Meet the Centurion and Discover Real Faith

Matthew 8:5-13

 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just 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.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

Obedience had been ingrained in me. I understood authority and submission to my superior officers. It’s called “the chain of command” and it’s the reason why armies function the way they do. I ultimately acceded my will to my superior, who’s under authority himself. I also have soldiers who I command. I led over 100 men as the occupying force in Palestine.

We were hated and despised.

My servant was sick, and I knew that he was suffering greatly, but I had run out of options. My servant was the only family I was allowed to have. Since I served as a centurion I was not allowed to have a wife for the duration of my service. Over the years I’ve kept good and trustworthy servants with me–these men were very dear to me. They became my family.

I certainly was aware that both my men and I lived in constant danger from radical Jews.

I had exhausted all my efforts to bring some relief and healing to him–and it seemed to be getting worse, not better. My “contacts” told me of an itinerant teacher who had a reputation as a healer. It seems Jesus had a large following and I realized that He could be my last option.

So I went to Him for help and Jesus responded. But He wanted to go with me to my home. His willingness to come encouraged me, but I simply couldn’t allow that. Jesus’ visit would’ve made Him ceremonially unclean–I was a Gentile, a “dog.”

My home was off-limits.

But I did understand something. I was under authority as an officer in the Roman army, and my men also took orders. Obedience meant survival in a hostile environment like Judea. Our entire unit was drilled constantly and we all understood the need for a “chain of command.” Each of us obeyed our superiors. We had to.

With all this in mind, I asked Jesus to heal my servant with just a word.

He marveled at this. He said that my adherence to protocol was evidence of real faith. Those who were with Jesus were told something earth-shaking. My trust meant something, He made me an equal with the Israel patriarchs. My faith was to be emulated by the Jews.

He then told His followers that my confident trust was respected and acknowledged as evidence of God’s favor.

Simply, Jesus spoke a word and when I returned home my servant would be healed. I returned home to find him healthy.

“Christ will always accept the faith that puts its trust in Him.”

    Andrew Murray

Please visit my new site, alaskabibleteacher.com. If you liked this teaching, I really think you like this one too.

Meet Martha, a Friend of Jesus

Luke 10:38-41, NCV

“While Jesus and his followers were traveling, Jesus went into a town. A woman named Martha let Jesus stay at her house. 39 Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. 40 But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.”

41 “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. 

42 Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

My name is Martha and I’m a friend of Jesus. My home was one of His favorite places to stay–a refuge for Him whose life was so busy. I joyfully opened my house for Him and His disciples. When Jesus came I went all out, I wanted the best for them and that meant there were always things to do. Is that really a bad thing?

The kitchen was verging on bedlam–lamb, cucumbers, figs, and so on. Roasting and slicing, I had bread in the oven. All of this was requiring constant attention, and I remember not being able to keep up.

I wanted things to be perfect for Jesus.

I took occasional peeks at He who was teaching in my living room. I just brought in some bowls of figs and raisins as an appetizer and found my sister Mary sitting with the men listening to Jesus and asking questions. It was that which started to get a little ticked off.

I was getting irritated.

There was so much to do and I realized I had to have her help. And the more I thought of Mary the more frustrated I got. I suspect she didn’t understand the work that need to be done. I suppose her priorities were messed up–she simply didn’t understand her role as a hostess, and to sit with the men like she was doing was wrong.

Mary didn’t understand her place.

I admit I was having issues with my sister. I had brought out another bowl of figs and that’s when I gently interrupted the Lord’s teaching. I wanted Him to tell Mary that her place was with me in the kitchen. He could correct her and I knew she would listen. “Tell her to help me.”

Instead, it was Jesus who corrected me. I still remember Jesus’ words. I wasn’t expecting this.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.”

Was I really that transparent? He understood, but rather than encouraging me I had become another lesson to everyone present. I realize now that the real issue was with my attitude, and not the work. Yes, I was bothered and upset and I know that it’s those things that were the problem.

Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

I suddenly knew that He was right. Jesus was in my home, and all I did was get angry. I thought my work would please Him and after all, wasn’t that important? Didn’t He “deserve” my best efforts?

My younger sister Mary was being praised. She was my example and now I was being gently rebuked. I realized that all I was doing, all my work, was not what Jesus wanted from me. The problem was my own heart—-it wasn’t Mary, it was me!

I had taken my eyes off of Jesus and was immersed in my service to Him.

I had become critical and resentful of Mary, and I had forgotten that my place was at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning. That’s what Jesus wanted from me, and somehow I had forgotten that. The work could wait, my real place was with Jesus.

Martha’s frustration is typical of those who diligently serve with good intent, but forget to also sit at Jesus’ feet. “The Martha spirit says, if the work is done, is not that all? The Mary spirit asks whether Jesus is well pleased or not? All must be done in his name and by his Spirit, or nothing is done.”

C.H. Spurgeon

Meet the Man of the Tombs

Mark 5:1-15, CSB

They came to the other side of the sea, to the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as he got out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met him. He lived in the tombs, and no one was able to restrain him anymore—not even with a chain— because he often had been bound with shackles and chains, but had torn the chains apart and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and knelt down before him. And he cried out with a loud voice, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you before God, don’t torment me!” For he had told him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

“What is your name?” he asked him.

“My name is Legion,” he answered him, “because we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the region.

11 A large herd of pigs was there, feeding on the hillside. 12 The demons begged him, “Send us to the pigs, so that we may enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs. The herd of about two thousand rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned there.

14 The men who tended them ran off and reported it in the town and the countryside, and people went to see what had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the man who had been demon-possessed, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

My name was Legion. I was called that by all who knew me. But it wasn’t a pleasant name, it was a name of darkness and horror. I was possessed by demons; there were so many of them that I was given this awful name. “Legion, 6000.” So much darkness. Wonderful, isn’t it?

My days were filled with awful confusion and stark raving terror.

I ran naked among the tombs, cutting myself on the rocks. When they chained me I found a demonic, super-human strength to break their bonds and shatter the shackles. I would free myself to run wild among the caves once again. No man could tame me. I was the central force of evil in this area of the Gerasenes. I was feared by all.

I was completely insane.

I can recall little through my darkness, and I suppose that was for the best. My madness permeated everything. My life had become completely saturated with evil. What little I know I will tell you. Try to imagine the condensed insanity of a mental hospital crammed into one’s little mind.

It seems on that day I was on the Gerasenes’ “welcoming committee.” I ran to greet Jesus before he even got out of the boat. I remember falling at his feet. I knew instinctively who He was. He was Lord over my darkness. I suppose that deep down I knew that only He could free me.

The authority of Jesus enabled him to speak directly to my demons. I remember how they tried to negotiate their way out, and He calmly sent them into a herd of swine nearby. There were about 2000 pigs and my evil spirits left me and entered them. The pigs went berserk and then they destroyed themselves. They couldn’t handle all the evil that I had ‘bottled up’ inside me.

With Jesus’ firm and decisive command, the darkness immediately left me alone.

Suddenly I could no longer hear their vile words. I knew that I would no longer have to carry out the disgusting will of my demons. There were no voices in my head. I stood up as a free man for the first time in years. Jesus Christ had decisively intervened. I knew now that He was my Messiah and my deliverer! My liberator who was sent from God. Just for me.

Someone gave me a robe to cover up my nakedness. I sat at Jesus’ feet in wonder at what had just happened. It didn’t take long for the townspeople to arrive. They came and found me clothed and completely sane. I suppose it was out of fear that they asked Jesus to leave the region immediately.

I only wish they understood.

When Jesus was getting into the boat I wanted to join Him. I simply had to be close. But Jesus told me no. He told me that I needed to go home to my family, and I must tell them everything. “Tell them all of the power and mercy I have had on you.” As I watched them sail away I knew that I wanted to do what He wanted.

I would now be Jesus’ ambassador to the Ten Towns.

I explained everything that had happened to me and all that Jesus could do for them. I was now His very visible witness. I shared about the power and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ over my incredible darkness. I was now a source of His light to my people. I had to witness.

My darkness was completely gone, and I couldn’t control my joy!

Lord Jesus, You completely rule the spiritual forces of darkness. Help me to remember this and assist me with my own dark issues. I want to be free from all that opposes You. I must tell others of what you’ve done for me. Amen.

When Water Became a Sidewalk

Matthew 14:24-31

“The boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared to death. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.”

27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

29-30 He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

Peter is speaking:

It was the dead of night–the fourth watch, sometime between 3-6 a.m. The crossing was going all wrong, the water and wind were contrary, and we were exhausted. We had worked hard and made little headway. I seldom have seen anything like this, and the waves were pounding our boat. We had no idea how long we could keep this up.

Someone shouted and started pointing; he saw something! We all looked, and quickly came to the realization that it was Jesus–but that was impossible. It had to be His “ghost..” He was walking on water, calming striding toward us. As absurd as it seems now, we believed that. After all, what we were all seeing defied reason. No way, it was impossible!

As He got closer to our boat the apparition shouted to us.

We all knew Jesus’ voice—and He was telling us not to be afraid, He understood our fear and He wanted us to know that we were in God’s hands. Our terror got mixed up in skepticism. After all, it had been a long day and this just doesn’t happen. Besides we knew that Jesus was left back in Gaiilee.

I don’t know why to this day where my courage came, but I needed to be with Jesus. Maybe it was curiosity, maybe it was more than that. Somewhere I came up with this wild idea that if He was really Jesus then He could allow me to walk on the water. I know that seems bizarre, but my “faith” in Him was greater than anything else.

Jesus told me to join Him.

So guess what? I stepped out of the boat.

What I found was that the water was hard. It was as solid as if I were walking on land! I couldn’t figure that out, it was impossible. Completely unbelievable. I saw the waves and felt the wind–My eyes shifted from Jesus and it was then I began to sink. The water was becoming water, and I began to sink.

“Jesus, save me!”

If there was any lesson that cry moved the heart of Jesus. Perhaps that’s what has shaped my ministry today. The cry of desperation has become an integral part of my walk. At that moment I realized that is my best prayer. “Master, save me!” I use it a lot. Especially when I’m “sinking.”

Jesus grasped my outstretched hand.

I was pulled up and out of the water to safety. He gently spoke a rebuke–a kind word of instruction and direction. But I learned something.

Following Jesus is a supernatural walk.

It can’t be done in any other way. And you must get out of the safety of the boat, which must come at His invitation. He wasn’t angered by my unbelief, but I believe He was encouraged by my faith, and the lesson was clearly understood by the disciples still in the boat.

The steps of faith fall on the seeming void, but find the rock beneath.

    John Greenleaf Whittier

Little Christs

Luke 9:1-6, Amplified

Now Jesus called together the twelve [disciples] and gave them [the right to exercise] power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. Then He sent them out [on a brief journey] to preach the kingdom of God and to perform healing. 

And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey [that might encumber you]—neither a walking stick, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two [b]tunics apiece. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city [to go to another]. And as for all those who do not welcome you, when you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet [breaking all ties with them] as a testimony against them [that they rejected My message].” 

So they began going from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing the sick everywhere.

Jesus called the twelve of us together that day for a reason–He wanted us to start doing His work, which, I admit wasn’t really in my thinking. But this was His plan, and He knew exactly what He was doing. I didn’t feel remotely competent, and the thought of doing what Jesus did seemed a bit sacrilegious. I was very intimidated.

But now I can see that was what He intended all along, to push us into the supernatural–preaching, healing, and exorcising demons. He wanted us to touch people, to meet the needs of the desperate, and by doing so, extend the kingdom of God.

We were all skeptical, obviously. We weren’t Jesus, not by a long shot, and we had no right or ability to do miracles. On our own, I we were still fishermen and tax collectors. And honestly, what Jesus was asking (or commanding?) was for us to leave what we felt was comfortable and to step into His sandals. He wanted us to be just like Him.

He gave us His authority and power–it was His to give.

I suppose that this was the key to it all. We had witnessed fantastic miracles, stunning things that pretty much undid us. Jesus repeatedly defied the laws of nature—with just a word. And we’re His disciples, so I suppose that meant we needed to step out and touch people just like He taught. I guess that was Jesus’ plan for us all along. We just thought it wouldn’t happened this quick.

So the power and authority was given and we became “little Christs.”

Two by two we went in different directions to discover for ourselves what would happen. The needs we encountered were substantial. The world was a needy place that made its home in the pain and darkness of the demonized and the desperate. It seemed overwhelming. I think we all felt weak and very inadequate.

It’s funny, but we suddenly saw all these people through His eyes–it’s like we never had seen them before. We were now cloaked in Jesus’ very own power. When we laid hands on people astonishing miracles began to happen. All at once there were needs all around us. And the people kept coming.

I began to understand what it really meant to love people. We had left the relative safety of learners and had now became doers. I suppose we realized that there was an incredible difference between the two. We were all astonished by what we saw, at that moment we had few doubts about what was happening inside of us.

It changed us like nothing else could!

Being made into “little Christs” made perfect sense. We saw fantastic miracles and dramatic victories over dark demons. The things we had seen Jesus do were now the things we were doing! Suddenly everything came together and we understood many of the words that He had tried to drill into our thick skulls.

From village to village we went–we stayed with whoever wanted us. The needs we saw were staggering, from sunrise to sunset people came. Wherever we turned there seemed to be somebody else, but Jesus’ own authority was always present, it never diminished or weakened. It was like a bubbling spring that never once ran dry.

I suppose what happened inside me was just as much a miracle as we had seen Him do for others. I was astonished–up to now I never realized how exciting it was to follow the Lord Jesus. What a joy to see the face of a man or woman who was set free. It was such a thrill to touch a little boy’s dead eyes and suddenly realize that he could see!

So this is what it honestly means to be His disciple!

“Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

John 14:12

Meet the Kneeling Leper

Matthew 8:1-4, The Message

“Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and dropped to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”

“Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, “Don’t talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.”

Look at Jesus, and listen closely to His heart. “I want to. Be clean.” He’s encountering a diseased man while listening to the crowds who are chanting His name. He’s the hero, a celebrity, the people adore Him. Who could handle the adulation? Certainly not me, I would soak up the praises and revel in my triumphal moment.

I would short-circuit.

But remember, the end of the previous verses explains exactly what’s happening. Matthew 7:28-29 explains their excitement–

When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.

It was a wild scene, we can’t forget this. But it’s funny, Jesus through all this sees and hears this leper. He doesn’t respond to the crowd but to the diseased man. The text tells us that the leperous man was on his knees and he was “praying.” His pleas were directed at Jesus.

The crowds responded wholeheartedly to the marvelous teaching of Jesus, and that was awesome. We really shouldn’t minimize that. However, in the Gospels, the “crowd” is pretty much a bad term, or at least a neutral one.

I suppose that Jesus seems to ignore the multitude’s adulation and instead focuses on the leper. I’m not sure if I could do that. It’s nice when people flatter me. It feels so good, it feeds my ego–but the needs of others become secondary. There’s something in me that adores being in the limelight. I feel triumphant!

Jesus reacts, not to the adoration of the crowd but to the man. He sees the need of a single person.

That’s really remarkable.

Okay, so what does this really mean? Scripture tells me that Jesus stands in heaven and makes intercession for me. He focuses on just me, I’m the center of His care–but I also know that attention is also on you, and others, and yet I’m assured that He sees me and each of His sheep. This should be a comfort. He concentrates and ministers to the person.

Jesus loves you, and He loves me.

“So he told them this parable: “What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’”

Luke 15:3-6

The Sword Meets the Ear of Malchus

Luke 22:49-51, CSB

“When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50 Then one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.

51 But Jesus responded, “No more of this!” And touching his ear, he healed him.

How should we proceed with this? Perhaps we should start with the garden of Gethsemane. The setting explains a lot. Jesus is praying alone and He asks His Father for the strength to make it to His cross. It’s said that at that He sweated out what was like drops of blood.

The usual way of praying for a Jewish man was standing, but here we read that Jesus was on His knees. We also read that an angel showed up–it says that this angel came with strengthening power. The Greek word for “strengthen” can mean to invigorate. I believe Jesus’ prayer was answered (but not the way He wanted).

Jesus now had the strength to stand up and face the terror of the cross.

Judas led the mob that came to arrest Jesus. There was the kiss of betrayal and I suppose that the torchlight wasn’t really enough to identify Jesus outright. Judas’ kiss goes into the history books as the ultimate act of a traitor. It’s probably the most wicked kiss ever given to another.

What happens next seems to come out of an R–rated movie script. Peter takes up a sword and slashes and connects with a guy named Malchus who was the servant of the high priest. An ear is chopped off and Peter has a bloody sword, but not so fast. Jesus insisted that this is not the way of a true disciple.

Some would suggest that having good swordsmanship is a vital characteristic of a follower of Jesus.

But I don’t think so.

Jesus stops the whole scene to pick up Malchus’ ear and reattach it. Peter is definitely rebuked (notice the exclamation mark in verse 51)! Being a believer means following Jesus to the garden, and then the cross. Often we look at anything that avoids these places. When we’re truly following Him we are commanded to take up our own cross daily.

“When the Church takes sword in hand, it usually shows that it does not know how to wield it, and as often as not has struck the wrong man.”

Maclaren

Malchus plays such a minor role, and yet the ear amputation speaks volumes. We discover that the implications clarify the Lord’s desire for His followers–something that makes it clear that, “His ways are not our ways.”

Even in the garden, facing arrest and torture, Jesus is still reaching out to those around Him. Malchus is Jesus’ last ‘physical’ healing of another–He is kind and merciful, and He shows us how to love our enemies.

Today is Maundy Thursday. Tomorrow the pain of the cross. But He’s in the garden now, and recognizes exactly what is going down. “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”

Matthew 5:43-44

Jesus and the Cliff

Luke 4:28-30, CSB

” When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. 29 They got up, drove him out of town, and brought him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl him over the cliff. 30 But he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.”

When I pastored a church, I loved it when people told me that my sermon was the best they’ve ever heard. What a boost! But Jesus didn’t have that response when He preached at the synagogue in His hometown. The people went nuts! They weren’t happy with what Jesus had to say.

Nazareth was big enough (500 people) to have its own synagogue. This was the central place in the town. The village was also built very near to a sizable cliff. (You can see it today.)

It wasn’t a nicey-nice sermon, and it certainly didn’t comfort the congregation. They got really angry–Jesus point-blank confronted them. I suppose the Jewish leaders may have incited the crowd, which is sort of typical. If we take a quick peek at what He said perhaps we can understand their response (Luke 4:23-27).

But it’s really odd, initially, the people were responsive:

“They were all speaking well of him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from his mouth; yet they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

(v. 22)

Two things immediately strike me, maybe they’re significant, and maybe not. One–This attempt to toss off the cliff came immediately after Jesus’ temptation. (One of Satan’s temptations was Jesus jumping off the pinnacle of the temple.) Two–this is Nazareth, the town where He grew up, and the people obviously had issues about this ‘familiarity.’

They couldn’t or wouldn’t accept Him.

What probably happened is this. After Jesus’ sermon, the people were enraged. They escorted Him, pushing and shoving to the cliff. Throwing Jesus off was just the beginning, as He landed they would have gathered rocks (as big as a person’s head) and they would’ve finished the deed by stoning Him. They would have aimed at His chest first, and then the head. Survival was unlikely.

Prophets and teachers are seldom respected by who is closest to them. (Trust me, I know all about this.) Joseph, Jesus’ step-dad (if he was alive) would’ve had a carpentry shop. And Mary would’ve shopped with the women of the village. Both would have been in the synagogue and part of the crowd.

So tell me. What lesson can we grasp from this passage?

We’re people who’ve got the ability to make choices. Stoning is frowned upon in our culture; but could it be that we respond to Jesus’ words in less extreme ways? Physically we can’t react like this. But could it be we ignore Him or are apathetic to the things He says to us? Might this be as “bad” as stoning? (Maybe I’m putting too fine a point on it?)

The Lord Jesus’s voice to us should never be trifled with.

The things He speaks are supremely authoritative–what He shows us is not a trivial thing. His words are always significant. What Jesus says to us mustn’t be ignored, no matter what they communicate.

As believers or nonbelievers, we must take into our hearts the word that He speaks. To minimize or nullify (by our apathy?) is incredibly dangerous. When we judge Him we’re actually judging ourselves, and that dear one is frightening. We make the decision to accept or reject Him. It’s that freedom of choice that can be scary.

What has Jesus spoken to you that you’re turning a blind eye to?

Is it possible He has spoken but you’re ignoring Him? I mean no harm and it’s not possible for me to know your heart. But maybe you’ve listened up to a certain point and ignored the things that don’t settle with you. Personally, when I read Jesus’ words in the Gospels I discover an awful lot that I don’t really want to hear. (He talks about humility and loving our neighbor before ourselves. Yikes!)

Please consider this honestly. It’s spiritually dangerous to be apathetic and not to pay attention to what you know to be the full Word of God.

“In all unbelief there are these two things: a good opinion of one’s self, and a bad opinion of God.”

    Horatius Bonar

Meet Jesus, Who Calmed a Storm

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.” 36 So they left the crowd and took him along since he was in the boat. And other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

It was Jesus’ idea to cross the lake. It seemed He had a reason why, and as we read this we understand His motives. It’s obvious that Jesus understood that there was “people to see, and places to go,” (Mark 5:1-19). There were crowds of others who “tailed” Him, wanting to see what would happen next. Jesus was a magnet it seemed.

It seems that the boat belonged to Peter, and the journey across the water would take some time, it was 5–6 miles at this crossing point. It’s important to know that many of Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fisherman and I imagine that the trip would be fairly routine to them. But what’s going to happen next isn’t anything but.

The storm picked up quickly as they often do.

For these experienced sailors this wasn’t a big issue. Storms were manageable, however the text tells us that there came a point when the winds and waves began to fill the boat. They couldn’t bail it out fast enough. The storm seemed to ‘explode’ and it seems that they weren’t prepared to deal with this. It wasn’t in their plans.

That’s often the way things happen isn’t it? Following Jesus isn’t always smooth sailing in calm waters.

Things got so bad so quick that they turned to Jesus. Apparently He was catching 40 winks on a cushion in the back of the boat. (Why He was sleeping I have no idea; He must’ve been worn out by a full day of ministry.) When everything is spinning out-of–control it’s at the point they finally call on Him.

They woke Jesus up. (I guess if you’re about to drown it’s probably a good thing to be aware of it anyway.)

The disciples knew they had lost the battle. The storm was about to send them to the bottom of the Sea of Gaililee. In just a few moments they all were going to drown. Imminent death is a great time to call out to Him.

It was at this point that the disciples turned to Jesus. Why the delay? It doesn’t make sense, but knowing myself I only seem to call on Him when things get out-of-hand. My first response is trimming the sails and to start bailing. I don’t think about calling on Jesus until I realize that I’m not really in control.

In tradition it was God who was able to control storms, (see Psalm 107:29 and Jonah 1:4). When Jesus stood up and took on that authority over the wind and waves He was acting as the Messiah. But more than that, He was behaving as God.

Jesus’ question to them drills right to the heart of things in verse 40.

This is what triggered the response of the disciples in verse 41. Perhaps they were more scared of Jesus than the storm?

Incidently, the words Jesus used as He spoke to the storm means “be muzzled.” He uses the exact same words as He casts out the demons of the man in the very next event (Mark 5:7-9). I wonder. Could it be that the storm was a satanic/demonic attack? Maybe?

“O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty like You, O LORD? Your faithfulness surrounds You. You rule the raging of the sea; when waves rise, You still them.” 

Psalm 89:8-9

Meet the Deaf and Mute Man

“Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him. He took the man off by himself, put his fingers in the man’s ears and some spit on the man’s tongue. Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily, and commanded, “Ephphatha!—Open up!” And it happened. The man’s hearing was clear and his speech plain—just like that.”

36-37 “Jesus urged them to keep it quiet, but they talked it up all the more, beside themselves with excitement. “He’s done it all and done it well. He gives hearing to the deaf, speech to the speechless.”

Mark 7:34-37, The Message

Jesus enjoyed carrying the good news to distant places. His ministry wasn’t confined. He went to places that orthodox people avoided. Jesus penetrated these places and found a rich mission field. (This should speak volumes to us.)

It was in Decapolis that He met this man. He was deaf and mute, and it seems no doctor could help him. Close friends brought this man to Jesus. They begged Jesus to heal him–perhaps this shows their faith and love. (Again this should speak to us. Do we care for others–or not?)

The Lord led this man away from the crowd (interesting.) It seems Jesus wanted privacy. I think that He wanted to avoid the “carnival” atmosphere that healing would cause. Jesus was God–not a showman. (This dear one should clarify things for us.)

It interests me the approach He took. Jesus’ fingers went into the man’s ears. He spits (!) and touched the man’s tongue with His saliva. (Oh if He could do this to us!) Jesus looked up to heaven and said one word, “Ephphatha!” Which in English means “be opened.”

The man suddenly began to speak!

Everyone who witnessed was amazed. Jesus looked at those and told them not to say a thing about what just happened. (Is this humility or what?) Of course, it interests me that the crowd ignored His command; they couldn’t help but spread the news. They must have figured that Jesus was the Messiah, and this miracle proved it.

But the way He went about this amazes me–why the fingers and obviously why the spit? Perhaps this man, (and his friends) needed to see something more “physical.” Maybe? Could it have communicated something to Jesus’ disciples who were watching? Could it be that this can guide us as we now carry Jesus’ power?

I’m thinking through these things.

One: Jesus does impossible things He extends Himself to the “unorthodox”

Two: He seems to heal in ways we really don’t quite understand.

Three: What Jesus does is not about “showmanship,” He avoids publicity and self-promotion.

And there must be other points. It’s good I think, to roll these thoughts around.

Meet Peter and the Fishes Mouth

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes,” he said.

When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes? From their sons or from strangers?”

26 “From strangers,” he said.

“Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him. 27 “But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you.”

Matthew 17:24-27, CSB

Taxes! We had just arrived home in Capernaum when the tax collectors showed up. How they knew we were back in town I have no idea. But they did. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. These guys have a tendency to show up when you’re broke.

Taxes. They knew that Jesus was a teacher, a rabbi, and they had the audacity to ask if he was somehow exempt from paying to support the Temple. I had to tell them that He to had to pay, but honestly, I wasn’t sure.

I went back into the house and Jesus was waiting to quiz me.

He surprised me by knowing what had just occurred with my encounter with these tax guys. He knew. He asked me what I thought–(Jesus always seemed to ask me questions like that. I hated being put on the spot.)

“From strangers” seemed to be the simple and logical answer. Jesus explained that He’s not liable to pay this tax, because the Father certainly doesn’t require it of His own Son. I realized then that was the real lesson that He wanted me to understand.

But rather than insist on His “sonship,” Jesus didn’t want to create an issue with anyone. He asked me (the commercial fisherman), to throw out a line and a hook–He told me that the first fish that I caught would have a coin in its mouth!

I must tell you that it happened exactly like He said it would.

The fish I caught had a drachma in its mouth. What can I say? It was there and it undid me. It happened and I understood again that He really did have power.

Jesus told me to pay the tax–His and mine. He knew He didn’t need to pay. Rabbis were exempt from this, and yet Jesus didn’t want to offend anyone, He paid the tax to avoid any objection.

_______________________

Bryan’s note: I’ve pondered this miracle of Jesus, and it astounds me. A fish with a coin in its mouth! But in this, He shows His power. Consider for a moment the story of Jonah where a big fish was specially created to be the vehicle for a disobedient prophet. Jesus reveals His omnipotence over all things.

Jesus is the Creator and He does this without any problem at all. He simply does it. He is God after all.

“All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.”

John 1:3, CSB

Meet Lazarus

John 11:25, 26; vv. 33-44

 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[a] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Jesus Weeps

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[b] in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 

Jesus Raises Lazarus

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 

 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

My name is Lazarus and I was a special “friend” of Jesus. We liked being with each other, and my sisters Mary and Martha also enjoyed fellowshipping with Him. Whenever He passed through Bethany, Jesus always had an open invitation to visit.

What’s it like to be dead? Many ask me this, and I suppose they want to understand, and I don’t blame them. To me, it seemed like a very deep sleep–but I didn’t dream. Those who look for any special insight, will not find it from me. And yet, I am His witness. He has incredible power over death.

I heard Him call my name.

It pierced through everything with an authority I’d never heard before. I had been laid in my tomb for 4 days and my physical body had begun to putrify. When they rolled the stone away the terrible smell of death lay heavy in the air.

I was tightly bound in cotton wraps and sticky spices had been applied to my body. Mary and Martha had objected to Jesus’ attempt. As I looked back I realize that their actions were justified. After all, who can give life when one is very much dead. And not only dead but well on the way on to decay. The smell wafted from my tomb.

I had heard His shout, and it was then death was reversed.

My heart and brain began to work again. When I came to I found that I was lying on a stone table and tightly wrapped in the clothes of the dead. I managed to sit up, and I shuffled toward the light that had entered the tomb by the stone that covered the door.

When Jesus saw me I believe that He was laughing. He gave the command to the shocked bystanders, He commanded them to unwrap me. I suppose that then I realized I was now in the land of the living. I can’t explain what had happened, But my grave clothes were unwrapped.

There were many that day that became believers.

Many had attested that I was most certainly dead, after all, they had attended my funeral. Some had observed that I had been slathered in the sticky ointment–fragrant spices. And a few were witnesses to see the stone rolled in place.

So many believed in Jesus’ power of resurrection that day–they were completely amazed and simply reacted to what Jesus had just done for me.

There were some who simply didn’t (or wouldn’t) believe.

There were the Pharisees and the Sadducees who wanted me dead hoping to nullify my witness and my resurrection from the dead.

Their hatred of Jesus’ ministry was only strengthened. My own resurrection proved His authority and power over even death. I was a walking and breathing miracle that they refused to accept. It got so bad that the religious leaders wanted to kill me because so many believed in my resurrection. I was a living witness to many.

Yes, I know that I’ll die again. But even now, in my second death, I’m not afraid anymore.

I had become an embarrassment to them, a constant reminder that Jesus had defeated death.

He alone can believe in immortality who feels the resurrection in him already.

Frederick W. Robertson

But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”

John 11:53-54

Art: blogspot.com. Scripture: Christian Standard Bible, Holman Publishers; The Message, Eugene Peterson

Meet Simeon in the Temple

Luke 2:25-35

There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,

29 Now, Master,
you can dismiss your servant in peace,
as you promised.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.

His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Yes, there were rumors. The priest Zechariah declared that his son would become the Messiah’s forerunner. And apparently, angels had visited shepherds in their fields. Each encounter had come exactly how it was foretold.

I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit had led me there that day.

I have no doubt that He was guiding me to the Temple. God had promised me that I would see with my own eyes the coming Messiah. This One would be salvation and be a light to the Gentiles which would bring glory and honor to the Jewish nation.

If these were of God, there needed to be collaborating witnesses that would foretell His work. One or two might be a mere coincidence, but three were a definite declaration. Plus I knew that my own eyes would see Him face-to-face.

To be perfectly honest, I really didn’t know what I expected to see. But I knew God’s heart, and I wanted to do His will. Some might say I was a devout believer in Israel’s prophetic purpose. I knew and believed that.

I had God’s promise that I would see Him.

Something or someone was prompting me to the Temple. I guess I had a divine appointment to keep. God had given me His promise, and I knew I was where I was supposed to be. It seemed like I was always on the lookout for that fulfillment.

It was then I saw the Child.

His parents stood out like something florescent. It seemed as if they were color in a black and white world, and they held the baby who was going to change the world. When I saw them I knew that everything had fallen into place. I saw the promise and He had come to save the world.

I took Jesus and held Him in my arms.

I was holding the Savior! This baby was to save the entire world from their sins. The Law required me to dedicate Him to God. Who can say what that means? I was to devote Him to God’s purpose and plan. Who had this honor, and who can say that this was their privilege? I had been chosen to insert Him into the purposes of God.

Who can say that?

When I laid my hands on Him it was like touching lightning. I spoke the blessing, but I understood that there was something more. I looked at His mother and spoke. It was both a blessing and a warning. I understood what God wanted to say, and it was a word that Israel’s hope would also have a sting that His mother needed to understand.

When I left the three of them in the Temple courts I began to grasp the reality of it all. I spoke God’s heart to His mother Mary. She had to know and understand who this Child really was. For me my task was complete.

I had spoken, and now it was time to leave.

“In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s Temple
    will be the highest of all mountains.
It will be raised higher than the hills.
    There will be a steady stream of people from all nations going there.”

Isaiah 2:2

Art: “Simeon holding Jesus,” by Andrey Shishkin, painted in 2012, Oil on canvas © Andrey Shishkin.

Verses used: Christian Standard Bible

Encountering the Feeding of the 5000

Luke 9:12-17

As the sunset, the Twelve said, “Dismiss the crowd so they can go to the farms or villages around here and get a room for the night and a bite to eat. We’re out in the middle of nowhere.”

“You feed them,” Jesus said.

They said, “We couldn’t scrape up more than five loaves of bread and a couple of fish—unless, of course, you want us to go to town ourselves and buy food for everybody.” (There were more than five thousand people in the crowd.)

But he went ahead and directed his disciples, “Sit them down in groups of about fifty.” They did what he said and soon had everyone seated. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread and fish to the disciples to hand out to the crowd. After the people had all eaten their fill, twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up.

Jesus had been healing many. Five thousand people sat enraptured by Jesus’ teaching. It was like nothing they had never heard before. It was definitely a testimony to Jesus’ fantastic presence. Where the all came from, I haven’t the slightest. To gather a crowd like this, in the middle of nowhere was amazing. None of us had ever heard of this ever happening.

Seventy of us had just returned from preaching ourselves, with stories of deliverance and healing. Herod had also heard, and that was a bit spooky. We certainly didn’t want his scrutiny, that’s for sure-I know he known about us.

It was getting dark and, quite honestly, we realized that we had a problem. We met with Jesus and expressed this development. We really didn’t have a solution. It came as a shock to us (and maybe absurd) that He told us to “feed them.”

The crowd concerned us.

After a search, we came up with five loaves and a few fish. We wanted Jesus to see the absurdity of this, and to emphasize the problem. Perhaps this meager discovery would help Him understand,

Jesus told us to reseat the crowds in groups of fifty, I’ve always wondered about that, but I suppose that He wanted to see the size of the crowd–and to oversee a better and more even distribution of the food. That was indeed wisdom, but it was far more than that.

He covered His head, looked to heaven to give thanks.

He then began to take the fish and bread to distribute to the crowds. I still don’t quite grasp what exactly happened. It still seems absurd.

The bread and fish just kept coming.

As we filled our baskets, the food never ran out! It just kept coming and coming! Our baskets were always full, and all 5000 were fed. As a matter of fact, everyone had more than they wanted–all from a measly five loaves and two fish!

And to emphasize all of this, each of us had our own baskets filled.

What happened then and there staggered us. Obviously, on a purely rational level, it was quite impossible. Surely Jesus had the ability to do anything He wanted to do. This miracle only confirmed the absolute power of Jesus–each of us had a full basket for ourselves. Jesus had made it clear that He was in full control of every situation.

Even now, how can we ever doubt Him?

“Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.

Luke 12:32

For further reading: “Meet the Master of Ceremonies in Cana

Art is public domain, the passage is taken from The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson.

Mastered by Jesus

“A Christian is not a person who believes in his head the teachings of the Bible. Satan believes in his head the teachings of the Bible!”

“A Christian is a person who has died with Christ, whose stiff neck has been broken, whose brazen forehead has been shattered, whose stony heart has been crushed, whose pride has been slain, and whose life is now mastered by Jesus Christ.”

–John Piper

No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

John 15:15

It seems that the purpose of life is not to find our freedom. It’s really meant to find our Master.

Yes, the idea of being a slave to anyone is repugnant. We chafe at this, and yet man was never meant to be seperated from the Lordship of Jesus. We’re instructed repeatedly with the New Testament idea that “our life is not our own”  Over and over God proclaims Himself as the King.

That troubles us somewhat.

Not so much when life is fairly good, granted, but in those hard moments when a decision must be made between enjoying the titillating “lusts of the flesh,” or accepting the fruits of the Spirit. This is one of those “lordship moments.” They come, and go, and they show us exactly who we are.

If you’re really going to be authentic–a legitimate and real disciple, then you must determine who is going to be “boss.” This isn’t one of those casual decisions. You must securely fix it in your heart.

Your decision must become a settled issue.

The thief on the cross knew salvation, he was promised an eternity with God simply by faith. But I submit to you that he had put himself under the Lordship of Jesus, simply by recognizing the sign, “the King of the Jews.” I believe he saw and understood its imlications. Jesus was King!

This is a very hard word for some, but many of our personal issues hinge on this.

I know this first-hand. It can be a monumental struggle. You must admit to not only having Jesus as your Savior, but you also must put your life under His total Lordship.  You need to pick up your cross daily in order to follow.  You need to learn how to kneel.

I’ve chosen a crown to open up this post–it’s done on purpose.  I simply want you to to understand the supreme call He has on your life. Here’s Bob Dylan, and he nails this idea down:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You must learn here and now how to kneel before the Sovereign King

 

Related: “Am I Like Peter”; “The Scum of the Earth;” “Those Strange Christians.”

A Question: Am I Like Peter?

To follow Him can be really hard. There doesn’t seem to be any contingency plans for any who are looking to escape such a drastic call. Jesus either is, or He isn’t our Lord. “Do you also want to leave?” This is a question that will be asked to every disciple–sometimes once, and sometimes repeatedly.

There are these crystalline moments when I must make a decision. Will I take up my cross and go with Him? There doesn’t seem to be any room in Jesus’ band for ‘almost’ disciples. That scares me sometimes.

Today’s cross is waiting for me. I’m afraid at times that I won’t be able to take the next step as a true follower. Am I just fooling myself?

All of heaven seems to stand on tiptoe to see what I’m going to do next.

Who am I really?

Being obedient to Jesus is far from easy. We must have His Spirit.

“After this, many of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance:

“Do you also want to leave?”

“Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69, The Message

Image from Wikipedia, verses are from The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson.

Meet the Widow, at the Funeral of Her Son

Luke 7:11-17

Not long afterwards Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, with the usual great crowd at his heels. 12 A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The boy who had died was the only son of his widowed mother, and many mourners from the village were with her.

13 When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with sympathy. “Don’t cry!” he said. 14 Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Laddie,” he said, “come back to life again.”

15 Then the boy sat up and began to talk to those around him! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

16 A great fear swept the crowd, and they exclaimed with praises to God, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and, “We have seen the hand of God at work today.”

17 The report of what he did that day raced from end to end of Judea and even out across the borders.

My world crashed down around me. First, my husband, and then my only son are dead. I’m left absolutely alone, I have lost everything that really matters. I am penniless, without hope. Why has God treated me this way?

Am I being judged for my sins? Only God knows.

I live in Nain, which is a few miles south of Nazareth. It’s a village where everyone knows each other and it’s hard to be private. Everyone knew my situation. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Grief had become my constant companion, I knew it well. Psalm 88:18 became my deepest cry, I finally understood it.

The funeral procession began at my house and led to the cemetery. It was the same route we walked with my husband, and now today with the body of my only son. A large crowd escorted the coffin, but that brought me nothing but more pain.

They were a small comfort, but they changed nothing.

We arrived at the village gate at the same time as Jesus of Nazareth. He was accompanied by a large boisterous crown. There were suddenly hundreds of people converging at one spot. The crowds mixed with the mourners like two ocean currents that come together, hot and cold.

Jesus approached me.

He was deeply moved and there was incredible compassion on His face. “Please don’t cry,” He told me. Then he walked over to the coffin and the bearers stopped. Everyone in the crowd stopped and riveted their gaze on Jesus.

Jesus reached out and touched my son’s coffin.

“Boy, I tell you to wake up!” Suddenly, my son sat up and began to speak. My heart jumped in my throat as the bearers lowered the bier. “My son is alive!” I screamed, “Alive!”

Jesus led my son to me. I held him close and stroked his hair I couldn’t let him go. Suddenly everything changed. I knew God saw me and loved me. I have never been happier. I could never have dreamed something like this could happen to someone like me.

The crowd stood dumbstruck in the presence of Jesus. After a minute they began to murmur, “He is a prophet!” Others said, “God has visited His people.” People were hugging each other with complete abandon. All I could do is hold my precious son.

Tears, tears of joy rolled down my cheeks.

The news of my son’s resurrection spread throughout the entire region, and the popularity of Jesus skyrocketed. God was making Himself known through Jesus Christ; but more importantly, we knew He loved us The peace and hope were like medicine to a beaten-down people.

Lord of mercy, raise up all that is fallen inside of me. I can be so dead sometimes and your presence is what I need. Impart newness of life to my heart. Come and be with me. Amen.

Art by Pam Lucey. Scripture from the Living Bible, Tyndale House

Meet the Samaritan Leper

Luke 17:11-19

11-13 It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14-16 Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

17-19 Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

It’s said by many that “misery loves company.” So here we were, ten men banded together, each as lost and far gone as the other. Once our lives were whole and normal–wives and children, homes and jobs, but those wonderful things had been ripped away when we were told we had leprosy.

And basically, I was an outcast among outcasts. I was the sole Samaritan among Jews; not that it mattered anymore–those kinds of distinctions were no longer an issue between us. What we all were facing was a “slow-motion” death. There was absolutely nothing anyone could do, being a leper meant we were beyond any hope.

Do you have any idea what leprosy is?

It was the ultimate impurity–we were the bottom part of the “bottom of the barrel.” Every morning we sat down and unrolled our dirty bandages. We counted fingers and toes–and we examined each other’s faces noses, and ears. Leprosy numbs, the nerves become insensitive. Essentially we were rotting away before each other’s eyes.

We scavenged for food mostly, sometimes our families would set out baskets of bread and fish, maybe some wine we hoped. And sometimes they wrote us notes which could be both good and bad–they just reminded us that all we knew was gone. We would share these with each other, somehow we wanted and needed that bittersweet solace.

I believed that God, in His infinite wisdom, had cursed me.

We were the damned. Walking and talking zombies who were just waiting to die.

We talked among ourselves–the healings that Jesus was doing were fascinating to us. The blind received sight, demons were evicted, the crippled and lame now walked tall and whole. We joked about our little group meeting Jesus for ourselves, but we were imagining the impossible. When you’ve lost enough hope, black humor settles in to stay.

We somehow heard that Jesus was going to travel near us, so we walked to a hill by the road where we might see him come by. It seemed foolish, but it was better than just sitting. It would be good to see what the fuss was all about. We saw a group that was coming down the road–it was Jesus and his followers, so we waited.

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Suddenly that became our desperate cry. Each of us stood and screamed out to Him in our lostness–that got His attention. He turned to look at us, and then declared these powerfully gentle and healing words, ““Go, show yourselves to the priests.” That was it, six words, no theatrics.

But as I said before, I was a spiritual outcast, a Samaritan, and going to the priests wasn’t possible. So instead I went directly to Jesus. You should have seen me, I was kneeling and shouting praises to God! Dear one, joy was an understatement–I was astonished at new hands and toes, ears and skin. Where there was once rotten flesh there was now fresh skin–baby soft and brand new.

I was now whole!

Where the nine others went, I don’t know. All I truly knew was that my leprosy was instantly gone.

Lord Jesus, you rule over all sickness and disease. I was like this leper, I had no hope, but you found me and set me free. You forgave my sin. Thank you for finding and healing me. Help me to follow you. Amen.

Image: CNN, Scripture “The Message, by Eugene Peterson.

The Scum of the Earth

“But when some of the Jewish religious leaders saw him eating with these men of ill repute, they said to his disciples, “How can he stand it, to eat with such scum?’”

Mark 2:16

“When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.”

I Corinthians 4:12-13

My teaching ministry is “Scum of the Earth, Homer Alaska.”

Here is the teaching I gave on “How Scum Hear His Voice” given at a home fellowship group given on February 9, 2022, Homer, Alaska.

The teaching can be found here.

It was a bitterly cold night, with lots of wind, but the fellowship was very good. and the wood stove was a blessing. After this teaching, we had a good time praying and took communion.

I really hope this teaching blesses you.

Meet the Master of Ceremonies in Cana

John 2:9-10

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants did), he called the bridegroom over.

10 “This is wonderful stuff!” he said. “You’re different from most. Usually, a host uses the best wine first, and afterwards, when everyone is full and doesn’t care, then he brings out the less expensive brands. But you have kept the best for the last!”

Full account: John 2:1-10

I really don’t believe in miracles. But something happened when I was overseeing a wedding in Cana that I can’t explain. I’ve thought a lot about it and as I uncovered some of the details–well, part of me believes, and part of me can’t.

My duty was to oversee the details that are part of every wedding. That includes having a sufficient source of wine for the party. If I made a mistake or miscalculated the thirst of the guests, it’s the absolute worst thing I could do. Not too much wine (as it could be expensive) or not too little either. If I blew it, it would go down as a shameful thing.

Essentially I freed up the bride and the groom so they could enjoy their day–I handled all of the logistical stuff. It was my ministry you could say, I had a knack for managing these events, it was how I made my living. (It’s all about having a good reputation, and I suppose the shekels were also a part of my thinking too.)

This particular wedding in Cana sort of got out-of-hand.

Too many guests too soon, and man were they thirsty. I brought in the wine, and it wasn’t enough–I was blowing it, and honestly, I really didn’t know how I was going to extricate myself and avoid this incredible goof. Word was spreading fast; we were running out. (People were starting to panic!)

My employees, my servants, gathered around to help me think. They basically gave me the news, and they expected me to do what was out of my power to do. I rarely had encountered a predicament like this. Poor planning on my part and now the groom would take the rap.

I was surprised when the servant came with a cup for me to sample!

Tasting that wine I realized then and there that this was not the usual plonk–as a matter of fact, it was the best that could be found (and I know all about wine, believe me). When I found the groom and told him…”Most serve the best at first, but you rascal, you saved the very best for last!”

I was dumbfounded when I investigated its source. It was water, coming from six purification jars (each one could hold up to 30 gallons). Each one was filled to the brim, and each one became excellent wine. Some have told me that Jesus didn’t add anything–but He transformed it. Now dear reader, perhaps I understood the incredible power of Jesus.

I’m not really a believer quite yet, but maybe?

I suppose that this miracle describes having a life that’s being transformed. As we grow we start to realize that He’s taking us higher up and deeper in. Look for your next step, there’s always much more in “becoming.”

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV

Art by Paolo Caliari, (1528-88). Scripture is from the Living Bible, by Tyndale House.

Meet the Man at the Pool

John 5:1-9

1-6 Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, “Do you want to get well?”

The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”

8-9 Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off.

9-10 That day happened to be the Sabbath. The Jews stopped the healed man and said, “It’s the Sabbath. You can’t carry your bedroll around. It’s against the rules.”

There were hundreds of us, surviving in our own personal man-made hell. We were the blind and the lame; simply dropped off by our families here to exist, to somehow make it on our own. We were a desperate lot, but there was a strange camaraderie, we all understood that our condition was hopeless. We were just marking time–and my 38 years was a lifetime for some. It’s a very long time to be sick.

None of us were whole, not by a long shot, otherwise, why were we sitting here waiting to die?

It’s said by some that an angel would venture down from heaven, and stir the pool–and the first to get in the water would be healed. It was one of those strange things that kept us from going crazy–a mental mechanism that bruised hearts often carry deep inside. It was a necessary way to keep from being lost.

I lived with my friends on these hard stone steps all these years, I’ve seen some live, and many more die. Banding together we became a community of survivors. We understood each other, and we knew everyone’s story–what else was there to do but talk?

It’s funny how some ideas get started–a silly dream, or a fairy tale of leaving this pool and becoming normal again. We developed the knack of a gallows kind of humor, a bond that condemned men shared with each other. We bantered these in order to cope with this slow-motion death. These were inside jokes, mixed with hefty dollops of half-believed hope and odd humor that only dying men learn to appeciate.

But maybe it kept us alive for just one more day. Perhaps it helped us to survive this hell.

That day started like 13,879 days before, and there was nothing unusual about it. There was nothing but the growing heat, the flies, and the sour smell of unwashed bodies. But in an instant, my life was going to be decisively interrupted. And at the time I never saw it coming.

Jesus threaded His way through the sitting bodies to find me.

When our eyes met he stopped. All He did was to ask me simply— “Do you want to be made well?” That question cut through the many years of accrued pain. I mumbled something about the angel, and the pool, and not having anyone to help me into the water. His question pretty much unraveled me. It seemed like it was just Him and me, staring at each other.

He told me to stand, to pick up my mat, and walk.

All of those half-baked days of a wasted life crashed in on me then. I saw all the emptiness and sadness of 38 long years. But in an instant, He healed me. I stood and picked up my mat, I shook my head and cried. Through my tears, I saw my friends looking at me in shocked and total amazement.

I simply walked out of there, carrying the only thing I owned.

“Then the lame will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy,
for water will gush in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.”

Isaiah 35:6, CSB

Art: Free Bible Images, text used is from The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson

Meet the Man Born Blind

John 9:1-7

As he was walking along, he saw a man blind from birth.

“Master,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?”

“Neither,” Jesus answered. “But to demonstrate the power of God. All of us must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent me, for there is little time left before the night falls and all work comes to an end. But while I am still here in the world, I give it my light.”

Then he spat on the ground and made mud from the spittle and smoothed the mud over the blind man’s eyes, and told him, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam” (the word Siloam means “Sent”). So the man went where he was sent and washed and came back seeing!

Up to now I’ve tried to approach these posts from the first person viewpoint. I hoped to understand those who met face-to-face with Jesus. I wanted to grasp what they were seeing through their own eyes. But I intend with this post to revert back to a more traditional approach to this passage.

First, we’re introduced to a man who is blind from birth.

I can’t even imagine what that would be like (just as he probably could imagine having sight). I’ve been told that he probably didn’t have a “dream” life–that requires having seen images (a dog, a tree, a mean person) and this wasn’t available to him. He never saw the color red, or seen a mountain. (He didn’t have the circuitry.)

I suppose we can only imagine what blindness like this would be.

Somehow I’ve come to an idea that this represents fallen men–we’re spiritually blind to the workings and truths of Jesus’ Kingdom. It seems a pretty good explanation of each of us–“blind from birth.”

Secondly, notice the response of the disciples who first met this unfortunate man. They don’t see his needs, rather they want to know the theology behind this. Perhaps that’s how we respond much of the time–we don’t see the needs, we only want to know the reasons. We’re not wise or discerning enough to see what’s going on–in short we’re not equipped to love or show mercy. (We haven’t got the circuitry.)

Perhaps this is how we operate as immature Christians.

We don’t engage the need, but rather we like having great theology over understanding compassion. If we really don’t love needy people, we miss so much. We don’t ever grow up. It’s easy to philosophize–it’s hard to get down and serve and really love others.

It’s funny but Jesus declares Himself to be the light of the world while speaking to the man who is born blind.

Third, we discover the gentle mercy that Jesus has when He meets needy people. Now the Lord does accommodate His followers, but not at the expense of engaging the need of the moment. Jesus is full of compassion–most especially when He meets broken people–and as His followers, we must grasp this.

Good theology is not the primary calling of Jesus’ followers.

As I mature in Christ I’m learning (slowly) that people are His real focus. He has come, not to theologize or philosophize, but to meet needs! Sure the reasons why become clearer, but that really isn’t Jesus’ primary goal. People are, not having impeccable theology.

Classes in systematic theology are good, but soup kitchens are better.

The miracle happens, and Jesus’ love and desire to restore this man is ‘front and center.’ The Lord’s methodology is interesting. Spit and mud, wiped on the blind man’s eyes. In Genesis we discover that God made man out of dirt and dust of the ground. Perhaps what He’s doing here mirrors that work.

And it’s also important to understand that Jesus never performs the exact same healing in the exact same way. For some reason He ‘tailors’ His work to the individuals deepest need. I suppose He doesn’t want us to grab a hold of a formula, as that’s what we want to have.

The story is primarily about a blind man’s healing.

It’s not theology, and it certainly isn’t about what is proper and acceptable. We really must understand this, and we really need to understand the tremendous mercy and power of God to both heal and restore.

There’s a ton more here we can extract, but I suppose there isn’t time. This is merely my take on John 9.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.”

Luke 4:18

Image: MCCC. Text from the “Living Bible,” published by Tyndale House

Meet the Gentile Woman

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus then left that part of the country and walked fifty miles to Tyre and Sidon.

22 A woman from Canaan who was living there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, King David’s Son! For my daughter has a demon within her, and it torments her constantly.”

23 But Jesus gave her no reply—not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to get going,” they said, “for she is bothering us with all her begging.”

24 Then he said to the woman, “I was sent to help the Jews—the lost sheep of Israel—not the Gentiles.”

25 But she came and worshiped him and pled again, “Sir, help me!”

26 “It doesn’t seem right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs,” he said.

27 “Yes, it is!” she replied, “for even the puppies beneath the table are permitted to eat the crumbs that fall.”

28 “Woman,” Jesus told her, “your faith is large, and your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed right then.

“Please Lord Jesus, there is no one else who can rescue me!”

I believe that Jesus must’ve come just for me. He had made a long trip to the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon to find me, a pagan woman, despised by the Jewish people. I mustn’t forget that. He came for me, he reached out for my daughter and myself.

My daughter had a demon living inside her.

I knew this, and I also knew that no power on earth could rescue her–but Jesus could. I begged and I worshiped, I learned that this combination goes together like peas and carrots. You see, my daughter was possessed, filled with a satanic entity that was taking over to destroy her, I would do anything to set her free.

I was ‘blocked’ by Jesus’ followers, perhaps they didn’t understand. And yet I knew that they weren’t my obstacles, but I needed to push right through them–perhaps this is sometimes true of those who call themselves disciples. They wouldn’t let me see Jesus. And yet I had to bring her desperate need to Him.

There was no one else.

I begged and pleaded, and yet they refused me. Over and over I tried to see Jesus, to bring my terrible need to Him–the healer, the teacher—the One who worked miracles for undeserving people. I was coming to Him, not for myself but for my daughter.

It was then saw me. When He spoke it seemed that it was a hard word. He had been sent to the lost sheep of Israel, not to Gentiles like me.

But I didn’t stop pleading, I knew I was undeserving. I wasn’t righteous and I certainly didn’t belong. Trust me, I had no merit, no real right to come to Him. I had nothing, definitely not a holy life. I had zero and I knew it.

But I remembered my daughter, picking flowers and making ‘daisy chains.’ The way she used to be–she was innocent and so gentle. But recently something dark had taken over, and she had changed.

Jesus met me.

The words he spoke challenged me. “I’ve come exclusively for the children of Israel.” I understood, and yet I insisted–I fell down on my knees and saw His dirty feet; He had traveled very far. I began to worship Him. He seemed almost contemplative. “I don’t think it right to take what I can offer, and “give it to the dogs.'” But even then I insisted. He alone can heal her, there were no others.

I pleaded with Him, “even dogs can eat what falls off the table.” I may have stuttered. Jesus then spoke to me, and maybe the others. “I see that you have a large faith. I give you what you’ve asked.” And at that very instant my daughter was healed.

————————-

“Lord, help me.”

“I commend this prayer to you because it is such a handy prayer. You can use it when you are in a hurry, you can use it when you are in a fright, you can use it when you have not time to bow your knee. You can use it in the pulpit if you are going to preach, you can use it when you are opening your shop, you can use it when you are rising in the morning. It is such a handy prayer that I hardly know any position in which you could not pray it: ‘Lord, help me.’”

Charles Spurgeon

Art by Free Bible Images: the text is from the Living Bible

Meet Jesus’ Family

John 7:1-5

After this, Jesus traveled around Galilee. He wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death. But soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters, and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.

To be honest, I didn’t believe He was the Messiah. I simply couldn’t accept that he was the Chosen one, predicted in the Scriptures. Really now, Jesus? Our older brother? Was he the one we were all looking for? Was he the one who would save Israel? He was family, and we saw Him eat, drink, sleep. I for one didn’t believe it.

We played with him in the streets.

We ran, played ball, and raced donkeys. We sat with him around the fire when the storytellers came. We had fun dancing–(with our sisters of course). When we weren’t working in the shop, carrying water, and helping out, we found lots of things to do, and Jesus as the oldest was the one who came up with many of our adventures.

But to say that he was the one who was prophesied about in the book of Isaiah seems ludicrous. To be very honest, our father was just a poor carpenter–we lived hand-to-mouth, much like any other family in Judea. We wore Jesus’ hand-me-downs, and when he outgrew his sandals, guess what?

Looking back at it all, the whole business of him being the Messiah seemed like a sad and silly joke.

Our father and mother seemed privy to some sort of secret, but we kids never could get the whole story from them or others. Our cousins knew something, but no one was talking, and I suppose we never really pursued it. Maybe it would’ve helped, and again maybe it wouldn’t.

Our lives rotated around the Temple and the synagogue. A Sabbath day was part of our religious upbringing, and we listened to the rabbis and Pharisees as they taught. Jesus had a tremendous knack at grasping these things, and yes, he did know the Scriptures and the various interpretations that the leaders gave.

Each of us boys had the mitzvot ceremony at the age of 13.

We were told that we were now responsible before God for our own lives after this ceremony took place. This was normal for each of us. And apparently, even for Jesus, there was nothing special about it–no lightning, no doves coming down. Like I said before, it all was very normal. We were normal people trying to survive in normal Judea.

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

When Jesus was around 30 we heard that he had been baptized by our cousin John. We later heard that he started to teach and preach to any who would listen. He gathered disciples who followed him from town to town, sleeping and eating in the countryside, or wherever things opened up. I was told by many that his teaching was brilliant and authoritative.

When we started to hear of his miracles, it didn’t make any sense.

Honestly, it seemed something happened directly after his baptism–something that was hardly normal. As his brothers and sisters, we tried to process it with each other. At that time we finally came to the conclusion that Jesus was losing it. Maybe he was or at least very close to it. I remember at least twice we came to take custody of him. That was hard.

Was Jesus orthodox, did he have the Pharisee’s ‘stamp of approval?’ After so many reports of healings and exorcisms, we thought that having that could help. I remembered then that we wanted him to reveal his ministry through the proper religious channels. For ourselves, we didn’t believe he was who he claimed to be, but we desperately wanted him to be safe.

When they arrested him and gave him a trial it was a shock to us all.

And when they ordered his death by crucifixion we were deeply troubled and ashamed. Only criminals died that way. Did Jesus deserve to die like this?

But then something quite startling was said to have happened–we were told that he rose from the dead! I remember the shock; maybe these resurrection reports were being made up by those with deluded hopes. We really didn’t know, but we did wonder.

Who was he really? Who was our older brother exactly?

He replied to the one who was speaking to him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

Matthew 12:48-49

[Two of Jesus’ brothers that we know of became believers, they went on to write the book of James and Jude.]

Those Strange Christians

I was thinking about this today.

Do you have any idea how ridiculous unbelievers must see us? Just imagine for a minute that you’re on the outside of faith looking in.

———————

They get very solemn as they slowly take the bread and wine. They say that when they sing it’s to God Himself. Some get loud raising hands in surrender to Him. Some will even dance in the worship of someone who’s invisible. How bizarre is that?

They call a man who died a long time ago, Lord and Master.

They gather to read from a special and “magical” book, that they say speaks to them. They talk about being a living a life separated to Him. They truly think that others need to join them in this silly group. They regard each other as brothers and sisters and they serve each other.

They tell us that Jesus is God in human flesh, who was put to death on a cross is now alive. They also believe that His blood saves them from their “sin.” These very odd ones think this man is going to return and rule the world, physically bring the Kingdom of God to this planet.

How very odd of them. How very strange these Christians are.

—————————

There exists a letter written to Diogenes, who is known as the Cynic. It was written around 130 AD. This letter itself is fairly extensive. I suggest that you read it in its entirety. It describes the faith and beliefs of the Christian to a man who really has no idea about them but wants to understand–here is a small portion of this epistle. Remember that this is one of the very first observations of our Faith:

“They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory.” 

Meet the Widow, and Her Pennies

Mark 12:41-44

41-44 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

It wasn’t much but it’s all I had. Some would laugh, most would scorn–but truthfully, I really wasn’t giving my money, I was giving my heart. That’s all, just my little tiny heart.

When my husband died, I was left with very little. What I did have I hid in a hole in the wall, but I was concerned, money was going out and nothing was coming in. Often I sat on my stool and stared at that hole, and often I was pretty frightened. There is nothing to live on. What was I going to do?

Please understand. No one was going to help me.

I got up one morning to pull out the leather sack, all that was there were two pennies. That’s it. Two very small pennies, and that’s all I had to live on! I knew that this day would come, but it seemed to come so soon. I shook with fear at what life was going to bring next.

————————–

Jesus sat watching the crowd in the Temple with the twelve. Occasionally there was a procession: trumpets blowing and bright banners waving. Another rich man announced to everyone that he was coming to contribute to the Temple. There were six stone receptacles placed in strategic spots, where people could tithe as the Law required of every Jew.

Jesus was watching all of this.

Suddenly an old woman came to give, and there were no trumpets, no fanfare. She simply came to give what she had–two very small copper pennies. Just two pennies. Most would laugh I suppose. After all, the rich were dropping in thousands of silver.

It was funny, but Jesus turned to His disciples. They sat and listened carefully to what He had to say:

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”

They gasped as they struggled to understand the Teacher. It seemed idiotic, but Jesus often said many outrageous things. You could see their minds working to grip this. It made absolutely zero sense.

“They all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

The twelve were dumbfounded.

———————-

When I gave, I gave my heart. I had nothing, but you know, a strange peace came over me. I rejoiced to do this, to give to God and His work. Yes, I now had nothing–nothing but the grace and care of God. Maybe I was a fool. Maybe I was stark raving mad. But I knew what I wanted to do. When I threw in my two pennies, I threw myself into the heart and care of God.

What was going to happen next? I really don’t know, but we will find out, won’t we?

“Don’t be afraid, you tiny flock! Your Father plans to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give the money away. Get yourselves purses that never grow old, inexhaustible treasure in Heaven, where no thief can ever reach it, or moth ruin it. For wherever your treasure is, you may be certain that your heart will be there too!”

Luke 12:33, Phillips

Art: Coin Week; verses used are from The Message, a translation of Eugene Peterson

Meet the Pharisee. Meet the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

The Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

The Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.

Meet the Older Brother

Luke 15:25-32

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stomped off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

I hated him. I know I shouldn’t but I did. He betrayed all of us by his nonsense. It all started when he demanded that our father immediately divide up our inheritance. Strange I know. It was a shock, like a punch in the stomach. No one knew what to say, it was so bizarre. I have no idea where this idea came from.

He insisted that we divide things up right this instant. He didn’t have the decency to wait for our father’s funeral. It was such a shameful thing that I couldn’t begin to tell you how mortified I was. No one ever heard of anything happening like this before. Even now, after these many years, I can hardly talk about it.

My father simply did what was asked, there was no argument, no resistance.

The property was appraised, and the money was divided up according to custom. We sat at the kitchen table, and the ass watched to make sure that he received every penny that was coming to him. His hungry greed was beyond belief. He oozed arrogance–it was then I really began to hate him.

Never ever had I been so angry and ashamed.

My younger brother never even batted an eye and my father simply did what was asked. My brother didn’t even have the decency to say “thank you.” I desperately wanted to leave, and I couldn’t. I had to be there, and I felt like I was going to throw up.

Enough of that. Let’s move on.

That ass, my younger brother packed up and left. Occasionally I heard of his escapades. There were awful reports of his drunkenness and whoring. He was spending our father’s money as if it would never going to run out. Even talking about it now makes me angry.

The last I had heard was he was now feeding pigs. He had spent every last dime and now it seems he was getting what he deserved. I didn’t shed a tear, I felt no pity. Good, he was getting what he should of gotten all along. I only wished that things would get even worse.

Coming in from the fields I heard a raucous party coming from the house.

I asked one of the servants what was going on. When they told me I was even more shocked. Our father had arranged a celebration, all because my brother had returned. The fatted calf had been killed, the one that was saved for parties, and I heard shouts of joy and dancing. They were celebrating, and that made no sense to me at all.

I had served the estate faithfully, I had sweated to make things work, and I never got a party like this.

My father came out to find me, I had hid out in a shed–I didn’t want to be a part of this awful charade. When he found me he said that the party had to happen. It seems the scoundrel had the audacity to return–the money was spent, and apparently, he came home in rags–it served him right. He got what he deserved.

He told me about the necessity of this celebration.

My mind reeled. Could things get even crazier? Never had I heard of anything so bizarre. It was beyond belief. My father wanted me to come in and join them; I’d rather die. You have no idea.

He kept telling me that this had to happen–apparently he was given a new robe, and worst of all he was given the family ring, the ring that declared that he was now a full-fledged son, someone who could have all of the privilege and authority of a son. I had never heard of such foolishness.

My father said this was necessary, that my brother who I hoped was dead, was now alive.

How bad could things get? Perhaps my father had lost his mind.

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

Painting: “The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, c. 1667, oil on canvas. This picture shown is a small part. Scripture is The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.

Meet Thomas

John 20:25-29

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

The others had told me that they had seen Jesus. But this couldn’t be. Either they imagined it or they saw His ghost. I saw him brutalized, crucified, and buried, and I knew He was really dead. I was never into pretending, or wish fulfillment. No, not me. When you’re dead, you’re dead. (At least that’s what I thought.)

I remember telling the others that I would only believe them if I could see and feel the scars–the nail holes and the hole in his side. I needed proof, something tangible or solid before I could believe their stories. Part of me hoped it was so, but I honestly couldn’t join the others in their excitement.

Some would call me a doubter–a skeptic.

And maybe I was, but a realist is how I would describe myself. To go along with the others wasn’t going to cut it. They said that they had seen Him and He was very much alive, that somehow, someway He was now resurrected. But for me, I couldn’t believe it. I myself must know it for myself.

Was Jesus alive after all they had done to Him?

We had all gathered in a large room. The door had been locked–we were afraid that the authorities would come for us next. In spite of the confinement, we had some good fellowship that Sunday morning, catching up and sharing stories of the last three years, thinking about all the things Jesus had taught and done.

And suddenly Jesus showed up. Trust me on this if you can–the door was locked, and there was no other way to get in. When Jesus “dropped in” we were completely amazed. He was very much alive–and how can this be? We were all in shock as He stood right in front of us!

Immediately Jesus looked at me, and I looked back–and it was really Him!!

Jesus immediately focused on me, He asked me to come close; He wanted me to touch Him, to inspect and see for myself that He was as real as you or I. He asked me to come and see the nail prints in His hands, and stick my hand in the hole where the Roman soldiers had thrust a spear into His side.

And I was completely undone.

It was really Him, and I couldn’t explain it away. Jesus was real flesh and blood! In a second I went from doubt to faith. How He knew that I had voiced my hesitation out loud I didn’t know. But I now knew for certain Jesus was very much alive. Death was now dead.

“My Master! My God!” was all I could say.

At that moment I became a believing believer. It wasn’t second-hand anymore; I wept and laughed at the same time! I couldn’t explain it, I must believe it. Jesus had overcome death and He was now commanding me to believe.

Immediately I knew, I saw Him for myself.

Looking back I admit my foolishness and doubt; Jesus had sought me out, and somehow He knew that of all His disciples, I needed that special touch. He understood and had come just for me. To this day I realized how much He really loved me–the doubting Thomas.

[According to common Christian tradition, Thomas, was killed by jealous Hindu priests of Kali India. He was burned to death in 72 AD. A church is now established there and still recognizes him as an apostle.]

Bryan’s note: I can relate to Thomas. I was also one who needed to know for myself that Jesus was really God and that He really did rise from the dead. It was reading “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell that propelled me into belief. If you need to know for yourself, I suggest you buy this book. (If you want, I’ll buy it for you.)

Art: Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, c. 1601-1502, oil on canvas–Verses are from The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.

Meet the Crippled Woman, Healed on the Sabbath

Luke 13:10-13

“He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even lookup. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.”

———————-

(vv. 15-16, Upon criticism by the Pharisees)

(But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?”

17 When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.)

I was used to looking at the ground when I walked. My disease had gotten so bad that I had to use crutches to keep my balance. It seemed I sort of adjusted to seeing others out of the corner of my eyes, what can I say, you learn to adapt. You deal with the pain, and I know that many have it much worse.

I’ve endured this for 18 very long years, and at times it was easy to bear, and other times it’s very bitter and hard. God knows my heart, and I’ll take whatever He brings me.

At least I could still attend the weekly service at the synagogue. I made it there faithfully as it was my custom. The people knew me there, and they were quite kind and they accommodated my disability–I had a lot of friends there. I even had my own special spot.

But then Jesus came and taught.

On that Sabbath evening, my miracle came. The service was electric, the teacher that some were calling the Messiah began to speak. His words were coated (that’s all I can say,) with incredible authority. We had never ever heard from anyone like him. The hairs on my head began to tingle.

When he spoke we listened!

Jesus looked and He saw me. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, and I wasn’t expecting anything really. But He asked me to come forward, and again I really didn’t know why. I hobbled to Him with my crutches.

It was then He stated that I was free!

He reached out and touched me. And in an instant I stood up straight as an arrow. The pain was gone, and I was now completely whole. Now I can’t exactly say what happened. All I know was one minute I was twisted and bent over, and the next second I was standing upright!

The Pharisees went bonkers. I suppose my healing didn’t exactly fit in with their theology. I don’t really know about that. They accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. They became cruel and nasty. Jesus was angry at their foolishness. All I know is that I was full of joy.

I was now whole!

Jesus made an incredible observation. If a donkey could be untied and led out of a stall on the Sabbath, why couldn’t a real healing happen on God’s special day. This observation blew the Pharisees out-of-the-water. They couldn’t answer his heavenly logic. They were embarrassed. I suppose they now looked like fools to the congregation.

He gave me a new name, “a daughter of Abraham.”

This was a treasure, and I’ve contemplated that new name over the years. What do I now think of Jesus? I truly believe He is the Messiah–the Son of God!

Art: I honestly don’t know, I think it’s public domain. The verses come from the Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation.

Meet the Rich Young Ruler

Mark 10:17-22

As he was starting out on a trip, a man came running to him and knelt down and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get to heaven?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good! 19 But as for your question—you know the commandments: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, respect your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws.”

21 Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. “You lack only one thing,” he told him; “go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor—and you shall have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.”

22 Then the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away, for he was very rich.

My name is inconsequential. I suppose all you must know of me is I tried to keep God’s Law and that I was very wealthy. Many believed that being rich was evidence that God approved of me. Of that, I wasn’t too sure. I kept the Law out of fear I suppose, and at times I just knew it wasn’t quite enough.

As I studied I began to realize that riches weren’t going to make me righteous. There was enough Scripture in me to let me know that it wasn’t enough. The prophets, especially Isaiah spoke about the deadliness of wealth, but there was that one verse in Proverbs that really disturbed me:

“Your riches won’t help you on Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then.”

This verse and all of the others were the cause of many a sleepless night.

I was tormented by the reality of standing before God with nothing but my money to cover me. Perhaps I was just being overly concerned. Coming under God’s righteous judgment haunted me. I thought of it day and night. I was terrified of being damned. My righteousness wasn’t enough, and I knew it.

I heard about Jesus (and who hasn’t)–some were claiming that he was the Messiah. He was at least a wonderful teacher and many said he worked miracles. Just perhaps he had answers for me. I hoped so, but I needed to know. It was my questions that drove me to find him.

And finding him was easy–I just followed the crowd.

I went ahead of his retinue of followers. I knelt in his path and waited. I must know what he thought. When he stood before me I asked the question that had haunted me my whole life–“Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

Being a good Jew he answered my question with a question. It now seems that he wanted me to see what really mattered. I answered him with my “righteous” commitment to the Law of Moses. I did what was important–at least that’s what I thought. But still, in spite of all that, I felt no security and no real peace.

Jesus looked right at me. I knew deep down that he loved me.

But oh those words, his words really disturbed me. He told me that I only lacked one thing, that I must sell everything and distribute the money to the poor. Only by doing that would discover riches in heaven. And only then could I truly follow him.

And that was the thing I couldn’t do.

I went away grieved. If he had asked for anything else I would have done it. You see, my wealth was my real obstacle. Deep down I suddenly knew that everything I possessed was now my stumbling block. It was my idol, my golden calf, and it was a sacrifice that I could never make.

I’ve come to realize now, over my many years, that when I do finally stand before God, I will have nothing to save me. Jesus invited me to follow, and I didn’t.

And that my friend meant I would die in my sin.

Meet Matthew, (also known as Levi)

Mark 2:13-14

“Then Jesus went out to the seashore again and preached to the crowds that gathered around him. 14 As he was walking up the beach he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at his tax collection booth. “Come with me,” Jesus told him. “Come be my disciple.”

“And Levi jumped to his feet and went along.”

My name is Levi, and I once collected taxes for Rome. It was a good living–it’s funny, but my parents chose my name– “Gift of God.” They were pious Jews who dreamed I would be more than I was. I sometimes wonder. Did they understand what Jesus was calling me to become?

As a tax collector, I was considered unclean. A small step above a leper I guess. The Temple was off-limits for me; I never had any sacrifice for my many sins. I carried my guilt like a heavy jacket on a hot day–some would say that God turned his back on me. I was seen as a collaborator, a betrayer of my people.

Do you know what it’s like to be damned?

My friends were sinners like me. In some dark way, we understood each other, we were all outcasts. Some of us were drunkards and whores, others were thieves and scoundrels, all of us were undesirable. They say that misery loves company–and we all were very much lost.

My tax booth was situated at a crossroads, it was ideal for collecting taxes. No one carrying goods could come by without paying me. Over time I became wealthy, and that was very good, for me anyway. But, I must admit at times that it was very hard. I wondered if that was all my life was good for, collecting coins for Rome.

Jesus was teaching near my booth, I listened to Him, and that was a good thing. But when He passed by me my mind and heart finally came together. I both felt and knew that there had never ever been someone like Him. I prided myself as a good judge of character–my business taught me that. But I realized exactly who He was.

He stopped right in front of my booth.

Jesus looked hard at me. I felt His eyes searching and I realized that He seemed to look right through me. I guess He knew exactly who and what I was all about, and it unnerved me, but in a good way. I wasn’t seeing Him, rather it was He that saw me.

Jesus’ words were a lightning bolt. “Come, follow me.” And suddenly all I attained in my business was a pile of nothingness. I can never get over the shock of those words– Jesus, the Messiah wanted me. What those words meant was non-negotiable. He had put His call on me, someone who was very much lost.

What could I say–what could I do?

To follow was not optional. I saw the silver and gold and realized they meant nothing. I left the coins on the table and I started to live a life that really mattered. I have never doubted or questioned that moment. What could I do, but follow Him?

We had a going-away party that night and I invited all my “disreputable” friends. Jesus shared many wonderful things with us. We had never had anyone who really cared for us like Him. We had never experienced this before.

The Pharisees were incensed. They began to rebuke Jesus for setting down to eat and fellowship with us. In their minds my home was unclean–we were all unclean. But that was not the way of Jesus. He loved us when nobody else would.

“When Jesus heard what they were saying, he told them, “Sick people need the doctor, not healthy ones! I haven’t come to tell good people to repent, but the bad ones.”

Mark 2:17

Art: Wautier, Carel; The Calling of Saint Matthew,” c. 1650

Meet Martha

Luke 10:38-42

38 While they were traveling, he entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.”

41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary wasn’t lazy–I knew that. I saw her sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his every word. Perhaps I was jealous, I don’t know. And maybe I knew that I belonged there, to absorb his teaching and those wonderful parables. Looking back at it all, I should have been there too. It was a missed opportunity.

But there was so very much to do.

Jesus was in my home and all the disciples as well. I needed my younger sister’s help. There was cleaning to do. Bread must be baked, olives and figs needed to be washed, cucumbers and melons sliced up. The lamb must be cooked. There wasn’t enough time for me to do this work.

Mary did nothing. She needed to help me, and that was our priority. After all, teaching was for the men, that’s how it was supposed to work. My sister was definitely not pulling her weight. We needed to serve all of these men–they were counting on us.

We should be serving, not sitting.

For a while, I bit my tongue. But I was getting more and more frustrated with her. Couldn’t she see? Why did I have to do all the work? Finally, it had to boil over. I went to Jesus to intervene in Mary’s foolishness. Surely He would do something. He would surely understand my predicament.

“Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

I’ll never forget what He said to me. He was kind and loving, the rebuke didn’t originate with Him. It came from inside me. At that moment I knew that my priorities were very wrong–

“Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her.”

There are those times when everything becomes crystal clear. Mary was right where she was supposed to be. Jesus knew my anxiety. He completely understood my question, and I knew He was totally aware of me. His word of gentle correction nailed me.

Truly Mary had discovered God’s will, and I had not.

In all my labor I had forgotten what was truly important. Jesus’ words saved me from me. I wasn’t called to work hard; I was called to just sit, next to my sister, listening to the words of my master.

Meet the Woman Caught in Adultery

John 8:3-11

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They asked this to trap him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse him.

Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only he was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, Lord,” she answered.

I remember how Jesus defended me from the religious men. I had been publically led through the crowds. The temple was filled with people who were there for the festival. It was a time of joy and feasting, but not for me. Definitely not for me.

The religious police escorted me to Jesus. I was now the focus of everyone’s attention. I felt dirty and ashamed. Standing there I could feel the leering looks from the Pharisees; but there was something else as well, a look from Jesus that I had never seen before. There was compassion there, something quite extraordinary.

I’m ashamed, but I committed adultery, sleeping with another man who wasn’t my husband.

I was to be stoned, to know hard rocks thrown by “holy” men. The Law had pronounced my guilt, and I knew exactly how I was to be punished. And I deserved it. Yet the man who I slept with was never charged, he escaped and it was I that would be put to death. I didn’t blame him.

My shame was now public knowledge–everyone knew, the Pharisees made sure of that. Jesus had been accepted by some to be the Messiah and by others not so much. I wasn’t sure one way or another. I was in a daze, not able to even try to defend myself.

They only put me front and center to test Him. These men who brought me had ulterior motives, they desperately hoped Jesus would stumble. I think they wanted to prove once and all to the crowds that were watching that Jesus really wasn’t the Messiah. They wanted to trap him.

Jesus realized the implications of this satanic effort.

Only Rome had the power of execution, and the Mosaic Law declared that I was to die. I stood waiting, expecting the worst. What else could I do?

It’s funny, but Jesus understood all of this. He seemed to look right through this theological trick, and He responded in a way that really shocked everyone. He never spoke, but bowed low and began to write in the dirt with his finger. Amidst their vicious accusations, they pressed their case.

Jesus bent down again, and he wrote some more.

I never knew what he wrote–but I had to believe it must have been something that revealed the sin in the hearts of the men who were accusing me. In that moment, they quickly dropped the case against me. They all filed out, one by one, in dramatic fashion. I now stood alone with Jesus.

Jesus looked directly at me. I was still afraid, but it was strange, I felt a wave of peace as well. I quietly waited, not knowing what He was going to say to me. I half expected the worst.

Yes, he did confront me. He wanted me to acknowledge that those accusing men had left. I saw it and understood. Jesus was asking me to believe that I was now really free. But then he wanted me to understand something that seemed quite crucial.

“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

That dear one was a powerful moment. He set me free with the understanding that He did not condemn me. My new freedom came with a catch–sort of. I knew then that my sin must be renounced. My freedom came with a price. But knowing I was completely released, meant I was now a free woman.

At that moment I understood completely.

Meet The Thief on the Cross

Luke 23:39-43, CSB

“Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 “But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 “And he said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The pain was incredible, but I know that deep down I deserved to die. But not like this. Never like this. I was almost out of my mind with fear. What they were about to do to me was terrifying.

You must understand that I was a common thief. I had stolen a loaf of bread when I was eight years old and that’s how it all got started for me. It more or else got bigger and easier. I knew how to steal and I was quite good at it. I was Jacob, the master thief!

When I was finally caught, they had sentenced me to die. I supposed it was inevitable. I fault no one but myself as I knew what I was getting into. As I dragged my beam up to Golgotha, it was really strange but I suddenly remembered a verse from the scripture and it really did unsettle me.

“Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”

It’s a terrible thing to die this way. There were three of us, nailed to the wood and lifted up between heaven and earth. Jesus was nailed to the middle cross, not that it really mattered; all three of us were going to die today. Many hope for a simple and easy death, maybe in their sleep–but that’s not going to happen to us.

The third man could only mock, he was afraid, and I suppose he just echoed those Pharisees who didn’t really understand. But I knew better. I knew who this other man was, I had heard all the stories. Deep down I knew that this man on the center cross was the Messiah.

A crowd had gathered to watch us die. The Romans in their wonderful ingenuity had made a sign that they nailed above Jesus’ head, and it declared that to everyone that Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” Even as he was dying, they found a way to malign him and to irritate the crowd.

The other man being crucified continued to mock Jesus, and it infuriated me.

Why I defended him I don’t know for sure.

But I understood. He was being murdered out of envy and jealousy. He didn’t deserve to die like this, but the powers that be hated him, and who can confront these religious men without becoming a victim. Jesus had repeatedly crossed the line, so now they were now putting him to death. It seemed evil was really winning today.

I saw the soldiers throwing dice for Jesus’ clothes. He was now being mocked by them as well, even as he was dying on a brutal cross.

But all of a sudden it all made perfect sense, he really was the Messiah, and these bastards were killing him. Crucifixion was starting to work on me now. I began to choke on my words, and it was getting hard to breathe.

“Jesus… please remember me. When your Kingdom comes, please let me be a part of it.”

And as beaten as he was, he managed to turn and look directly at me. They had whipped and brutalized him, and yet he was still aware. His words were whispered now, but I understood. “I promise that today you will be with me in paradise.”

I was starting to spasm again, but the horror of death had left me. Some time had passed, and I could hear his breathing stop. But for the first time, I had peace. They used a spear on Jesus, but he was already dead.

The soldiers now came to the two of us, and they were carrying an ax to break our legs. It all had to do with the coming festival, and the Pharisees wanted us dead. When they swung that ax I knew pain that I could never describe. My own death came quickly after that.

I was suddenly standing in paradise, whole and complete.

Someone was standing before me. He was shining I remember, and I knew he was powerful; stronger, and he was more glorious than anyone I had ever met. It was crazy but somehow I knew that he was an angel and he had been sent to meet me. It’s funny, but I realized that somehow I really did belong. Me–a dirty rotten thief.

Jesus had promised me, he had pronounced me righteous, me of all people. I suddenly had a joy that I could never explain. I really was a part of the Kingdom that was beyond anything I had ever known. And all I can really say about this was that I was privileged to die with him. That is all I could claim. I simply believed him and asked if somehow I could be part of his eternal rule.

I simply asked and he gave me everything.

Cover Art: “Christ on the Cross between Two Thieves,” by Peter Paul Rubens

Meet Judas Iscariot

Matthew 27:3-10

My name is Judas Iscariot, and I betrayed my Lord. It really had nothing to do with avarice or greed. The money was fine, don’t get me wrong, but that isn’t why I turned him in to the authorities. I simply did what they couldn’t. I wanted to force Jesus’ hand, so he had to drive the Romans out of our country. I was mistaken, I see that now.

Jesus loved each of us, including me. But I didn’t see it at the time.

When he knelt to wash my feet, it shook me. When he stripped down to his undergarments, I admit I had some serious doubts. Behaving like a common slave wasn’t really in my thinking. It would take extra work to shape him, and to deaden such strange behavior. But it would be worth it in the end, if only Jesus would cooperate.

In my mind, I knew that Jesus only needed the right moment to become the next ruler of Israel. That was his destiny, and I was going to help him bring it to pass. I knew that God had called me–this was my purpose. I’d be the kingmaker, and Jesus would certainly reward me.

Some have said that Satan was inside me.

But I hardly noticed. Instead, I was filled with excitement. Finally, the other disciples would come to my side, and together we could make it happen. Enough kneeling, no more groveling–we’re going to rule Israel and end the wicked Roman occupation. I truly believed this. He was our Messiah, our deliverer.

The tricky part was to convince Jesus, to try to manipulate him if necessary, to get him to take control.

My plan was simplicity itself–after I met with the Pharisees, I’d lead them to the garden where Jesus was staying. They insisted on an armed escort, just in case there was trouble among the disciples. I suppose that was prudent, but my part in all of this was simply to give Jesus a kiss on the cheek, to signify that he was the one to the soldiers.

I assumed he would resist and fight. I was so wrong.

Nothing went as planned. Jesus didn’t take charge, and he certainly didn’t overthrow the government. As a matter of fact, you could say that the opposite happened; he was silent and refused to answer most of their questions. I did hear him say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I should have listened.

I realized way too late, that I helped shed innocent blood. I went back to the priests who hired me, and I insisted they take back the silver. They refused. I threw the bag at their feet and left the temple. Ugly thoughts now filled my mind, and I knew without a doubt that I was completely lost.

Please excuse me, but I have a date with a rope.