a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 81
In many ways God has not made it easy for us. Here we are, slogging through life, getting all messy and confused trying to live out our allotted time according to His will; here we are struggling to understand and obey His precepts--and He remains silent and invisible.
Wouldn't it be so much easier to tell others about God if you could simply conduct them to His house and invite them to sit and have a chat with Him? Yet He remains in His heaven, and has even stopped voicing His thoughts to our ears.
Wouldn't it be easier to understand the workings of the Holy Spirit if we were simply handed a manual (nothing fancy; it wouldn't even need pictures) which outlined what would be included and excluded from His ministry to our lives? The manual could, for example, let us know how to recognize His touch--as opposed to the touch of conscience, or guilt. Yet the Spirit in tangible form remains elusive, and thereby open to debate, and subject to the sometimes hideous pronouncements about His character and work.
Wouldn't it be easier to know the person of Christ Jesus if He still walked among us? We're envious of the disciples, of their close proximity and easy familiarity with the Lord, yet we haven't even been permitted a photograph of His face. How much simpler it would be to understand Him if He were still here, but He ascended, and will not return until it is no longer necessary for us to concern ourselves with the matter.
We do have Scripture, of course, but even there we are left struggling. As Dr. Larry Crabb has written,
"It has often occurred to me that if God's intention was to present a body of truth merely to be intellectually grasped and then re-presented to others, He could have organized His one published work a little better. A group of scholars and prophets could have been assigned the job of preparing position papers on various topics, such as the work of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of future events, or the purpose of the Law. We could then have an indexed manual with clear statements on all the key issues in orthodox Christianity. Think of the confusion such a book would have saved."
God, for whatever reason, has determined that His personality and ways are not to be presented to us on a platter, all neatly itemized and organized. Instead, it will be necessary for us to dig into the available record, to ferret out what we can learn of Him. Again, as Dr. Crabb writes,
"The mood of the Bible is relational, personal. It's a book about people living their lives who recorded their God-ordered experiences and God-inspired wisdom for other people living their lives. Study it, yes. Avail yourself of the valuable help scholars provide. Read commentaries. Take notes during sermons. Enroll in classes that require a scholarly study of the text. But do it all for the purpose of better knowing God, yourself, and others so you become more loving."
It falls to each of us--not just the pastors and teachers and scholars-- to personally become acquainted with our Lord. He's more than a Sunday School flannel-graph figure; He's more than a twenty minute capsulation delivered from the pulpit; and He is far more than what we can imagine during our thirty second, mealtime grace.
Jesus Christ is the entirety of God.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him... For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. Col. 1:15,19,2:9
As such, He invites us to get to know Him.
"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:27-29
Who is this one we call Lord? What can we learn from His life, His response to those who surrounded Him? What can we learn of His personality and methods?
And what, then, can we do with such knowledge?
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7
In our day the coexistence of grandeur and humility is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Generally those worthy of acclaim, those worthy of respect and high esteem, are not often found to be at the same time humble. Likewise, those of lowly birth and station, those who fade quietly into the background of most any situation, are not often at the same time recipients of high honor.
Because Jesus the Son of God did not begin as a child, but became a child, we shouldn't think for a moment that the lowly birth was a decision made for Him. The beginning of His humility at Bethlehem was no accident, but a marker--an index mark given us by which to reckon our opinion of Him. The Members of the Godhead put together their collective heads and determined that the Son's entrance into His people would be marked by the humility of the stable. He would be placed into a well-used feeding trough--a stone coarsely gouged to hold hay and smeared with old cow slobber.
Later, as an adult, Jesus would say
"I and the Father are one." John 10:30
and He would be described by the apostle Paul as one
who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! Philip. 2:6-8
He was both: very God, and lowly servant.
Jesus was humble--not because He should have been, but because He is.
Lord God, teach me of Christ's humility. I give you permission to chip away the crust of my pride and self-aware arrogance, to create in me a heart soft to your ways, and the gentle humility of my Savior.
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Luke 2:41-46
Joseph and Mary, with their caravan of friends and relatives, had departed Jerusalem. But the boy had lingered in the temple. What had caused Jesus to stay? What inner motivation had persuaded Him to remain behind at His parent's departure?
While in Egypt years ago, my wife and I were one day visiting the Temple of Seti I in Abydos. Roaming away from the organized tour, I wandered deeper into the recesses of the temple, until I came upon a large, shadowy chamber filled with huge pillars. I was suddenly overcome by a sense of belonging--as if this room had once been as familiar to me as my own house. Since I don't subscribe to the theory of reincarnation, to this day I have no explanation for the sensation that passed through me. But I've never forgotten the powerful sense of belonging I experienced in that room.
I wonder if Jesus experienced that same sense of belonging the day he visited the temple as a young boy. His heavenly Father had ordained that structure as the unique place where He would meet with His people. At that time there was nowhere else on earth where the presence of God could be more tangibly felt than in that structure.
We may never know how Jesus, at the age of 12, perceived His own deity; but surely, as He stepped into those hallowed halls of the Jerusalem temple, a sense of closeness to God the Father must have passed through Him. Like coming home, the young Jesus--twelve years from His real home --must have happily soaked up the comforting presence of the Father as it was manifested on earth.
Heavenly Father, I want to know a closeness to you like that enjoyed by your Son. I want to revel in your presence, or miss you when I'm away: I long for you to become such a part of me that if I step away, the pain will be too much to bear.
"I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian." All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Luke 4:24-30
Radio teacher and President of Dallas Theological Seminary, Chuck Swindoll, likes to make the point that given a pool of mud and a white glove, when the glove is placed into the mud it will emerge muddy every time; never will the mud become `glovey.'
The point is made: Christians are always stained by their close proximity to sin. When believers dwell with unbelievers, they are invariably the losers.
But that wasn't the case for Jesus, who was, of course, more than man. He could dwell intimately with sinners--traveling with them, dining with them, celebrating with them--and still remain sinless and pure. He entered this world, lived here for thirty-plus years, and returned to the Father absolutely unscathed.
Here was a crowd of angry, murderous people; you can almost see them foaming at the mouth in their rage. Here was Jesus, on one side the edge of a cliff, on the other a mob ready to toss Him over the side. He had insulted their Jewish sensibilities, and they would have none of it. But suddenly--as if playing out a scene in a sci-fi film in which time stands still--Jesus simply walked away, passed safely through the hands of the venomous mob, as if they weren't even there. Whether the townsfolk realized it or not, Jesus was the one in charge, and unless He chose to let them, they couldn't lay a hand on Him.
Jesus was not of their world. He could love them, minister to their needs, calm their fears and wipe away their tears, heal their broken bodies and restore their sense of worth--He could mix in with people of every stripe, yet remain holy. None of their sin ever rubbed off onto Him.
Oh God, You are holy, and you have called upon me to be holy, too. But sometimes the sin I pass through sticks, and I have a hard time getting it off. Give me the courage to stay so close to you in all situations, that my path remains true.
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16
When we lived in Southern California I referred to it as going out to "sit on my rock." About an hour from our home there was a mountain spot that afforded a sweeping overlook of the desert. There I could park my car along the road, clamber up the boulder-strewn hillside, and perch atop one of the huge slabs of granite. There I could sit for hours, alone, contemplating the deeper considerations of life--or simply reading a good book.
Sitting on my rock in the heavy stillness of desert solitude, staring out over miles and miles of blistered sand and cactus, perspective returned. Listening to the wind and watching the birds and lizards scurry by, the pressures and irritations of city living became quickly unimportant. Being reminded, once again, of how small I was in comparison to the grand sweep of nature, I came away restored and calmed.
It was necessary for Jesus, too, to step away from the pressures of ministry, the constant tugging and pulling of those who clamored for His attention. Being human as well as God, He became physically weary from the pace, and needed time alone to be restored.
More than that, however, Jesus needed time with the Father. How sweet those moments of communion must have been for Him; how precious must have been the intimate conversation between Father and Son. And how restive that time must have been to His soul and mind.
It's far too easy to lose our connection with God in this day of busy schedules and the constant pressure to be doing more. If we now find it necessary to drive and talk on the phone at the same time, where, then, have we left time for speaking with the Lord?
Don't you be in such a hurry
'Cause it only leads to worry;
There's a time to work, but there's a time to pray.
Try to find a quiet place
To hear His voice and seek His face;
Can you hear the Spirit calling "Come away?"
Come away, come away,
Come and spend some time with Me,
Let your heart and mind be stilled,
Let your empty cup be filled,
Come and spend some time with Me:
Chapman & Coomes
My Father, slow me down. Replace my hunger to be doing more with a hunger to know You more. Help me to see the eternal value in time spent with You, and help me to understand that my life here and now will be better after having spent precious moments with You.
There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, `Go,' and he goes; and that one, `Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, `Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out--the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry." Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. Luke 7:2-15
Jesus' earthly ministry took place within a turbulent sea of conflicting factions. Within Israel there were more than a sufficient number of political/religious parties all vying for their place of prominence. In addition, the whole of the nation was subject to Rome, and the Emporer Tiberius and his legions.
Through the midst of this social quagmire, however, Jesus moved with little regard for politics, social graces--even religious law and tradition. Jesus was, instead, motivated by the heart. He was motivated, not by what was politically expedient, but by compassion; not by the voluminous religious traditions of His people, but by empathy with those in distress.
When He learned that a Roman centurion's slave was dying, Jesus didn't question the wisdom of helping one of His nation's oppressors; and it's doubtful that it mattered to Him what the elders said, that this Roman was actually a friend to Israel. What mattered to Jesus was that a person with profound faith in who He was and could do, was pleading for His help.
A little later, in the city of Nain, a widow was preparing to bury her only son. How this must have touched the heart of Jesus; for He, too, was an only Son who was about to die. This time there was no entreaty, nor even a declaration of faith. Out of tender compassion alone, Jesus raised the boy from the dead.
In the Jewish law, His touching of the coffin would render Jesus ritually defiled. But He was motivated by the heart, not ritual or law.
Lord God, let me be motivated by love for my fellow man, instead of by that which is politically correct or religiously acceptable. Let my heart be so in tune with yours that my motives remain pure and right. And, Lord, let me not turn away from any opportunity to help those truly in need.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." Luke 9:57-62
Years ago, when I was a fashion photographer in California, I would periodically take on assistants who would be expected to help out in the studio and on location in the classic apprentice sense--meaning, they would be paid not in dollars, but in experience.
Every time I took on a new assistant I would go out of my way to describe to them both the limitations and the benefits of the job. I made sure they understood that they would be expected to work long, odd hours, performing menial tasks, but would receive no pay. In exchange they could use the opportunity to learn the craft, use the equipment and facilities, and be given some limited responsibilities by which they could hone their own photographic skills. All this would be carefully explained up front, then they would be given the opportunity to either agree with the conditions or take their leave.
Discipleship is a tough gig. Many Christians want to imagine that being a disciple of Christ requires little or no effort, that it is more of a label than a job description.
But Jesus made it quite clear that discipleship was a tough, demanding responsibility with--in earthly terms--very little reward.
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn `a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 10:34-39
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" John 21:17-19
Heavenly Father, I'm not interested in being a disciple in name only. Even though Jesus has said that He requires much from those who follow Him, I still want to be numbered among them. Let me not believe the lie that servanthood is easy, but find joy in serving the one who willingly sacrificed His very life for me.
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it." One of the experts in the law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also." Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them." Luke 11:37-46
When dealing with the opposition, today's societal counsel might be something like "Ingratiate yourself first," or "Be prepared to compromise, since you can't always get your way," or at least "Compliment your host, even if you don't really mean it."
Some of Jesus' most telling lessons came out of dinner invitations, where He had a habit of offending His host. Earlier, when He had been invited to dine with another Pharisee, an immoral woman (surely a prostitute) came to attend Jesus, serve His needs--in a beautiful, worshipful way, to adore Him. This sinful woman received only compassion and forgiveness from the Lord,
"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Luke 7:47-48
but His host, Simon the Pharisee, received only a harsh rebuke.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet." Luke 7:44-46
Jesus never minced words when it came to arrogant, unrepentant hypocrisy, and He was never intimidated by the high office or social position of the offending party. He knew what was right, and He was quick to take that position; He also recognized true contrition, and was quick to forgive.
Dear God, help me to be more like Jesus. Help me to have courage in the face of wrong, to speak up for the right--Your right, and to never be ashamed of Your good news. Give me discernment to recognize treachery and deceit, and anything that might stand against Your holy way.
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! "Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it. Luke 19:35-41
From a human perspective, it was His moment of triumph: the climax of His ministry and the very zenith of His popularity. For the previous three years Jesus had been teaching vast crowds of people, healing the sick and even raising the dead. His reputation had spread until He was now unable to escape the press of people; they hounded Him everywhere He went.
It seemed that everyone now knew of this rabbi who could work miracles and spout wisdom as if from God. People from all walks of life--from the lowliest slave to those in the ruling counsel--were drawn inexorably to Him. There were some ready to anoint Him King; there were others ready to build an army behind Him. Jesus rode the crest of a powerful mandate.
Oh how we, given that same reputation and situation, would have reveled in that adulation, we would have bathed in the adoring cries of the people. We would have believed their words, and let their exuberant fawning swell our chests with pride. As we rode through them on our way to the city gate, we would have been plotting how to best capitalize on this popularity.
But Jesus wept. He knew that in only a matter of days, these same people would be either clamoring just as loudly for Him to be executed--or would be running for the hills, denying any connection to this insane rabble-rouser. Jesus knew that the people would ultimately reject Him as their long-awaited Messiah and that, as a result, the city would be ruined.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." Luke 19:41-44
Oh God, I pray for perspective--Your perspective. I pray for the wisdom to remember that fame is fleeting, and that the adulation of this world is as rotting chaff when compared to Your righteous and just approval. Let empty praise be quickly forgotten, and let worthy praise be lifted up, instead, to You.
Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it `a den of robbers.'" Luke 19:45-46
The classical Hollywood picture of Jesus of Nazareth (one still bought by many Christians) is of a simpering milquetoast gliding along with his feet never touching the soil, a permanent bland smile affixed to his face, with only one grinning-idiot response to every situation--a regular flower child, right out of Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties.
That is not the Biblical picture of the Lord. Jesus had immense depths of understanding for the sinner who loved Him enough to change, but He had a quick temper with the self-righteous who refused to see the error of their ways.
The prostitute, the demon-possessed, the dishonest tax-collector (a redundancy in that time), the honestly inquisitive Pharisee--all received compassion and patience from Jesus. But the cynical lawyer, the snotty Sanhedrinist, the unrepentant, and even the innocent fool who should have known better --these all were recipients of His quick wrath.
And His anger seemed to reach its peak that day Jesus entered the temple during the final week of His ministry. When faced with the gross marketplace this holy site had become, Jesus exploded. The Gospel of Mark adds more detail:
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written:
'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it `a den of robbers.'" Mark 11:15-17
Just as Jesus demonstrated the full range of human emotion in His response to people and situations, so should we. The Christian should be the first to forgive, but also the first to be angry at wrong.
Forgiving God, teach me how to love the innocent while standing against those things that stand against You. Teach me how to forgive those who repent of sin without minimizing the wrong that caused it in the first place. And, Lord, teach me discernment to know the difference.
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him." They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Luke 22:14-24
We would have wrung their necks. Here was Jesus, just moments away from His arrest, torture, and death; He has even reminded them of the trial to come--but no one is paying any attention. His disciples are, instead, preoccupied with an argument over pecking order.
Jesus knows that His ignominious end is rushing toward Him, only hours away. He is saddened that this will be the last meal outside of glory which He will enjoy with His men. And as He reclines upon His arm, feeling the immense weight of the impending events, Jesus finds Himself surrounded by men with small minds and petty considerations.
We would have wrung their necks.
But then we're not Jesus. With a remarkable--even supernatural-- display of patience, He once again takes the opportunity to teach.
Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." Luke 22:25-27
Oh Lord God, I plead for that kind of patience. I want to be like Jesus: forfeiting my privilege of righteous indignation for the chance to contribute to the maturity of others. Help me to see them through your eyes, so that I might respond to their needs with the consideration of your Son.
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." Luke 22:31-34
The ability and inclination of Jesus to know the future is something we easily take for granted. If one believes that Jesus is God, then it is a small step to believe that He also knows the contents of tomorrow. After all, this is what gods do.
But here again is evidence of how unique our God is--evidence indeed of how He must surely be the only one worthy of the title, the one true God. Here is evidence of the boundless mercy of our God, for only a merciful God would know of the sad failures in a follower's tomorrow and love him all the same.
Jesus loves imperfect people. He knows they are, and will be, imperfect, and He still loves them just as much. His love is based on His capacity for mercy and grace--not, thank goodness, on our ability to obey, and meet His standards of perfection.
Heavenly Father, You are the one true God, and Jesus Christ is Your Son. Thank you for loving me even during those times in which I let you down. Thank you for Your forgiveness, and thank you for giving me the freedom to serve You out of my love for You, rather than the bondage of trying to buy Your favor.
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour--when darkness reigns." Then seizing him, they led him away... Luke 22:39-54a
The spotless lamb is removed from the flock, ripped away from the warm security of its mother's side and, alone, quite all alone, it is trussed, wide-eyed with fright, and its throat summarily slit. How horrible must be that death for one so utterly blameless--to die in such an ugly manner without comfort, without compassion. Alone.
Jesus entered His final hours utterly alone. His followers, only a stone's throw away, offered no solace; instead, they slept. And when the soldiers came, led by the traitor, to arrest Him, Jesus was taken away alone. No advocate to plead His case, no friend by His side, no one there to cool His fevered brow. Jesus faced it alone.
And only He, the spotless, blameless lamb, would go to the cross. He would die there, utterly alone, not even afforded the comfort of the Father's face. Alone He would take on the weight of mankind's sin; alone He would suffer the agony of being pierced; and alone He would hand His mother over to another.
And, alone, He died.
But because only He could die for our sins, because only He could then walk out of the tomb alive, only Jesus could give us entrance to His eternity. Jesus, alone, would become our eternal salvation.
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14:6 NKJV
O Lord my God, when I think that You spared not Your Son, but "sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in. That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee: How great Thou Art!"
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: `The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Luke 24:1-17, 36-43
The 'life' of the Son of God is best seen as an unbroken circle--without beginning, without end. He was in heaven, as part of the triune Godhead; then He came down to earth in the person of Jesus, born as a human of a woman but sired miraculously by the Holy Spirit; Jesus was killed--He really died--was buried, and then came back to life; finally, Jesus returned, bodily, to heaven, from whence He came. And there He will remain until He returns to earth in the Second Coming.
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thes. 4:13-17
And there is our hope--not simply that He will return someday, but that He lives now. We worship and serve a living, breathing, active God who loves and cares about each of us.
His name is Jesus.
Holy God, I praise You. Thank you for sending Your Son so that I could more easily grasp who You are. I worship all that You are, because You, alone, are worthy.
Issue No. 81
[1.] Dr. Larry Crabb, Inside Out (NavPress, 1989), p.161f. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] Ibid, p162. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] Seti (or Sethos) I was the father of Ramses II (Ramses the Great) and ruled Egypt from 1303 to 1290 BCE (return to footnote 3)
[4.] Come Away, words and music by Morris Chapman and Tom Coomes, Copyright 1984 Coomesietunes/Word Music, Inc. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. (return to footnote 4)
[5.] While Tiberius was technically still Emperor of Rome (A.D. 14-37), in A.D. 26 he "retired" to the isle of Capri, leaving in charge the prefect of the Praetorian Guard (and de facto vizier), Lucius Aelius Sejanus. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] Just a day's journey from Nazareth. (return to footnote 6)
[7.] Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days. He must purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the LORD'S tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean; his uncleanness remains on him. Numbers 19:11-13 (return to footnote 7)
[8.] From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Matthew 16:21-23 (return to footnote 8)
[9.] Taken from stanza three of How Great Thou Art, by Stuart K. Hine. (return to footnote 9)
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