Oakland Service
Sunday 11:30AM

222 Ramapo Valley Road
Oakland NJ 07436

Palisades Park Service
Sunday 5:00PM

500 Broad Ave.
Palisades Park NJ 07650

 

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Resurrection Sunday, April 1

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”...

Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). John 20:1-2, 11-16

Mary weeps. Her Lord and Master was dead. The one who’d rescued her from slavery to sin and evil was no more. The one who’d brought her close, to whose service she’d devoted herself in response to his love, was gone. The only truly good person she or anyone else had ever known had died awfully, shamed and cursed. And now his body was missing.

Could Mary still “function?” Could she “cope?” She could. What else can you do? You just go on “doing the best you can.” You’ve just go to “look out for number one.” "It’s a cruel world after all." And obviously no one else will.

But Mary knew better. Such platitudes wouldn’t do. All was lost.

Mary’s weeping is not only for herself but for all of us, for the whole world. In Jesus’ dying, all that he was died with him. Evil had triumphed over good; lies over truth; despair over hope; oppression over justice; slavery over freedom; cowardice over courage; selfishness over love; sin over righteousness; death over life.

As the Apostle Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” 1 Corinthians 15:17.

Then in one moment, with one voice, with a single word, everything changes.

“Mary.”

From the other side of death, bodily alive, visibly and physically present, it was his voice calling her name, addressing her personally, as only he could. What was once overwhelmingly sad had become impossibly good, more than anything she could ask, imagine or think.

Evil, lies, despair, oppression, injustice, slavery, cowardice, selfishness, sin and death had not triumphed. In his death, he’d taken them down with him and triumphed over and through them in his resurrection from the dead. Jesus didn’t return from death into this same world, but he went through death, ushering in new life, imperishable, indestructible.

Instead of making our way the best we can, while trying to avoid the bad stuff that’s eventually going to get us all anyway, now we live knowing Jesus has gone ahead of us through all the “bad stuff,” including our own unbelief, sin and failure, and emerged alive, glorified! His destiny is ours, as we follow him.

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead...Death has been swallowed up in victory...thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:20,54,57.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Lord Jesus Christ, because you died and rose again, we are more than conquerors through you who loves us, our triumphant, conquering, risen King. You are the resurrection and the life. You are our life. All glory, honor, blessing and praise are yours this day and forever more. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Good Friday, March 30

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’”

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. Luke 23:20-25

“They insistently demanded.” “Their shouts prevailed.” Jesus was surrendered “to their will.”

Do you have insistent demands?

There are things we can accept, maybe let go. But then there are those insistent demands. Those times that we have to have our way. Increasingly, it seems that our lives can just simply consist of insistent demands.

Why do we struggle in our relationships and marriages? Why are we consistently frustrated and anxious? Why do we accuse God? Is it not because of our insistent demands? Is it not because we wish to conform a resistant world and resistant people and a resistant God to our wills.

At the end of the day, our insistent demand isn’t for justice or for truth or for love, but for our wills to prevail.

And on a Friday morning and afternoon nearly 2000 years ago, the outcome of all our insistent demands was made plain.

The cross is crucial because it shows what possibilities for evil lie hidden in human beings. It is the concretion of human evil in one time and place. Whenever we look upon the cross...we see what humankind can do, has done, and still does to human beings (and hence to God)...The cross is the symbol of evil, alive and vivid, of the evil that is in us, of evil itself.

The result of all our insistent demands is for the death of the innocent and the release of a murderer. “Crucify him!” It is for the one who is perfect love to be hung as a criminal. “Crucify him!” And we are convinced that we could not be more right or justified in it. “Crucify him!”

And yet hidden within the horror of that day, but now made known to us, is another reason that day is unlike any other in human history. It is the reason that we can claim the events of that day as our own on this and everyday.

For on that Friday, Jesus also made a “demand”: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.

In the crucifixion of Jesus, we don’t only see the realization of our insistent demands, the consequence of our wills prevailing, but we see God’s will prevailing in and through our own. His love in and through our hate for him and one another.

The surprise, the wonder, the shock of the cross is that as we are revealed as justly deserving of condemnation, God in Jesus Christ willingly bears that condemnation for us. So that it can truly be said: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1.

At the cross, God takes our greatest evil and turns it into the greatest good for us who commit that evil.

Lord Jesus Christ, your whole life was a journey to the cross. A journey to rejection, to mistreatment, to torture, to unjust condemnation. You did it for us who did that to you. What wondrous love is this o my soul! Thank you for rescuing us from our insistent demands. Thank you for the cross. We love you and worship. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

P.S. - Please join us today for Good Friday Service at Oakland Campus at 7pm!
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[Lent Devotional] Holy Week: Maundy Thursday, March 29

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Matthew 26:36-46

Jesus is overwhelmed with sorrow. It was not fear of physical pain and torture, or even betrayal, mockery, insult and abandonment that was so severely distressing to Jesus.

“Nothing could ever make me believe the cup Jesus dreaded was any of these things (grievous as they were) or all of them together. His physical and moral courage throughout his public ministry had been indomitable. To me it is ludicrous to suppose that he was now afraid of pain, insult and death.”

What was overwhelming Jesus to such a great extent was not what was happening around him, as awful as it was for him. It was what was happening within him that was crushing him. He was bearing the judgment, the consequence, the effect of all our sin. The corrosiveness, the ugliness, the horror of sin was consuming his being. The cup of God’s just, holy and loving determined opposition to sin - his wrath - was descending upon Jesus. Most of all, he was losing the fellowship, the communion, the awareness of his Father’s love which was the basis of his life. Jesus was being separated from the only one who mattered - his Father.

He was abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46.

Yet, even here, Jesus is ultimately resolute: “Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go!” Matthew 26:45-46. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” John 18:11.

Here we see the absolute horror of sin and the remarkable depths of God’s love.

This is what was necessary for Jesus to be our substitute and representative. He is for us what we could never be - the one who loves God with all his mind, heart, soul and strength, and loves his neighbor as himself. Even as he is being condemned and abandoned, he does not let go, but remains committed to God and all of us. He is obedient to death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8.

At the same time, he bore for us what we could never bear ourselves - the full consequence of our sin, the judgment of, and alienation from, God - hell. Even as he said to God, as he had his entire life, “your will be done,” he experienced for us the outcome of our saying our whole lives, “my will be done.” He absorbed and took away the only thing we ever really have to fear. The only thing that can “get us,” Jesus got instead.

Jesus’ condemnation and abandonment are our forgiveness and welcome. In him, God is our Father, whose communion and love cannot be taken away from us. All of this, Jesus agonizingly and lovingly gained for us.

“After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” Isaiah 53:11.

God our Father, thank you for so loving us that you gave your Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Lord Jesus Christ, you endured what we could never endure; you loved and obeyed as we have never loved and obeyed. You experienced hate in order to give us love; you drank the cup of poison in order to give us the cup of salvation; you were crushed in order for us to be made whole; you went to hell in order to bring us heaven. We thank you and trust you and love you. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Holy Week: Wednesday, March 28

The chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. Matthew 26:3-4

For the leaders, the time had come. It was either kill or be killed. Certainly Jesus knew this: “As you know, the Passover is two days away - and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Matthew 26:2.

Jesus had said too much and cut too deeply. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Matthew 23:27-28.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law had devoted their entire lives to scrupulously keeping the law, being pure, being clean. This was their hope, their trust, their righteousness. It was the basis of their entire lives. And here Jesus is saying that they are as filthy and unclean as dead and decrepit bodies, which made unclean anyone who came into contact with them.

He was basically ripping their hearts out. Killing him was simply a reasonable act of self-defense.

So it is for all of us. While participating in a discussion in which people were asked to think of someone who represented Jesus to them, one woman’s unexpected answer was: “Who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly I wanted to kill him for it?”

An encounter with Jesus is in fact “kill or be killed.” He will either rip our hearts out or we will do the same to him, having his blood splatter all over us. And yet, it is in the surprising wisdom and mercy of God that, for those who believe and recognize his body and blood, the blood of Jesus that splatters and covers them is not an agent of guilt, contamination and condemnation, but of forgiveness, cleansing and approval.

In our killing him and his rising from the dead, Jesus does in fact also “rip” our hearts out. What he does, however, is unlike what we do - indiscriminately violent and filled with hate for him. Through our murderous attack, Jesus performs on us the most precise, loving, deepest and most radical surgery that has ever been - one in which we die and then come to new life in him.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:25-27.

With the new hearts that Jesus freely gives us, we realize that everything he said to the Pharisees is equally true of us. We too have built our lives, our identities on what we do and how we appear, instinctively becoming defensive or even enraged when someone “cuts too close.” We openly confess, responsive to his Spirit within us, that all our “righteous” acts are filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6.

With thanksgiving and joy, we abandon our hope and trust in who we are and what we accomplish and how we appear. We surrender our self-righteousness and self-cleansing, which only reveal our lack of both. And we turn to Jesus, the truly righteous one. He is our hope. He is our trust. He is our significance. He is our identity. He is our life.

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for telling us the truth about ourselves, even though it made us want to kill you. Thank you for loving us in such an unexpected way that you employed our murderous violence against you to save us from ourselves and our insistent self-righteousness. Thank you for your life-saving surgery, which kills and brings us to life. We worship you, the one who is our hope, our trust, our righteousness, our life. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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