconciliation had never been known and now it’s accessible to anyone who believes. In Romans 5:10-11 the Apostle Paul says, For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Not only did Jesus resurrection set into motion the reconciliation available to all who believe but we now get to be agents of his reconciliation while we await the restoration of all things. The book of Revelation tells us of this day that will come: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Resurrection, Reconciliation, and Restoration; this is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus! This Easter and in the days following let’s not only be reminded of the power of what Jesus did but let’s be actively living in the reality of it.
This Sunday commemorates Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is called Palm or Passion Sunday, depending on your tradition. All four gospels record this significant and prophetic event and I highly recommend you read them for yourself. You can find them in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; and John 12:12-19. As I reread each account myself here are four things that stick out about this historic event that we still commemorate today.
Jesus Fulfilled Prophecy.
Not only was Jesus the long awaited King that the Jews had been longing for but his very entry into Jerusalem was just how it had been prophesied over 500 years earlier.
Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
I can imagine that Jewish theologians had been trying to reconcile their picture of a King (think David or Solomon) with the idea that he would ride in on a little colt, his feet barely off the ground. Yet here he was, having given his disciples an awkward command on how to get the colt, fulfilling prophecy that had been written centuries earlier. This was a plot twist that I don’t think even Hollywood could dream up.
What’s with the Palms?
The imagery of palms was a part of the Jewish culture and often reflected honor and nobility. 1 Kings chapter 6 and 7 record how Solomon had them as part of the sacred carvings of the temple. In Mark’s account of Jesus entry, people are spreading palm branches out on the ground along with their cloaks in what I imagine would be a sort of ancient red carpet that probably helped keep the dust down.
The significance of this honor paid to Jesus also foreshadows what is to come. In Revelation 7:9 there’s an incredible description of worship that – you guessed it – includes palm branches. So we see here Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah and also pointing forward to an even greater scene of worship that is to come.
The chances are pretty good that at some point you’ve sung a song at church with the word ‘Hosanna’ in it. As Jesus made his entry there was definitely some worship going on but what does Hosanna actually mean? It was a desperate cry from an oppressed people living under Roman rule that means ‘Oh save’ or ‘Save us now’. He would certainly save them but not quite how they imagined.
Where’s the Victory?
The Jews had been waiting and their King was finally here! Sure he was riding on a baby donkey and didn’t have a sword, armor, or an army but he was there none the less. As the shouts of Hosanna went out, everyone anticipated what this long awaited Kings next move would be. How would he save them? Would he be like David and his mighty men? Would he be like Solomon with wisdom and riches? “Save us now”, they cried!
One week later, many of these same people who had shouted ‘Hosanna’ would be shouting ‘Barabbas’ . They would trade their long awaited King for a thief and a murderer. He hadn’t fulfilled their image of a King or brought about their idea of salvation and so they turned on him.
But God in his sovereign grace had a plan that included a vastly different idea of what salvation was to look like, one that we’ll be celebrating this coming week. I’ll leave you with these words from Revelation 7:9-10:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ” Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
That’s my King!
This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him
Never were these words more true than for Ricky Wagoner of Trotwood Ohio. Yesterday morning as he stood outside of the bus he drives he was assaulted, shot, and stabbed in the leg. When it was all over two bullets had hit him in the chest – actually not him but The Message Bible that was in his shirt pocket. While we’re big fans of all things digital, this was definitely one case where a good old fashioned paper Bible turned out to be a life saver.
You can read the entire account here…
If we’re honest, most of us would admit that one of our least favorite words is patience. In a ‘me first’ western culture we can often get what we want, when we want it. Whether it’s Burger King saying, “Have it your way” or the Staples slogan, “That was easy,” our natural desire to be selfish only seems to be magnified by the messages marketed to us on a daily basis, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the message of patience is nearly impossible to find in our culture. For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, however, patience is the fruit of God’s Spirit at work within us.
It’s easy to read about the people in the Bible that God used in amazing ways and yet forget about where God showed up in the timeline of their lives. The theme of patience and endurance is one we see throughout scripture. Abraham and his wife Sarah weren’t young when they finally had the child God had promised. Joseph spent years in jail on wrong accusations before he became a powerful leader, fulfilling the dreams God had given him. Moses lived a non-descript life before God called him to lead his people out of Egypt. The Israelites had to spend 40 years in the desert before God released them into the Promised Land. Even Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was 30 years old.
If you’ve ever been in a place in your spiritual growth or your ministry where you feel that nothing is happening, you can take great comfort that you’re in good company. God is always concerned more about our depth of character than our width of ministry. So how do you know if God is working in your life during a season where nothing seems to be happening? Jesus answers that question in the ‘Parable of the Sower’ in Luke 8.
“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15, ESV).
If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus, hear God’s Word, and are holding it fast in your heart, then be on the lookout for seasons of patience and embrace them. As you do, be reminded that you’re walking the same spiritual road as Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, and Moses. And God used these individuals to change whole cultures.
Patience and God’s Timing
When my son was three, he and I were hanging out at home and lunch time was fast approaching. He was getting increasingly irritable and fussy, and I hadn’t quite learned how important it was to feed kids on time. He then asked me when lunch time was, and I told him I’d start making it in five minutes. Instead of saying, “Sounds good Dad,” my three-year-old son (to my ignorant surprise) proceeded to throw a tantrum that made me wonder if he had heard me say five hours instead of five minutes. As I quickly made him a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich two thoughts hit me.
First, my son didn’t have a concept of time. As an adult, waiting five minutes is nothing. For a preschooler with no concept of time, any amount of waiting is too long, whether it’s five minutes or five days.
Second, I am just like my son. Sure, I may not throw a fit if I have to wait five minutes but if something doesn’t happen on my timeline my response isn’t much more mature than his. How many times have I approached God and said, “Here’s what I need and when I need it.” The big problem here is that if God doesn’t answer my prayers on my timeline then I assume he’s just not going to answer them. But this isn’t necessarily true. While a young child has no concept of time, we as adults also don’t understand God’s concept of time because it’s eternal. He sees our needs but through the perspective of eternity. Though we don’t have an eternal viewpoint, God’s eternal viewpoint should give us comfort that God provides our needs and our answers at just the right time.
Jesus’ brother James says this about patience and God’s timing:
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8, ESV).
As sons and daughters of a perfect and loving God, being patient is evidence of our trust and faith in our heavenly Father. As we pray and make requests of our Father we can be confident that his timing is the best timing.
Take time to reflect on both answered and unanswered prayers. When and how did God answer those prayers?
For those prayers that have yet to be answered, ask God for his perspective and trust in his perfect timing.