Friday, March 25, 2016

I DIED ON THE CROSS NEXT TO JESUS

I don’t have a name that you would recognize, but it was a name many people in Jerusalem once knew. My name was one that they hated.

I was a robber, but not just a typical thief. My partner and I became notorious for the terror that we exacted on the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. We prided ourselves for escaping capture for so long. I held great disdain for the law and for the people and I actually enjoyed terrorizing the people. It made me feel powerful and invincible.

However, in the end, my partner and I were caught. The courts tried, convicted and sentenced us. So hated were we that the sentence was the worst one that they could possibly give us. Not only was it execution, but it was execution by crucifixion, the most excruciating kind of death.

I almost did not care. I hated these people so much, I was almost glad to be taken away from them. My hatred for these people had grown so much that I also had come to hate my own life, and even life itself. I was glad to die! I loathed life!

But crucifixion is not a quick death. It sometimes takes days to die. It is a painful and prolonged sort of death. The executioners usually whip the condemned one first, both for the initial pain and also so that they would put deep wounds into his back so that it chafes against the rough wood of the cross. That is what they did to me. They were careful not to whip me excessively, because they wanted my misery to be extended to the crucifixion itself.

Oh, the executioners knew their business! They knew just how many lashes to give to me to maximize my suffering for the longest period of time possible.
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Monday, March 21, 2016

MULTITUDE MENTALITY

(Fair Weather Followers)

It is astonishing how a period of one week can completely change a person’s opinion about something. Changing situations can, of course, change opinions. However, it is also true that we are a capricious people. Many times the reasons for the changes that we make are ill defined, or not defined at all.

There is perhaps no greater example of this than what occurred almost 2000 years ago. It all began on the original Palm Sunday. The people of Judea were enthralled with the personality of Jesus. On that day, as he was coming from Jericho into Jerusalem,
he was followed by what Matthew calls “a great multitude.” People wanted to see Him. People wanted to be with Him. “Hosanna!” they shouted. “Salvation!” It was a triumphal entry.


Entry of Christ into Jerusalem
Anthony vanDyck (1599-1641)


It was scarcely one week later that Jesus was on trial before Pilate. Pilate saw the anger that the Pharisees had against Jesus, but Pilate himself could find no reason why Jesus should be put to death. In those days and in that place there was a custom in honor of the celebration of Passover. According to this custom, the governor would release for the people one prisoner of their choice.

Pilate was hoping that this custom would get him out of his predicament. He asked the people whom he should release for them. He had heard of the happenings of the week before when Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst a great crowd of admirers. No doubt, Pilate had even witnessed part of the celebration. The multitudes were laying palm branches and even their own coats in front of Jesus to give him a carpeted path to the city.

Pilate thought he knew the depth of the popularity of Jesus with the Jewish people. Perhaps, he thought, the people would get him off the hook by requesting the release of Jesus. But Pilate was basing his hopes on the attitude of the crowd one week before. He did not take into account how the opinion of the multitude could change in a matter of only a few days....

Sunday, March 13, 2016

BROKEN AND POURED OUT

Not many days before he was to be crucified, Jesus was a guest in a home in the village of Bethany, a place not far from Jerusalem. The house was that of one Simon, a man who had been a leper but must have been healed some time before, presumably by Jesus. The man was still called “Simon the Leper.” It would be interesting to talk with Simon the leper to see what he thought of this moniker. Did he wish that people would dispel with the leper part? After all, he no longer had leprosy.

It is a bit like the Old Testament woman Rahab, who had been delivered out of prostitution. Even into the New Testament some fifteen hundred years after she lived, this woman is still called “Rahab the harlot” (Hebrews 11:31 James 2:25). Would she have wished these writers would not have included the harlot part when referring to her? Especially since, not only had she stopped being a prostitute, but also, as the story turned out, she eventually would be part of the line of heritage from whom Jesus Christ would be born.

These are among the questions that I want to ask these historical figures when I meet them one day. I wonder if instead of wanting people to drop these words as part of their names, they perhaps instead considered these titles a constant reminder of the conditions from which they were delivered. Praise God! Simon was no longer a leper, Rahab was no longer a prostitute, but the titles were a like a remembrance token to tell others about the source of their deliverance. 

Jesus was at the home of Simon the leper. It seems that several had been invited to the house for a meal, including Lazarus, the man that Jesus had raised from the dead. In the same line of thought, we might call this man “Lazarus the dead man.” But he was no longer dead. Jesus had again given him life.

Paul the Sinner

The Apostle Paul, long after he had served the Lord many years, still called himself the “foremost” of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

Sunday, March 6, 2016

EATING WITH SINNERS

One of the aspects about the life of Jesus which sometimes goes unnoticed, is that the people who were mostly attracted to his teachings were not the religious people of his day. Rather, those who were predominantly drawn to the teachings of Jesus were those who were called the ungodly ones of their society.

This should be a little surprising to us, because it is just the
opposite of what we might expect. In the experience of our own day, the “sinners” of our society largely tend to reject the teachings of Jesus, delegating his words as something that “church people” listen to.

Jesus: From Detail of Larger Painting by Rembrandt Van Rijn
But in fact, the religious people of Jesus’ day mostly spoke against him, accusing him of everything from drunkenness to gluttony. There is one account that is found in the Bible where the Pharisees and the scribes, men who were considered the most highly religious of their day, began to grumble against Jesus.

Jesus had been speaking in a public place, and he was beginning to draw a crowd, mostly consisting of people who were known as “tax gathers” and “sinners.” These were the individuals who were basically rejected by the more religious people of the society.

The Pharisees and the scribes (the religious people), who were also present in the crowd, began to grumble against Jesus. They said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

These religious and highly respected men certainly would not have done that! They would not be found associating with these “sinners” in any way, much less eat with them! After all, what would people think?

Although the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling among themselves, Jesus seems to have heard what they were saying about him, since he began to address what they were murmuring about. He did this by telling three short stories.