1457) Luke 23:26-43; The Crucifixion (a)

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Crucifixion of Christ, Salvator Rosa (1615-1673)

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As we approach Holy Week, I am posting this meditation on the crucifixion from:

http://www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

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 26 As they led (Jesus) away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

(All comments are by David Guzik)

Before Jesus took the cross, He was whipped—scourged—as Pilate had earlier promised (I will therefore chastise Him, Luke 23:16).

“Scourging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt.” (Edwards)

The goal of the scourging was to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse and death. “As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive the cross.” (Edwards)

“The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.” (Edwards)

Before Jesus was led away, His clothes were stripped off. “When the soldiers tore the robe from Jesus’ back, they probably reopened the scourging wounds.” (Edwards)

As Jesus was led away to be crucified, he was—like all victims of crucifixion—forced to carry the wood He would hang upon. The weight of the entire cross was typically 300 pounds. The victim only carried the crossbar, which weighed anywhere from 75 to 125 pounds. When the victim carried the crossbar, he was usually stripped naked, and his hands were often tied to the wood.

The upright beams of a cross were usually permanently fixed in a visible place outside of the city walls, beside a major road. It is likely that on many occasions, Jesus passed by the very upright He would hang upon.

So, because Jesus was in such a weakened condition, the soldiers forced Simon to carry the cross for Him.

27  A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.  28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children…

It was customary for a great multitude to follow a condemned criminal on his way to crucifixion.

As they made their way, a Roman guard led with a sign that carried the man’s name and crime, and called out the name and the crime along the way to the place of crucifixion. They usually didn’t take the shortest way to the place of crucifixion, so as many people as possible could see how the Roman Empire treated its enemies.   (continued…)

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Jesus, remember me.

–Luke 23:42a

1420) Not on the Same Page (b)

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     (…continued)  But once again, Jesus was not on the same page.  Only Peter, James, and John would see the Transfiguration, and they, only briefly.  There would be no shelters built and no chance for anyone else to see it.  What’s more, Jesus told them not even to tell anyone about it until after he had risen from the dead.  “What?” they must have wondered.  Jesus dead?  What was that all about?  This could have been a clarifying moment, but Jesus only added to the confusion.  This was just one more thing they did not understand.  It was mystery after mystery.  How could anyone get a movement going in this fog of confusion?  If things did not even add up for Peter, what chance would there be of anyone else catching on to any of this?

     Think about it.  Peter was in the fishing business.  Therefore, he probably knew something about marketing, advertising, getting the word out, and selling your product.  And if Jesus had a kingdom to promote, people had to know who he was and what his credentials were.  For Jesus to just let a few people here and there in on the secret would not work if they really wanted to get something going.  For Peter, that would be like having a big catch of fish to sell, and then not even opening the store.  But every time Peter had a good idea, Jesus would just ignore him or shut him down.  One time, Jesus even called Peter a devil, saying “Get behind me, Satan.”  That hurt, but Peter had seen too much to desert Jesus now.  He even said so one time when everyone was abandoning Jesus, and Jesus gave disciples the opportunity to leave also.  But Peter said, “Where else would we go, Jesus? Only you have the words of eternal life.”  Peter could not and would not ever leave.  But he and Jesus were hardly ever on the same page.

     We know the rest of the story, and so we know that Peter had not seen anything yet.  But no one then could have guessed how the story would unfold.  No one was expecting to see Jesus dead on a cross, and then, after that, no one was expecting a resurrection.  And then, no one would have expected that the followers of Jesus would challenge and change the entire Roman empire, and from there, the whole world.  God would see to it that the word would get out, and it would get into all the world; even with what looked like to Peter as a hopelessly inadequate business plan and marketing strategy.

    In Matthew 27:22 Pontius Pilate asked an angry crowd, “What shall I do with Jesus?”  The crowd yelled “Crucify him,” and after some hand wringing and then some hand washing, Pilate gave in and sent Jesus to the cross.  But even though Jesus died that day, he did not stay dead, but rose from the tomb victorious over death– just like he said he would.  

     Jesus still lives, and Pilate’s question remains the biggest question in all of life for everyone:  “What will you do with Jesus?”

     The Bible gives a variety of answers, including that we should believe in Jesus, follow Jesus, obey Jesus, imitate Jesus, serve Jesus, have the same mind as Jesus, forgive as Jesus forgives, pray to Jesus, and on and on.  Other responses, then and now, have included rejecting Jesus, ignoring Jesus, paying Jesus as little attention as one deems safe, forgetting Jesus, disobeying Jesus, and so on.  In response to Pilate’s question, there is much one can do, or not do, with Jesus.

     We all bring our own agenda to Jesus, but it is Jesus who must set the agenda.  The sooner we realize that, the better off we will be.  And if you are not on the same page as Jesus, you are the one who needs to get on a different page.  As we hear about Jesus week after week, the goal should be to grow closer to Jesus, bringing our lives more in line with his agenda.  He has invited each of us to follow him.  But all too often what happens is that as we learn about Jesus, we do what we can to make him fit into our plans and our values and our agendas.

     During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln was asked if he believed God was on his side.  President Lincoln replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side.  My greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.  Therefore, it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord‘s side.”  (We could use a little more of that kind of humility today, not only in the White House and Congress, but also on social media and in cafe conversations.)

     In the Gospels, Jesus is never on the same page with anyone, but is always challenging and always surprising everyone.  When we start thinking we’ve got everything in our life right in line with Jesus, it is probably time to take another look.  Maybe we are no longer following Jesus at all, but have simply cut and trimmed and pasted what we want to hear from Jesus into our agenda; into what we are and want to be and want to do.  If even Peter, who spent three years with Jesus could get it wrong, we need to be willing to keep asking what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

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Ezekiel 11:12  —  You will know that I am the Lord, for you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you.

Romans 12:2  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Philippians 2:1-2  —  Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

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Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

–From the 1971 musical Godspell; by Stephen Schwartz, based on a prayer by St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

1419) Not on the Same Page (a)

Titian's Transfiguration (detail)

Transfiguration, 1560, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)  c. 1488-1576

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     Maggie and Beth were roommates and good friends through all four years of college.  Both majored in business management, and they had big plans.  In their senior year they had many late night discussions about the on-line children’s clothing business they were going to build together.  Friends saw them as a great team, were impressed by their drive and determination, and were sure that their company would be a big success.  Maggie and Beth got started even before they graduated, worked very hard, and their new business did quite well– for a while.  But then there were some bumps on the road, success was stalled, and one day, to everyone’s surprise, Maggie bought out Beth’s half of the business and they went their separate ways.  “What happened?” friends asked.  “Well,” Beth said, “we had too many conflicting agendas.”  Maggie said, “We weren’t on the same page anymore.”

     Conflicting agendas and not on the same page: those phrases can be applied not only to the business world, but also at times to friendships, marriages, churches, politics, and schools;  in fact, anyplace where people have to work together.  Maggie and Beth remained friends.  Neither one said that the other was a bad person or dishonest or mean.  They just had different ideas on how to run a company, and were no longer able to be partners.

     These phrases, ‘conflicting agendas,’ and ‘not on the same page,’ do not appear in the Gospels, but Jesus had that problem in his relationships with those he knew, worked with, and ministered unto.  He impressed people and confused them at the same time.  People were attracted to him and irritated by him.  The afflicted found comfort in Jesus, but then Jesus found ways to challenge and afflict those who became too comfortable.  He came announcing a whole new world– “The kingdom of God is at hand,” he would say.  But then, oftentimes when he did a miraculous healing, he would tell the healed person not to tell anyone.  He would get huge crowds following him, and the disciples would tell him to come and meet them, but then sometimes Jesus would withdraw to be by himself and pray.  Later, when the crowds grew turned against Jesus, the disciples warned him that it would be dangerous to go into Jerusalem; but then Jesus chose to go to Jerusalem and mix with the crowds, and within a week of his arrival his was arrested and put on a cross.  Jesus told parables to simplify his message for the common people, but then sometimes his parables were so mysterious that his own disciples didn’t even get the point.  His interpretation of the Law of Moses was at times even stricter than Moses, but then Jesus was tender and merciful to even the worst sinners.  As time went on, people began to see that Jesus was not on the same page as anyone.  Sometimes it seemed he wasn’t even in the same book.  Jesus had his own agenda.

     The account of the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9 is a perfect example of this.  The story comes when the ministry of Jesus is in full swing.  He is well known, but people are baffled by him.  “Who is this man?” was a common question, meaning, “Who is he that he is able to control the weather, heal a leper, make the lame walk, let the deaf hear, give sight to the blind, and even raise the dead?”  But the people also asked “Who is this man?” in the sense of “Who does he think he is to forgive sins, reinterpret the Law of Moses, associate with prostitutes and tax collectors, and even say that he and the Father are one?”  Everyone was wondering who Jesus was and what he was all about.

     The Transfiguration would have sealed the deal for Jesus.  Who was Jesus?  There he was, on the mountain with Moses, the greatest Liberator, and Elijah, the greatest prophet that Israel had ever known:  Moses, back from the dead, and Elijah, visiting from heaven where he had been transported by fiery chariot 700 years earlier.  And in the presence of those two great men, a voice from heaven said of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to Him!”

     Any questions?  Not any more.  That settled everything.  Moses and Elijah disappeared, and the Son of God remained, with “his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as the light” (verse two).

     Even before Moses and Elijah disappeared, Peter could see the marketing possibilities in an event like this.  “Let’s build three shelters,” he said, perhaps meaning a place for these Jesus and these two old favorites to stay, and then more people could come up and see them together and know that Jesus was the One they had been waiting for.  No one could have any doubts then about who Jesus was.  (continued…)

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Matthew 17:1-9   —  After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.  Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.  If you wish, I will put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell face-down to the ground, terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them.  “Get up,” he said.  “Don’t be afraid.”  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

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Send down, O Lord, Thy wisdom to lead us, teaching us what is acceptable to Thee; so that we may keep in mind our end and wisely choose our way.  Amen.  (source lost)

1364) “I Don’t Give a …”

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     An old Catholic archbishop was giving his Good Friday sermon to a large crowd in his inner-city cathedral.  He told a story of three boys who long ago came into that same church during the confessional time.  They were laughing and joking and making all kinds of disrespectful racket.  Two of the boys then dared the other one to go into the confessional booth and make some stupid confession.  They made a bet that he would not do it.  But the boy did go in, and still chuckling, he made an outrageous confession to the priest.  He said that he had robbed several banks, beat up his parents, knifed many other tough guys in fights, and went to bed with a different woman every night.  His two friends were rolling in the aisles with laughter.  The priest, however, kept his cool and replied calmly, “My son, in the name of your Savior, Jesus Christ, all of your many sins are forgiven you.”

     The boy got up to leave and collect on his bet, but the priest called him back.  He said, “You are forgiven, but as you know, every word of forgiveness requires an act of penance.  This is what you must do.  When you leave the confessional booth, you must go to the altar and look up at the statue of Jesus on the cross, with the crown of thorns on his head, the nails in his hands and feet, the stab wound from the spear in his side, and the scars from the beatings on his back.  I want you to look into the eyes of your Lord on that cross, and I want you to say to him, ‘I know what you did for me Jesus and I’m here to tell you that I don’t give a damn.'”

     The boy stood still.  He was no longer laughing.  Now, he just wanted to get out of there.  He went to his friends and said, “There, I won the bet.  Let’s go.”  

     But the friends, still howling with laughter, said, “Oh no, you aren’t done yet.  If you want to win the bet, you have to finish your act of confession and do the act of penance.  Go in and do it.”  

     The boy did not want to go back, but he did not want to lose the bet.  So he went up to the cross, looked up at Jesus, and started to say, “I know what you did for me Jesus and I don’t give a …”  He stopped.  He could not finish the sentence.  He started again, and again stopped.  He tried one more time, and again had to quit.  Finally, he ran past his laughing friends and out of the church.  

     The old archbishop telling the story then ended his sermon by saying, “I was that young man, and that day changed my life.  I realized I could not say what the priest said I should say.  I realized that I did care what Jesus did for me, and I knew I should begin acting like I cared.  So the next day I went back to that priest and made a proper confession.  In time, I myself became a priest, and it was all because that priest in that confessional made me look at the wounds of Christ and think about how those wounds were for me.”

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Pray about any areas of your life in which you need to confess the attitude of “I know what is right, and I know what you want me to do, Jesus, and I know what you did for me– but I don’t care.”

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Isaiah 53:4-6  —  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:  yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

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TRADITIONAL CATHOLIC PRAYER BEFORE A CRUCIFIX (www.catholic.org/prayers):

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
while before Thy face I humbly kneel and, with burning soul,
pray and beseech Thee
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope and charity;
true contrition for my sins,
and a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Thy five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Thy prophet, said of Thee, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet, they have numbered all My bones.”  Amen.

1355) The Book that Led its Own Author to Christ

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Lew Wallace (1827-1905)

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From the book 100 Bible Verses That Changed the World, by William and Randy Peterson, 2001, pages 141-142 (adapted).  

     By the time he wrote Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, General Lew Wallace had already achieved fame in several careers.  He had served in both the Mexican War and the Civil War; he had practiced law; and he had been governor of the New Mexico territory.

     Though he had a curiosity about religion, he was not a Christian.  In his own words: “I was not in the least influenced by religious sentiment.  I had no convictions about God or Christ.  My ignorance of the Bible was painfully a spot of darkness in the darkness.  I was ashamed of myself.”

     Once he had spent several hours talking with the noted atheist Robert Ingersoll.  Ingersoll was the nation’s most prominent atheist, and tried hard to convince Wallace that Christianity was not true, “vomiting forth ideas and arguments like an intellectual volcano” Wallace later recalled. Ingersoll’s arguments made Wallace determined to come up with some personal convictions of his own about religion.  As Wallace started to read the New Testament, he was interested in the story of the wise men in Matthew chapter two.  Who were they?  Where in the East did they come from?  After considerable research he wrote up his ideas thinking that someday he might develop them into a magazine article.  Little did he know what would eventually develop from that research.

     A few months later he spent an evening with friends, discussing religion, the Bible, and Jesus Christ.  Wallace himself said very little that evening because he didn’t have much to say.  He had never thought religion was important, but after that discussion he considered the possibility that he had been wrong.  Again, he suspected that the answers would be in the Bible.

     Wallace felt that the best way to study something was to have a practical goal.  So he told his wife he was going to write a book, and that the subject would be Jesus Christ.  The first chapter would be derived from his research on the wise men, and the last chapter would be about the crucifixion.  When his wife asked him what he would put in between, he replied, “I don’t know yet.”

     His research and planning took seven years.  In the middle of that time, he was appointed governor of the New Mexico territory.  Occasionally his literary work would be temporarily disrupted by a war with Native American tribes or a death threat from the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid, but Wallace kept returning to his research and writing.  Besides reading the Bible, he read every book he could find about the Bible.  And as his research progressed, he more and more came to believe the Gospel accounts.  By time Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ was completed in 1880, Lew Wallace was convinced that Jesus was indeed the Christ.

     Wallace’s story tells of Judah Ben-Hur, a patrician Jew whose enemy, Messala, causes him to be unjustly sentenced to the galleys and his family to be imprisoned.  When Ben-Hur is freed, he enters a chariot race against Messala, and in the race Messala is defeated and maimed.  Ben-Hur’s mother and sister, freed by the new Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, are cured of leprosy by Jesus shortly before his crucifixion.

     The book quickly rose to the top of the U. S. all-time best-selling list (not counting the Bible) and remained there until 1936.  In 1926 it was made into a silent film; its producers spent more than four million dollars to make it, a record up to that time.  Then in 1959 it was remade as a three-and-a-half-hour epic blockbuster.  Some critics have called it the greatest epic film ever made.  The film, which cost fifteen million and took six years to make, was nominated for twelve Academy awards and won eleven.  It was again made into a movie in 2016.  It has been called the most influential religious book of the 19th century.

     And it all began because General Lew Wallace wanted to find out a bit more about the wise men.

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“It’s one of the great if little known ironies in the history of American literature: Having set out to win another soul to the side of skepticism, Robert Ingersoll instead inspired a Biblical epic that would rival the actual Bible for influence and popularity in Gilded Age America—and a folk story that has been reborn, in one medium or another, in every generation since.”

–John Swansburg

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Matthew 2:1  —  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. (KJV)

II Peter 1:16  —   For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Deuteronomy 4:29  —  If… you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Luke 11:9  —  (Jesus said), “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

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Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

–Mark 9:24

1352) What was Jesus Doing in those Thirty Silent Years?

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Christ in the Temple at Twelve, Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911)

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By David Mathis, posted December 21, 2016 at http://www.desiringGod.org

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     It is striking how little we know about most of Jesus’s life on earth.  Between the events surrounding his celebrated birth and the beginning of his public ministry when he was “about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23), very few details have survived.

     Given the influence and impact of his life, humanly speaking, we might find it surprising that so little about his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood is available — especially with the interest his followers, who worshiped him as God, took in his life.  That is, unless, divinely speaking, this is precisely how God wanted it.

     After the birth story, the first Gospel tells us about the visit from magi, pagan astrologers from the east (Matthew 2:1–12), the family’s flight to Egypt for haven (Matthew 2:13–18), and their eventual return upon the death of Herod (Matthew 2:19–23).  Matthew then jumps immediately to the fore-running ministry of John the Baptist, and Jesus as a full-grown adult — with nothing at all about the intervening thirty-plus years of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

     The third Gospel has more to say, but captures three decades of the most important human life in the history of the world in remarkably simple terms.  Luke tells of the high angelic announcement to lowly shepherds (Luke 2:8–21) and the young family’s first visit to the temple (Luke 2:22–38).  He then summarizes Jesus’s first twelve years of life in astonishing modesty:

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40)

     Then, after recounting the story of a 12-year-old Jesus impressing adults at the temple (Luke 2:41–51), Luke reports some two decades — well more than half the God-man’s dwelling among us — in this simple sentence:

Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)

     How fascinating would it be to know what life was like for the boy Jesus?  Did he plainly outpace his peers in learning?  Did his sinlessness infuriate his siblings?  How skilled was he as a worker?

     But it’s easy to digress into speculation and miss the powerful point of these important summary verses in Luke.  God has something to teach us here in the precious few details.  That he would send his own Son to live and mature and labor in relative obscurity for some three decades, before “going public” and gaining recognition as an influential teacher, has something to say to us about the dignity of ordinary human life and labor — and the sanctity of incremental growth into maturity.

     God could have sent a full-grown Christ.  And from the beginning, he could have created a world of static existence without infants, children, awkward teens, middle-agers, and declining seniors — just a race of young, spry, “mature” adults.  But God didn’t do it that way.  And he doesn’t do it that way today.  He designed us for dynamic existence, for stages and seasons of life, for growth and development in body and in soul, both toward others and toward God.

     The lion’s share of Jesus’s earthly life powerfully dignifies the everyday pains of maturity and growth common to humanity.  Jesus is both “truly God and truly man.”  Having a “true human body,” Jesus was born, he grew, he thirsted, he hungered, he wept, he slept, he sweated, he bled, and he died.

     All four Gospels unfold his three-year public ministry, and give nearly half their space to the final week of his life.  But what was the God-man doing most of his earthly life?  He was growing.  What did he do for three decades between his celebrated birth and his unforgettable ministry?  He walked the ordinary, unglamorous path of basic human growth and development.  He grew.

     The man Jesus did not simply emerge from the wilderness preaching the kingdom.  He learned to latch and crawl, to walk and talk.  He scraped his knees.  Perhaps he broke a finger or wrist.  He fought off the common cold, suffered through sick days, and navigated his way in the awkwardness of adolescence.  He learned social graces and worked as a common laborer in relative obscurity more than half his earthly life.

     But Jesus grew not only in body, but also in soul, and like every other human, in wisdom and knowledge.  Even by age 12, Luke could say Jesus was “filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40), not because he got it all at once, or always had it, but because he was learning.

     Through sustained effort and hard work, he came into mental acumen and emotional intelligence that he did not possess as a child.  And he didn’t receive it all in one moment, but he grew in wisdom, through the painful steps of regular progress.  His human mind and heart developed. He grew mentally and emotionally, just as he grew physically.

     Surely, we find extraordinary instances later in his life of supernatural knowledge, given by the Spirit, in the context of ministry.  He knew Nathanael before he met him (John 1:47), that the Samaritan woman had five husbands (John 4:18), and that Lazarus had died (John 11:14). But we shouldn’t confuse such supernatural knowledge, given by special revelation, with the hard-earned, infinite learning of his upbringing.

     Jesus learned from the Scriptures and from Mary and Joseph, in community and in the power of the Holy Spirit, and he increased in wisdom by carefully observing everyday life and how to navigate God’s world.

     An essential aspect of his growth in stature and wisdom was his learning obedience, both to his earthly parents (he “was submissive to them,” Luke 2:51) and his heavenly Father:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7–9)

     That he “learned obedience” does not mean that he began as disobedient, but that he began as unlearned and inexperienced, and the dynamic existence of human life gave him experience and know-how.  That he was “made perfect” doesn’t mean that he began as sinful, but that he began in sinless immaturity and grew into maturity.

     No human, not even the God-man himself, skips the growth and maturation process.  Don’t begrudge God the glory of your long, arduous maturation process.  In it you are tasting the growing pains that Jesus knows very well.  And he stands ready to help you persevere until God’s process is complete.

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Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

–From the 1971 musical Godspell; by Stephen Schwartz, based on a prayer by St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

1340) Luke’s Special Love

          The four Gospels all tell the story of the life of Jesus, but none of them begin with his birth.  The Gospel of Mark begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, and Jesus is already an adult.  Matthew’s Gospel begins by tracing the family tree of Jesus all the way back to Abraham.  John’s Gospel begins with the creation of the world, and in lofty, theological language, John tells us of the existence of Jesus, ‘the Word,’ even before creation.

          The Gospel of Luke begins with the story of a country priest.  Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth lived out in the hills of Judea.  They were common folks, not the type you would expect to make history; and they would have been forgotten if it wasn’t for Luke.  None of the other Gospel writers even mention them.  They all make a big deal about this couple’s famous son, John the Baptist, but none of the others say a word about this simple country pastor and his wife.  And Luke would not have had to go into this part of the story either.  It is not an essential part of the life of Christ.  But Luke had a thing about common people.  He had a special love for them.  You can see this all the way through his Gospel.  Luke tells us details that none of the others include.

          For example, Matthew tells us about the Magi (Wisemen) who came to see Jesus.  These were important, upper class people.  They journeyed a great distance to see this newborn King.  They could afford to travel in an age when few people even dreamed of that.  They brought gold and other expensive gifts, and were even invited to the palace to visit King Herod.  Matthew tells us about these celebrities, but he has not one word about the humble manger. 

          Luke tells us of Jesus’ other visitors—shepherds, from the lower class, and not very trustworthy.  People often assumed that since shepherds were so poor, they were probably all thieves, so one had to be careful around shepherds.  It was, in fact, illegal to purchase anything from a shepherd, so certain were the authorities that anything in their possession must be stolen property.  And a shepherd’s testimony was not admissible in court.  Even their word was considered no good.         

         Yet, who did God select to be the first to hear about and proclaim the good news of the birth of Jesus?  Shepherds.  Matthew doesn’t tell us that part, but Luke does.  And they apparently did a fine job of it, because it says in chapter two that the people were amazed when they heard the shepherd’s story.

          And, of course, it is Luke that tells us about the tough luck Mary and Joseph had the night Jesus was born—no room in the inn, the Savior wrapped in nothing more than strips of cloth, and a manger for a bed.  These were poor people, having a bad night, with no one to help them; and Luke wants to make sure we know that part of the story.  

     Luke did not ignore those in power.  He dated his story by telling us what Caesar ruled at the time, who the Roman governor was, and the name of the Jewish king.  But these big shots are mentioned only in passing.  The rulers were getting all the headlines then, but Luke knew where the real history was being made.  He knew that God was doing his main work that night not in Rome, and not even in Jerusalem—but in the small town of Bethlehem and out in the countryside, with Elizabeth and Zachariah, Joseph the carpenter, the young bride Mary, an innkeeper, and the shepherds.

          In fact, in one place in the story, God uses these powerful rulers simply to set the stage for the big plans he had for His little people.  In the first chapter we are told of the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah, the son of David.  That is well and good, but everyone knew that the Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.  The problem is, Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth—60 miles away, and any good Jew would be wondering about that.  This birth had to be in Bethlehem, not Nazareth, and people in those days did not travel unless it was absolutely necessary.  And so we read in the opening words of Luke 2:  “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, and everyone was required to go to his hometown to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David, because he was of the house and lineage of David.”  Caesar Augustus probably went to his grave thinking he took that census to make sure he wasn’t missing anyone on the tax rolls.  But here we learn the real story.  God was using Caesar, way over there in Rome, in all his temporary glory, to make sure the Messiah would be born in the right place, Bethlehem, just like the prophet Micah, seven centuries earlier, said he would.

          Even in the way Luke tells the story, he is teaching us something.  John, in his Gospel, tells us that if he would have written down everything Jesus said and did, the whole world would not contain the books.  So all the Gospel writers had to select those parts of the story they most wanted to tell us about.  And by his selection and arrangement of these stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, Luke is telling us some things about the importance of common people who obey God.  He’s teaching us something about power, and how all power is with God, and how God uses that power.  Luke is beginning to tell us about what kind of Messiah Jesus would be—one not born to royalty, but to common people.  As a man, Jesus would be very comfortable spending time with all sorts of people, even the worst of them—a habit that often got him into trouble in a society that was very strict about who one did and did not associate with.  Jesus spent his time not in big auditoriums, but with individuals—healing a leper here, giving sight to a blind man there, and then restoring a woman with a troubled spirit.  Jesus took the time to pay attention to these people. 

     Luke loves this about Jesus, and he never tires of telling this amazing story of how the God of the universe would have time to stop and talk to a beggar.

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Christ Healing a Leper, Rembrandt

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Luke 18:35-42  —  As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening.  They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him.  When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.  Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

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Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,

And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.

Away in a Manger, verse three.

1328) Love Lifted Me

This is the testimony of a Chinese Christian (quoted by Rick Warren in yesterday’s Daily Hope Blog):

     “I walked through the road of life and had fallen into a great ditch.  The ditch was filled with depression, discouragement, and sin.  As I lay in that ditch, Mohammed came along and said, ‘It’s your fault you’re in the ditch.  You offended Allah, and this is your just punishment.’  Then Marx came by and said, ‘You’re in the ditch because of class warfare.  You must revolt.’  But after the government changed, I was still in my ditch.  Then Buddha came along and said, ‘You’re not really in that ditch.  You just think you’re there.  It’s all an illusion of the mind.  Be at peace.’  Then Confucius came by and said, ‘Here are the 10 steps of self-attainment by which you can get out of your ditch.  If you will struggle, you will climb out eventually.’  But as much as I struggled and strained, I couldn’t get out of the ditch, because it was too deep.

     “Then one day, Jesus Christ came by and saw me in my ditch.  Without a word, he took off his white robe and got down in the muddy ditch with me.  Then he lifted me up with his strong arms and got me out of the ditch.  Thank God that Jesus did for me what I could not do for myself.”

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     LOVE LIFTED ME by Howard Smith and James Rowe

I was sinking deep in sin,
Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more.
But the Master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me.
Now safe am I.
Refrain:  Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me.
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me.
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Souls in danger look above
Jesus completely saves
He will lift you by his love
Out of the angry waves
But the master of the sea
Billows His will obey
He your savior wants to be
Be saved today.  Refrain.
 —
Sung by Merle Haggard at:
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Matthew 14:29-31a  —  Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.

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Romans 7:24-25a  —  Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (NLT)

Psalm 40:1-2  —  I waited patiently for the Lordhe turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.

Acts 16:31a  —  Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–The ancient Jesus prayer

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God gives to man the trees of the forest and the iron in the ground.  He gives man the brains to make an ax and nails from the iron, and the energy to cut down the tree, the skill to fashion the wood into beams.  God gives man the cleverness to make a handle from the wood, and head from the iron, and combine it into an effective hammer.  Then man takes the beams, the nails, and the hammer and he nails God to the cross — where God willingly stretched out His arms, dying on the cross to take the guilt and penalty man’s sin deserved, to make a new, restored relationship between God and man possible.

–David Guzik, pastor at Calvary Chapel, Santa Barbara, California

1293) “I Give My Life to You”

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French tending to their wounded in the trenches of WWI

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     Henri Barbusse (1873-1935) was a French novelist.  At the outbreak of the first World War in 1914, at the age of forty-one, Barbusse enlisted in the French army to fight the Germans.  He spent almost a year and a half fighting in the trenches at the front lines.  At the end of 1915 he was moved into a clerical position due to pulmonary damage, exhaustion, and dysentery.  In 1916 Barbusse became famous with the publication of Under Fire, a fictional novel based on his actual experiences at the front.  Under Fire describes war in gritty and brutal realism, depicting in detail the wretched conditions in the trenches, and the horror of the death all around him.  Later he would write of those awful times:  “I keep remembering, I keep remembering.  My heart has no pity on me.”

     In the novel, Barbusse tells of a conversation overhead in a trench full of wounded men after a battle.  One of the men knows that he is dying, and he says to the other:  “Listen Dominique, you have lived a bad life.  But there are no convictions against me.  There is nothing in the books against my name.  Take my name.  Take my life.  I give it to you.  Just like that, you will have no more convictions on your record.  Take my papers.  There are there in my pocketbook.  Go on, take them, and hand yours over to me.  Then, I can carry all your crimes away with me, and you can start over.”  (Identification papers were less sophisticated then, though even now identities can be switched or stolen.)

     At an infinitely higher level, this is what Jesus did for us on the cross.  He, the sinless one, took our sins onto himself and then to the cross.  In him we now appear in a new light before God, reconciled and forgiven.  

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I Peter 2:24  —   (Jesus) bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Isaiah 53:3-6  —  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

I Corinthians 15:1-4  —  Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Colossians 3:3  — For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–The ancient Jesus prayer

1247) Napoleon and Jesus

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Napoleon Bonaparte  (1769-1821)

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From Conversations with General Bertrand at St. Helena, published 1861.  This was published 40 years after Napoleon’s death by the sons of General Bertrand.  There is some disagreement on the authenticity of the words attributed to Napoleon, and Napoleon’s religious beliefs remain a bit of a mystery.  But whatever the origin of these words, they speak the truth

Napoleon:  Such is the fate of great men!  So it was with Caesar and Alexander.  And I, too, am forgotten.  In very little time, the name of a conqueror and an emperor is nothing but the subject for a report in school.  Our exploits are tasks given to pupils by their tutor, who sit in judgment upon us, awarding censure or praise.  And mark what is soon to become of me.  I will die before my time, and my dead body must return to the earth to become food for worms.  Behold the destiny, near at hand, of him who has been called the great Napoleon.  

   What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ, which is proclaimed, loved, adored, and which is extending over all the earth!  The death of Christ!  It is the death of God. (For a moment the Emperor was silent; as General Bertrand made no reply, Napoleon solemnly added), If you do not perceive that Jesus Christ is God, very well, then I did wrong to make you a general…

General Bertrand:  I can not conceive, sire, how a great man like you can believe that the Supreme Being ever exhibited himself to men under a human form, with a body, a face, mouth, and eyes.  Let Jesus be whatever you please– the highest intelligence, the purest heart, the most profound legislator, and, in all respects, the greatest person who has ever existed– I grant it.  Still he was simply a man, who taught his disciples, and deluded credulous people.  The ascendancy of Jesus over his time was like the ascendancy of the gods and the heroes of fable.  If Jesus has revolutionized the world, I see in that only the power of genius and the action of a commanding spirit, which vanquishes the world as so many conquerors have done– Alexander, Caesar, you, sire, and Mohammed– with a sword.

Napoleon:  I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man.  Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions.  That resemblance does not exist.  There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.  Everything in Christ astonishes me.  His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me.  Between him and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison.  He is truly a being by himself.  His ideas and his sentiments, the truth which he announces, his manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things.

   The nearer I approach, the more carefully I examine, everything about Him is above me; everything remains grand, a grandeur which overpowers.  His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not that of man.  There is there a profound originality which has created a series of words and of maxims before unknown.  Jesus borrowed nothing from our science.  One can absolutely find nowhere, but in him alone, the imitation or the example of his life…

   I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the gospel.  Neither history, nor humanity, nor the ages, nor nature, offer me anything with which I am able to compare it or to explain it.  Here everything is extraordinary.  The more I consider the gospel, the more I am assured that it is beyond the march of events, and above the human mind.

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     The story of Napoleon is one of the most amazing in all history.  In just a few years he rose from being a minor officer in the army to being the ruler of France and conqueror of almost all of Europe.  Upon being named emperor of this vast empire, Napoleon’s mother had a brief, but realistic reply.  She rolled her eyes and said, “Well, I wonder how long this will last.”  It turned out to last not very long at all.  There were a few tremendous years, but then a rapid decline; and finally disgrace, exile, and an early death.  And that was the end of that little tyrant who marched his army all over Europe making widows and orphans.  

But if the above words are in fact from him, he did come to a true understanding of Jesus.

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John 1:1… 14  —  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Luke 8:25  —  “Where is your faith?” (Jesus) asked his disciples.  In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this?  He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Colossians 1:15-17  —  (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

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They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16a).

Fix Thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not at the uneven motions of the world, but steadily go on to our glorious home; neither censuring our journey by the weather we meet with, nor turning out of the way for anything that befalls us.  The winds are often rough, and our own weight presses us downwards.  Reach forth, O Lord, thy hand, thy saving hand, and speedily deliver us.  Teach us, O Lord, to use this transitory life as pilgrims returning to their beloved home; that we may take what our journey requires, and not think of settling in this foreign country.  Amen.

–Author unknown, quoted in Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, p. 64, compiled by Veronica Zundel, Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co., 1983.