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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 53
April 1995

COMMUNION



In this issue:

Listen to the sound of anger.

I was there, you see, and I heard it all too well. I heard the shouting, the vile curses thrown at Him so innocent yet reviled. I felt the heat of a city wishing only to kill something--anything that could stand in for the enemy it truly hated: Rome. Yet it was partly our impotence toward guilty Rome that drove us to vent our anger toward the blameless Son of God.


It was over. There was no turning back. Caesar himself could not have stopped the momentum that was driving Jesus to the cross.

Secretly Peter and I followed Him to Caiaphas, where He was questioned at length before the Council. There we waited, down in the courtyard, calling the shadows friend and waiting for the Lord to emerge bearing a verdict.

Poor Peter. Caught in the offense of which we were all guilty. Always ready to speak, no matter the consequence, Peter foolishly laid himself open to charges of conspiracy. There were those of us who hated him for denying he knew Jesus, but the hate they expended on Peter could just as well have been spent on themselves, for we all knew we would have said and done the same, had we been challenged.

At the time I would gladly have exchanged the rest of my life for one more day with Him. But now I realize that in His leaving, Jesus actually exchanged one terrible day of His for the remainder of mine.


When at last the theatrics of the Council and the Roman leaders were at an end, we made our way out the western gate of the city. The procession was large and boisterous. Parts of it bore an almost festive air, as if the people were celebrating some great and happy occasion. Other parts of the procession were just the opposite, carried along by the mournful dirge, heads bowed, women weeping, men glassy-eyed.

I had seen it so many times before and had passed by it almost unaware, but on this morning Golgotha seemed the most depressingly imposing site on earth. There was nothing grand about the execution field. It was little more than a sad, trampled expanse of rock and thin soil just outside the city wall, upon which people died in hideous torment--and with alarming regularity.

The place called "The Skull" was littered with the fragmented sticks and poles of past deaths. The used and re-used wood was coated with old blood reduced to many shades of ochre by the burning Judean sun. Below the old upright poles were heavy stones jammed into the soil for support; they, too, were splattered the same ugly shades. We hung back, Peter and I, still fearful for our sorry lives, but we saw everything. We saw too much. We saw things that are now burned permanently into our brains--images and memories that will be our companions until we die.

The soldiers pushed Jesus down and laid Him out over the ground. While several held Him there, one brute with practiced strokes drove thick rusted spikes through each of His wrists and into the crosspiece timber. Jesus was silent throughout. I would have cried out, pleading for mercy, saying anything that might help me avoid such an awful death. But Jesus, though experiencing every bit of the pain, accepted it silently. He would not revile those who reviled Him.

Several picked Him up, pinned now to the beam, and attached the crosspiece to the top of the upright pole. It dropped into place with a sickening thump. While two soldiers braced against the backside of the cross, a third shoved Jesus' lower legs up until both knees were bent and pushed out to one side. Then the executioner drove one last spike that passed through both his ankles.

I cannot describe my anguish. I cannot describe the hollow ring of my guilt. No, I had not renounced Jesus, as Peter, but I have no doubt that my words would have been similar to his, had anyone inquired. Not having the courage to speak them out loud only compounded my shame.

The sight of His tortured body hanging before us stabbed into my heart like a slowly twisting knife. I wanted to be anywhere else but there--but I felt compelled to remain, as if this silent vigil--this tortured communion--would somehow relieve me of my complicity in His death.

Perspective 1
F O R G I V E N E S S

It was an ugly way to die, but then,
He died for ugly things, didn't He.
There is no pleasant way to die
for the sins of all humanity.

Into the Word


There were happy days, long ago, when my brother and I would put out into the Sea of Galilee, visiting one of our "sweet spots" just off the shore of our town, Capernaum. The weight of the net, as we hauled it back into the boat, would be almost too much to bear. We'd throw everything we had into the ropes, straining, bending our backs to it. Sweat would pour off us, spill into our eyes till we couldn't see, leave the rope slippery in our hands.

What pleasant pain we felt once the catch was on board! Our arms would throb, our backs feel as if they would never again straighten, the palms of our hands burned from the tough rope--but soon we'd be back at it, tossing the empty net out over the waves, then hauling its new catch back in.

Ah, those were the days!

How I long for them, those days of happy ignorance. I wonder now if I'll ever again know such peace. For the last three years I've lived with God--and now I've had a hand in killing Him.


Last night, after they had buried Jesus, I went out into the city. The streets were so silent and black, and I wrapped the blackness about me and tried to forget what I had done. Even then I was so afraid--I was so afraid someone would see me and identify me with Him. I was so ashamed, but I couldn't stop being afraid for myself. In my heart I remembered what Jesus had said--that there was a reason for His dying. But in my mind I saw only a coward who had denied even knowing Him. He had trusted me, and I had thought only of myself.

The street was empty--that twisted street that had been filled with people laughing and mocking and spitting their hatred. It was empty, and I embraced the emptiness like an old friend who understands your pain when no one else can. Now, for the first time since that day Jesus had found me, I could no longer feel Him beside me. I was alone. So very much alone.

The guard was asleep, and soon I was outside the city. Golgotha was nearby; from the city gate you could already smell the lingering death. I didn't really want to see it, but something outside of myself had brought me back. The path was still muddy from the storm; I tripped on the wet stones in the dark; I was praying that a bolt of lightning would strike me down and end my wretched misery. But soon I was there--and that ugly stand of wood was still there. Try as I might, I couldn't keep my eyes from traveling up that post, to the crossbeam that was still in place.

God in heaven save me! My heart was ripped in two by what I saw--the spikes still there, still embedded in the wood and still painted with His blood. I couldn't look on that cross without seeing the dying body of Jesus. I knew the cross was empty--I knew He was no longer there--but He was! He was. And I put Him there. My cowardice put Him there.


But if I alone am responsible for His death, then that would mean that He died only for me. And that's not what He said.

No, we all put Him there. The soldiers drove the spikes, but we all held Him down so they could. And we were all pulling on that rope that lifted Him into place. We all left Him to die alone--stripped of His friends, stripped of His dignity.

Jesus died for all of us--not just me. We're all guilty of the sins for which He died.


It was an ugly way to die, but then, He died for ugly things, didn't He. There is no pleasant way to die for the sins of all humanity. If Jesus loved me enough to die in my place, then I must find a way to love myself again. Perhaps in His forgiveness of me I will discover the secret of forgiving myself.

 

Digging Deeper--Moving Higher

Grace Greater Than Our Sin

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the lamb was spilt.

Refrain:                                       
Grace, grace, God's grace, grace
that will pardon and cleanse within,
Grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is
greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the seawaves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide,
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! there is flowing a crimson tide;
Whiter than snow you may be today.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe;
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?
[2]



 

I Know Whom I Have Believed

I know not why God's wondrous grace
To me He hath made know,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

I know not how this saving faith
To me His did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

Refrain:                                       
But "I know whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I've committed
Unto Him against that day."
[4]

Making it Personal

Into the Word

Perspective 2
S E C R E T   F A I T H

Into the Word


"Joseph," my friend Nicodemus had said, "He's dying, and will need a tomb. Your family has one nearby, haven't they?"

"There's one available," I replied flatly.

My friend knew me well enough to accurately interpret my tone. Taking me firmly by the shoulders, he looked directly into my eyes and said, "It's time, Joseph. It's time to go public with what I know is in your heart."

I couldn't look at him. He was right, I knew it. This was a moment I had anticipated with dread.

"It isn't me," I argued, "but my family. I have no thought for my own position, my standing with the Council. But this will be hard on the family." My objection sounded as feeble as it truly was.

But Nicodemus was kind. Our relationship had been built on many years of living and working together, and would not be jeopardized by my unsightly display of cowardice. He chose his words carefully.

"I know what you're feeling," he finally said. "Remember that time I went to Him in the dead of night. I had no desire at the time to reveal even my interest in what Jesus had to say. It's only a further example of His grace that He didn't call me on it." He turned toward me. "Joseph, He's dying. I'm afraid of what will happen to the body if we don't step in. You have contacts with Pilate."

"Don't remind me."

"Get permission for us to remove the body. I'll see to the burial arrangements."

"Let us use agents," I blurted out. "There's no need for personal involvement." I was instantly embarrassed by my sad, last-ditch effort to keep private my beliefs. And again, Nicodemus, in his gentle grace, demonstrated that he had learned more from Jesus than I.

"Joseph, we've moved beyond politics now. This is no longer about taking sides, but about paying a debt. Jesus is doing this for us--you and me and everyone else. We owe Him everything. You owe Him everything."


The twisted, lifeless body of Jesus was a sight almost too hideous to bear. The tender, compassionate--even beautiful--face we had come to love was a battered mask of pain that hung limp upon His chest. Ribbons of dried blood caked His forehead below the ridiculous crown the soldiers had fashioned out of thorns. The weight of His body pulling on His arms had enlarged the already gaping wounds in His wrists. The pasty white flesh of His side revealed a deep gash, through which still oozed a clear liquid. Jesus looked like nothing more than a lifeless rag doll pinned to the side of a tree. And my heart broke over the torture He had received into that body ... for me.

It was odd, and more than a little frightening, to be handling the body of Jesus. But as quickly and efficiently as we could, we brought Him down from the cross. His weight had enlarged the holes in His wrists so that we were able to remove His arms from the spikes, leaving them in the wood. The spike that held His feet was finally, with great effort, extricated from the wood and His flesh.

With the help of some onlookers, and even a few of the remaining soldiers, Nicodemus and I succeeded in wrapping the body for carrying to the empty tomb. We did not see any of Jesus' disciples.


We stood in the tomb, gazing down on Jesus, now wrapped for final burial. In a few moments we would roll the heavy stone into place and permanently seal His body inside the limestone cave.

"How could we ever have imagined this would be how it would end?" Nicodemus said quietly.

"He warned us."

"Frankly, I was not always able to separate parable from fact. The temple still stands, but He is here, dead."

"I don't know how it will all play out," I said to my friend. "Already His words are fading in my memory."

"I remember some of His words," Nicodemus said. "That night long ago, when I visited Jesus in secret, He spoke of this night--I know it now."

"What did He say?"

"Jesus told me three things that night. He told me from where He had come, where He would be going, and how we could follow. He said that He had descended from heaven, and would be returning.[7] Then--I understand it now--Jesus described what has just taken place. He said, 'As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.'"[8]

 

Digging Deeper--Moving Higher

Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed?

Alas! and did my Saviour bleed? And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I have done He groaned upon that tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown! and love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut His glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died for man, the creature's sin.

But drops of grief can ne'er repay the debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away--'tis all that I can do. Amen.
[9]


 

Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; 'Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day, for who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am, from sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

Lord, I believe Thy precious blood, which, at the mercy seat of God, Forever doth for sinners plead, for me, e'en for my soul, was shed.

Lord, I believe were sinners more than sands upon the ocean shore, Thou hast for all a ransom paid, for all a full atonement paid.[10]


Making it Personal


Into the Word

Perspective 3
I   H A V E   S E E N   T H E   L O R D

No one had ever
reached down into my torment
to lift me out;
everyone else
had always expected me
to reach up to them.

Into the Word


They always said I was crazy--and for most of my life I was. I guess I never was in my right mind until I met Jesus.


There is no love stronger than the love that accepts you for who you are--and that is how Jesus loved me. When we first met I was a mess. He found me as I had been since my earliest days: mad as a wet hen.

Everywhere I went I became the center of attention, because no one could ignore the foul-mouthed demons that lived in my mind and body.

He was teaching and healing in our small town by the Sea of Galilee, and I was there because I was everywhere in those days--like a nagging headache that never lets you know peace. The people tried to ignore me, but I wouldn't let them. If I could have no peace, then neither could they; if I had to live with the constant torment, then I would be a constant torment to them. Don't ask me why--it's just how I was.

But Jesus didn't ignore me. Even in my state of incoherent babbling and screaming I still could understand that here was a man who cared for me as I was. No one had ever loved me like that. No one had ever reached down into my torment to lift me out; everyone else had always expected me to reach up to them.


Oh, what a cold and miserable morning it was. I don't think any of us had slept the night before. Ever since I had helped Nicodemus and Joseph place Him in the tomb I had been obsessed with the notion that we hadn't done enough for Him. Even with the extravagant amounts of burial spices Nicodemus had supplied, it didn't seem enough. Jesus had done so much for me--I simply had to do more, even if it was only to attend to His burial.

I was not one to frequent cemeteries. After the sleepless night I was bleary-eyed and disoriented--like walking the dark streets of a strange city and foolishly imagining that the lights represent familiar landmarks. The tomb looked strange, different from the last time I had been there, only a short while before.

At first it was all just a blur: the open tomb, the angels, running back for the disciples, returning with them, then being left alone there and hating the cloak of confusion that I was unable to throw off.

I thought he was the gardener. Doesn't every garden have a gardener, someone to tend and tidy and keep the riff-raff away? I only wanted to go home and sleep and forget that my Master was now gone forever. But he persisted: "Whom are you seeking?"[14] And I still didn't recognize Him. Then He spoke once more, and it was as if that heavy cloak of confusion was suddenly lifted away--as if the voice of an old friend had just entered the conversation.

Jesus had always said my name in that warm, gentle way--like a brook gently tumbling over rounded pebbles, like song birds just waking to the dawn. In an instant I knew it was Him, and all doubt and confusion left me.


There is a tender little song we would sing in the neighborhood when I was a girl. I've forgotten most of it--except for one phrase:

Know my name;
Call me friend.

My precious Lord was alive! But Jesus was more than my Master, He was my friend. He knew my name, and in His speaking that one simple word I remembered the true depth of His love for me--His love for everyone who knew His.

 

Digging Deeper--Moving Higher

I've Found a Friend

I've found a Friend, oh, such a Friend!
He loved me ere I knew Him;
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus He bound me to Him.
And round my heart still closely twine
Those ties which naught can sever,
For I am His and He is mine,
Forever and forever.

I've found a Friend, oh, such a Friend!
He bled, He died to save me;
And not alone the gift of life,

But His own self He gave me.
Naught that I have my own I call,
I hold it for the Giver;
My heart, my strength, my life, my all,
Are His, and His forever.

I've found a Friend, oh, such a Friend!
So kind, and true, and tender,
So wise a Counsellor and Guide,
So mighty a Defender!
From Him who loves me now so well,
What power my soul can sever?
Shall life or death, or earth or hell?
No; I am His forever.
[15]


 

Look, Ye Saints! the Sight Is Glorious

Look, ye Saints! The sight is glorious:
See the Man of Sorrows now;
From the fight returned victorious,
Every knee to Him shall bow:
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crowns become the Victor's brow.

Crown the Saviour! Angels, crown Him!
Rich the trophies Jesus brings;
In the seat of power enthrone Him;
While the vault of heaven rings:
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown the Saviour King of kings.

Sinners in derision crowned Him,
Mocking thus the Saviour's claim;
Saints and angels crowd around Him,
Own His title, praise His name:
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Spread abroad the Victor's fame.
[16]

Making it Personal

Into the Word


NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 53
April 1995

NOTES

[1.] Mark 10:45. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] Julia H. Johnston (1849-1919). (return to footnote 2)

[3.] Cheryl Forbes in "The Religion of Power", cited in Christianity Today, March 1995. (return to footnote 3)

[4.] Daniel W. Whittle (1840-1901). (return to footnote 4)

[5.] 1 Corinthians 15:5. (return to footnote 5)

[6.] Alexander Maclaren, in his Expositions of Holy Scripture (Baker, 1984), Vol 11, p.235f. (return to footnote 6)

[7.] John 3:13. (return to footnote 7)

[8.] John 3:14-15 NASB. (return to footnote 8)

[9.] Isaac Watts (1674-1748). (return to footnote 9)

[10.] Nicolaus L. Zinzendorf (1700-1760); translated by John Wesley (1703-1791). (return to footnote 10)

[11.] Donald Grey Barnhouse. (return to footnote 11)

[12.] Joseph Grigg. (return to footnote 12)

[13.] Alexander Maclaren, in his Expositions of Holy Scripture (Baker, 1984), Vol 11, p.293f. His final quote from 1 Corinthians 3:15. (return to footnote 13)

[14.] John 20:15 NASB. (return to footnote 14)

[15.] James G. Small (1817-1888). (return to footnote 15)

[16.] Thomas Kelly (1769-1854). (return to footnote 16)

[17.] Luke 24:39; John 20:27. (return to footnote 17)

[18.] Alexander Maclaren, in his Expositions of Holy Scripture (Baker, 1984), Vol 11, p.306f. (return to footnote 18)

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1995 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1995 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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