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Walk with Jesus
The Journey to the Cross and Beyond
By Charles R. Swindoll
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Charles R. Swindoll
All rights reserved.
Day 1 - The Plot to Kill Jesus
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For many months, storm clouds had been gathering over Jerusalem. Jesus focused His attention on Galilee during the early part of His ministry, but He regularly traveled to the Holy City in Judea to celebrate the more than half-dozen Jewish feasts throughout the year. And each visit intensified the growing tension between Jesus and the religious establishment—the Sadducees, with their control of the temple, and the Pharisees, who had a grip on the people.
The disciples could sense the danger mounting. So when Jesus announced that they would travel to visit Martha and Mary in the village of Bethany, just two miles from Jersusalem, Thomas turned to the other disciples and shrugged. "Let us also go, that we may die with him"(John 11:16).The disciples' fear was not unfounded. On their last visit, an angry mob sought to stone their Master.
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He won a new assembly of followers. However, several friends of the Pharisees saw His growing popularity as a threat and scurried to Jerusalem with the news.
So the chief priests [Sadducees] and the Pharisees called the council together and said, "What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation."
Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish." —John 11:47–50 NET
With that, the plot to kill Jesus began.
The religious leaders would have to be crafty. They didn't dare seize Him in public for fear that the ever-growing multitude of His followers would turn on them and revolt. And nothing would bring down the wrath of Rome quicker than insurrection.CHAPTER 2
Day 2 - Hail, King Jesus!
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Imagine the seething consternation of the religious authorities when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. He deliberately chose to ride a humble foal of a donkey, not only a recognized symbol of peace, but a glaring reference to the messianic prophecy of Zechariah.
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be 'from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.'" —Zechariah 9:9–10 (NKJV)
The religious rulers clearly understood the message this sent. It said, in effect, I'm coming in peace as your Messiah, Israel's priest-king. Yield your authority to Me, and let's begin building the new kingdom. Thousands of Jesus' followers responded to the gesture by giving Him a welcome reserved for royalty. They lined the road leading into the city, cheered His name, and paved His path with their cloaks and cut palm branches. They shouted, "Hosanna!" which means, "Save us now!"CHAPTER 3
Day 3 - The Historical Anticipation of the Coming Messiah
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The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. God is the Lord, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. —Psalm 118:22–27 (NKJV)
On previous occasions, Jesus worshiped in the temple and taught willing hearers. When challenged by the religious elite, He responded, but never at the expense of His mission of teaching and preaching. He taught against the corruption He saw there and even disrupted their business more than once. But this time was different. This time He came to claim authority over the temple and to take His stand against the organized crime of Annas, the power broker behind the office of high priest.
At one point during the tumultuous week after His arrival, Jesus sat to teach in the temple. As a large group of followers and conspirators gathered around the daring rabbi to hear a parable, He captured their attention with His opening words: "There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower." (Matthew 21:33 NKJV).
Most of the images in Jesus' teaching drew upon the common experience of Jews living in the first century: shepherd and sheep, sewer and seed, wine and wineskins, master and servants. But no metaphor touched the Hebrew soul like the picture of the vinedresser and his vineyard.CHAPTER 4
Day 4 - The True Vine
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I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. —John 15:1–2
Each year, the Hebrew people celebrated Passover with a weeklong festival—the combined observance of the Passover Feast and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For nearly two thousand years, they paused annually to commemorate their ancestors' liberation from Egypt and God's planting them in the Promised Land. Jesus gathered His disciples in a specially prepared room for what He knew to be His last time with them before His death. At this final meal celebrating God's faithfulness to Israel, He would summarize His teaching, prepare His disciples to carry on His ministry, and give the familiar rituals of the Passover celebration a new significance.
After reiterating His earlier prediction that He would be beaten and murdered by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Jesus returned to an earlier theme to illustrate how His relationship with the disciples would continue nonetheless. "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser" (John 15:1).
Compare this vineyard parable to the others and you will see a dramatic recasting of the images. In this version, Jesus took the place of Israel, claiming to be the authentic, healthy vine the nation had failed to become. The kingdom of God was its king.CHAPTER 5
Day 5 - Being in Christ
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You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. —John 15:3–4
Being "in Christ" puts the person in right relationship with the Father. Paul says, "There is now no condemnation to then which are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1 KJV). The believer is regarded as having the same righteous standing as Jesus. With the believer's eternal destiny secure, Jesus turned from the issue of position—"in Me"—to that of production. The purpose of a branch is no different than that of the vine: to produce fruit. Jesus said, "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away" (John 15:2).
Many versions of the Bible translate a key Greek term in this verse as "takes away," "removes," or even "cuts off," but its primary definition is "to lift from the ground." The word can and often doesmean "to lift with a view to carrying, to carry off or put away." In keeping with the metaphor, Jesus most likely referred to the vinedresser's practice of lifting a sagging branch and tying it to the trellis—a procedure called "training." The vinedresser also carefully prunes the branches to encourage healthy growth.
Interpreting a parable demands we appreciate the richness of the story's imagery without seeing more than the author intended. Stare at anything long enough, and it will bear the imprint of your imagination. So we must restrain ourselves from seeing more than what the parable says. Jesus did not identify what the fruit represents. Some have suggested that the fruit of a believer is another believer—in other words, a person has chosen to place his or her faith in Jesus Christ as a result of a believer's influence. This may be what Jesus had in mind, but "fruit" may also refer to another noteworthy product.CHAPTER 6
Day 6 - The New Vineyard
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If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. —John 15:7–8
Jesus came to do what neither Israel nor we can do. Now, He is the vineyard, and He will be faithful to bear fruit. And He invites us to attach ourselves to Him, like a branch abiding in a vine, so that we can become a part of this great fruit-bearing enterprise. This is not referring to salvation. By the time of His last evening with His disciples, the issue of salvation had been settled. This is a matter of living abundantly and producing a bumper crop of Christlike qualities in our character.
If your eternal destiny has been sealed by your belief in Christ, the crucial question for you is how you will live now? Will you try to become good and righteous on your own ... and become good for nothing? Or will you abide in Christ ... and allow Him to produce good within you?
That evening as Jesus broke unleavened bread and called it His body, and as He poured the ceremonial wine and called it His blood, He invited His disciples to eat and drink. He used this—yet another symbol—to teach His followers that life must come from Him.CHAPTER 7
Day 7 - The Gathering Storm
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Jesus never regarded His path to the cross as anything but the successful unfolding of a plan. He had said early in His ministry, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matthew 10:34).The sword of which He spoke is the sharpest of all implements of conflict: truth. And those who hold it will find themselves hunted by evil.
After feeding the five thousand men and their families in the hill country of Galilee, Jesus rendezvoused with His disciples on the waves of the nearby sea and then sailed to Capernaum. Meanwhile, the multitudes frantically tried to trace His steps and finally deduced that He must have accompanied the disciples back to the hometown of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
They arrived to find Jesus teaching in the synagogue. They then confronted Him with the suspicion that He had deliberately eluded them, but Jesus returned their objections with an indictment.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." —John 6:26–27
To the Jews gathered around Jesus in the synagogue, the rebuke echoed the voice of Moses, who had challenged the wandering generation of Israelites.CHAPTER 8
Day 8 - The Battle Line Between Good and Evil
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Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. "And Jesus said to them," I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." —John 6:32–33, 35
The battle line between good and evil doesn't run along borders or around races or even across thresholds. The cosmic battle between good and evil divides heart from heart without discrimination, for each person chooses his or her side. Oddly, it is not a choice between truth and untruth—God would never require a darkened mind to make such a choice. That would be crueler than requiring a paralytic to drag himself to a pool in a race for healing. We choose by how we respond to the Redeemer, who holds out something we innately know to be missing within. Those who push it away do so knowingly. At some point in every life, ignorance ceases to be the issue, and we either choose to heed the voice resonating in the hollows of our soul or we opt for willful disobedience.
That's why Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'" (Matthew 10:34–36).Obviously God wants families together, but, unfortunately, the truth of Jesus Christ is a divider. On most issues, there are many shades of gray, but not this one. And the whole world—right down to the individual households—has been partitioned into realms, that of light and darkness.
What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires? Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29).With the arrival of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God ceased to be one defined by geography, but one established in the hearts of those who choose to believe.CHAPTER 9
Day 9 - The Blind Guides
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The division between Jesus and the Pharisees had never been anything less than a canyon. He came to speak truth; they desired control. And one thing will always be true of controllers: what they cannot control, they destroy.
While Jesus was still ministering in Galilee, an envoy of Pharisees traveled from Jerusalem to meet with Jesus on a matter of grave concern to them. They likely felt it was a mission of mercy in which they would redeem a wayward rabbi. Of course, people who seek control don't see the world in terms of conformity with truth or untruth, but in terms of agreement with them.
Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread. —Matthew 15:2
This body of strict traditions eventually supplanted the very Law it was intended to uphold. And by the time of Jesus, failure to observe this tradition was regarded as disobedience to the law of God. Furthermore, this man-made religiosity became the means by which the Pharisees maintained the illusion of moral superiority. Ironically, their religious zeal put them at odds with God. Not only were they motivated by lust for power, but their traditions very often violated the very Law they supposedly cherished.
Excerpted from Walk with Jesus by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright © 2009 Charles R. Swindoll. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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