He had to become Human

He had to become as human as His sisters and brothers so that when the time came, He could become a merciful and faithful high priest of God, called to reconcile a sinful people. Since He has also been tested by suffering, He can help us when we are tested. [Hebrews 2:17-18 VOICE]

Was it possible for God to understand humanity without becoming human. Could the One who created all things understand temptation if such a One had never experienced it? Was it necessary for the Son of God to become the son of man? These questions point the essence of the incarnation. Why was Jesus born? Why was it necessary for God to be born human and experience life as a human?

I am not sure that anyone can categorically answer this question. On one hand God is presented as One who CAN do anything. Following that logic, it seems appropriate to think that he could experience life as a human without becoming one. On the other hand, I think it is appropriate to say that God had to become one of us so that we could relate to God. To understand who He is. How He reacts. In a very real sense Jesus came to show us how to react when we are tested and find ourselves suffering unjustly.

So the issue, in my view, is not so much about God gaining a knowledge of humanity he did not have but more of us gaining a knowledge of God that we did not have. The incarnation, life, teachings and ministry of Christ teach us so many things about God. Like what real humility looks like when we are treated unfairly. How being silent when we suffer is more powerful than talking. And how the power of prayer can make us each merciful and faithful priests. In this sense He had to become human.

In our suffering Lord help us to be faithful priests and merciful reconcilers.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Jesus is not ashamed of Us

He purifies people from their sins, and both he and those who are made pure all have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his family. [Hebrews 2:11 HCSB]

I have found the purification from sin to be an ongoing process. We have been purified. We are being purified. And we will be purified. It is a process of transforming maturation. Each time we follow the Holy Spirit's lead He purifies us a bit more. With each step of faith we become more like Jesus.

Disobedience brings shame. We sin and feel the shame of how our actions impact those around us. Shame is a powerful dynamic in life. Yet when God looks at us he sees past our shame. Past our sin. He sees us as saints purified from shameful deeds. Jesus sees us as spiritual brothers and sisters.

In like manner it is our obligation to see ourselves and those in our spiritual family with the eyes of Christ. We must resist the urge to identify our spiritual brothers and sisters as 'sinners'. They are, like us, in a process of purification. We must not be ashamed of these saints of God.

Forgive me Lord for all of the times that I cast shame on your children.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

He Entered into our Suffering

He is wearing a crown of glory and honor because he suffered and died. [Hebrews 2:9 NCV]

In every sense Jesus entered into the suffering of all of humanity when he was born of the virgin. He suffered things like bruises. Disappointments. Sadness. Grief. Everything that we suffer he suffered in some form. On top of that he suffered by exchanging an eternal existence for a temporal one.

The incarnation is something that no one can understand because the experience uniquely belongs to Jesus. Yet it is safe to speculate that Jesus must have felt confined by a space and time that he created. Some think that it would be like one of us deciding to live and die as an ant.

Both the incarnation and the crucifixion gives us examples of what it means to enter into the suffering of another. These provide us with a spiritual road-map. Will we, like Jesus, choose to enter into the suffering of others or will we choose to keep a 'safe distance' from those who need us the most?

I am selfish Lord. I only think of myself. Help me to deny myself. To really love.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

distributed according to His will

God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. [Hebrews 2:2,4 NET]

The subject of miracles and spiritual gifts is one that has been debated for many years. Some believe that such things ceased when the canon of scripture was completed. Others see miracles in the ordinary events of life like the birth of a baby. Most of us pray for them when we are in impossible times.

My views on these things have changed over the years. I still believe in miracles but think they are rare. In contrast I do not think that spiritual gifts are all that rare. Especially if we are open to to seeing such gifts with new eyes. I have often sensed the Holy Spirit working in the oddest ways.

I have felt the presence of God. That oneness with Him has changed me. It has given me eyes of compassion and words of encouragement. I have felt my heart break for a friend in marital troubles or one with a cancer diagnosis. These transformative things seem to be a part of his will for me.

Forgive me Lord for wanting what you give more than what you are. Fill me afresh.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

an Antidote for Spiritual Drifting

We must give our full attention to what we were told, so that we won’t drift away. [Hebrews 2:1 CEV]

The spiritual walk is an intentional effort. It requires our full attention and engagement. No one has ever drifted to their workplace or arrived by accident to their desired destination. The spiritual life is a disciplined journey. Consider what the apostle Paul writes to Timothy:
"discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things ... for the present life and also for the life to come."
Spiritual disciple does to our heart what physical training does to the body. By taking in good things we nourish our heart. By doing good things we exercise our heart. As in the physical these things take time and effort. No one grows or gets strong over night. It is why need to be spiritually disciplined.

Help us Lord to develop disciplines that grow and strengthen our inner being.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the Prostrating posture of Worship

“Let all God’s angels worship him.” [Hebrews 1:6 NIV]

Worship is a fascinating concept. In modern times the concept has become one of song, jubilation and praising with our voices. In this verse the Greek word proskynéō is rendered 'worship' by most translators. It can also be translated: "to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior".

Mostly, I think that we have lost the concept of prostrating ourselves before God. My sense is that the word conveys meanings like submission and humility. There is a reverential posture that is communicated when we read about someone prostrating before God. There is also a sense of prayer in it.

That said, I think that the word may communicate too much of a physical perspective. Many who prostrate the body have not done so with their heart. In truth worship is always always always a matter of the heart. Prostrating our heart to His. Bowing our will to His. Worship is so much more than music.

Lord. We come. We bow. Let your kingdom come in us. Let your will be done.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

a Creator of creators

In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth [Hebrews 1:10 NIV]

What comes to your mind when you hear the word foundation? I think of a house being built. Everything rests on the foundation. Jesus speaks of this idea when he compares building our lives on either the rock of his words or on the shifting sands of own ways. The foundation is the most important part of a structure.

Yet the foundation is not the whole thing. Isn't it interesting that God lays a foundation and we build on it? This speaks to me of a divine imagination. Surely God could have done more than lay the building blocks of creation. Yet he chose to involve us in the creation of offspring and other parts of his earth.

That said, this may not resonate with some who imagine God to be doing more than building foundations. Some imagine God to be in control of every part of the building process. These do not see the wonder of creation that I do. I mean really, is it not wonderful to see God as a Creator of creators.

I want to build on divine foundations Lord. Inspire me to create new things.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Do angels serve because they love?

In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? [Hebrews 1:7,14 NIV]

What goes through your mind when you hear the word angel? Perhaps you think of images from a movie or from the bible? Have you ever considered that angels can take on different forms? The word angel can also be translated messenger. It seems logical that such messengers could appear in human form.

Is it not interesting that angels are referred to as servants? Not surprising to me that these spiritual beings serve God. Yet the idea that they serve believers is quite wonderful. All things seem to be created to serve. In some sense service is a thread that runs through all of creation. Serving is love in action.

A thought comes to me that I have never had before. I wonder if the angels serve because they love? Are there angels who do what they do because they love us? Is their ministry to us simply an expression of their love? In serving are they not providing us with a heavenly example of what it means to love? I think so.

Teach us Lord to connect the dots between loving and serving.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

You are my Son

For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus:
     “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.”  [Hebrews 1:5 NLT]

I love what theologian John Gill says about this verse: "Christ is the Son of God, not by Creation, nor by adoption, nor by office, but by nature". Unlike the angels, Jesus existed before anything was created. He laid aside such an existence when he was born. Even in that he showed us the humble nature of God.

The gospel accounts testify of this nature. With each step he took. With every word he spoke. Jesus testified of the true nature of his Father. When tested by religious experts he showed a heavenly wisdom. He taught us the nature of love as he embraced the leper and healed the sick. He was God incarnate.

And with his last breaths he revealed the true nature of God. He forgave. He encouraged. And he endured. He never gave up. He revealed to us what it is like to be God's child. So with this in mind, I invite you to live fully into your inheritance. To live in such a way that God's nature is revealed to others.

Teach us Lord to walk in such a way that your nature is manifested in our lives.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Elevated above the Angels

This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is
elevated above theirs. [Hebrews 1:4 VOICE]

The One who the angels proclaimed is greater than the angels. This is the central focus of the remainder of this chapter. In the following verses the writer alludes to the idea that the Son is God himself. It is in this context that the Son is greater. In a sense only the Creator can ever be greater than the created.

In truth there are but two distinctions: Creator and created. Yet humans tend to rank our existence based on lineage or rank. It seems to be important to some to feel superior to others. This is temporal thinking. It does not recognize the common fate of all things. Death levels the playing field. It comes to each being.

So the question is this. Will we, the created, accept the rule of the Creator or will we rebuff his reign? Will we acknowledge His holy name or will we proclaim our names above his? It is a simple concept but one that is difficult to live out. We often forget who we are. We forget that the Creator has created us to love.

Remind us again Lord that we are wonderfully made to love and serve you and your creation.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

He Sat Down

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high [Hebrews 1:3 ESV]

The Mosaic Law contained a set of rules that dealt with the types of animal sacrifices that were required to deal with sins. These sacrifices were done on a continual basis in Jerusalem even in the days of Christ. Sacrifices were a large focus of Judaism and every Jew was compelled to participate.

In a sense sin, and the need for purification, was always before a believer. In contrast these verses speak to a different type of cleansing. When we read "he sat down" we understand that another sacrifice is not needed. On the cross Jesus eliminated the need for sacrifice because sin was dealt with in full.

Yet even today there is a sin consciousness that is prevalent amongst Christians. These identify more as ones sinning than ones forgiven. At every turn they seem to be reminded of their failings and shortcomings. These have never discovered the truth that Jesus has purified us from our sins.

We give thanks to you Lord for the finished work of your son on the cross.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the exact representation of His nature

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. [Hebrews 1:1-3 NASB]

I think that a book written to Hebrews by a Christian writer would first have to speak of things contained in the Old Testament. Such a text would need to address how, in light of messianic revelation, one should read the Hebrew scriptures. And whether a Hebrew is obligated to obey Mosaic Law?

In these first few verses the writer seems to make a contrast between things written by men moved by God and things expressed by the exact representation of God. He seems to indicate that things "spoken to us in His Son" carry a greater weight than things spoken by the prophets. I find this helpful.

The "Red Letter Christian" phenomenon is a reflection of such thinking. That approach helps me to discern spiritual truth when I read the Old Testament. As I read I filter the text through the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus. This method has helped me to process and understand many things written there.

Teach us Lord to process everything that we read, hear and see through Jesus.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

She bent over to look into the tomb ...

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb ... Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”. Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. -John 20:11,15-17 NRSV

I so love this exchange between Mary and Jesus. The transition from tears to joy speaks so deeply to me about the transformative power of the resurrection. Isn't it so interesting how Mary did not pay too much attention to this guy? It was unimaginable that this "gardener" could be the one she followed for many years.

Then he spoke her name and everything changed. Gardner became Teacher! Death became Life. Sorrow became Joy! I can see her rushing to him with a holy embrace. Such is the impact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believing that Jesus is alive gives us a holy hope that we will live with him forever.

Dear Lord Jesus. Because you live we live too. Because of the resurrection our fear of death is gone.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing series on the Gospel of John.

The Weekend that Changed My Life

April is an awesome time of the year for me - it is the time that I remember that Easter weekend in 1976 when I gave my heart to Jesus. My journey to that weekend started in April 1972 when my new bride (we were married the previous June) Ellen came home from a visit to an ophthalmologist with bad news – he told her that the retinas in both eyes were hemorrhaging and she would be blind within a month. The next 3 years were painful years ... visits to eye hospitals ... failed laser surgeries ... losing hope about life as I watched as my beautiful perky wife retreated into painful despair. Several years later hope was returning ... Ellen was seeing in shades of gray ... she could somewhat function with a powerful magnifying glass. Then hope was crushed on a Sunday in November 1974 when Ellen awoke with dark spots in her eyes ... before the day was out everything was black again ... I was devastated!

The days were dark again ... sadness and despair ruled the day ... I medicated with beer and bourbon. Then something changed – I transferred to Houston Texas from Newark New Jersey in February 1975 ... Ellen and I moved in March. Within a week of moving to our new house Marvale, a neighbor, knocked on the door ... Ellen answered the door and Marvale knew instantly why they had move to Houston ... you see she and her husband Jerry (with their 2 children) were packing their moving van in Oklahoma that same Sunday that Ellen’s eyes were hemorrhaging ... they had no clue why they were being transferred to Houston ... but God knew and when she met Ellen Marvale also knew. A friendship began to grow with our new neighbors ... Jerry tried to talk to me about Jesus but I would have nothing to do with religion or God ... my wounds went deep.

On a Sunday in August 1975 Ellen capitulated to Marvale’s invitation to come to church ... after all I had to work that day and couldn't go ... and went to church with her and her family. The pastor did something different that morning ... before he gave his sermon he asked if anyone would like to invite Jesus into their heart ...Ellen’s hand shot up ... she was the only one and the pastor decided to speak to her after the service. He proceeded to give his sermon and asked people to turn to a bible passage ... as Marvale opened her bible Ellen looked down and pointed to the scrpture ... she saw the words of the scripture ... and could read the very small print ... she could not believe what had happened ... she could now see out of her left eye ... simply miraculous!

That evening I returned home from work to this wild and thoroughly unbelievable story and ... being a very wounded and skeptical man ... I shrugged it off as a part of the weirdness of our lives. A week later the reality of the miracle hit me in the face ... I came home to the news that Ellen had ... for the first time in over 3 years ... got her drivers license ... I was shocked and could no longer stay in denial of what had happened to her ... she had passed the eye exam. At her insistence we started going to the church where she accepted Jesus ... what a weird place ... people smiled and seemed to enjoy church ... there were no hymnals ... they didn’t kneel ... it made me feel quite uncomfortable. I quickly took control and announced that we would begin attending an Episcopal Church ... the denomination that I grew up in. Ellen acquiesced and we began a journey that encompassed several churches and many Full Gospel Businessmen’s meetings. I was beginning to see that faith was more than a religion ... I started to be lovingly ... and sometimes not so lovingly confronted ... with the scriptures.

On a weeknight in the fall of 1975 Ellen interrupted my TV time with a few questions ... ones that would impact me for the rest of my life. She started with “Do you believe in the bible?” I replied sarcastically “Of course I do ... Episcopalians believe in the bible.” ... I wasn’t going to let her get the best of me ... my religion was just as good as hers. She asked another question: “Do you believe in evolution?” I said “Of course I do ... it is science.” Then she said something that rocked me – “Then you don’t believe in the bible”. Of course being a New Yorker I had to say something, so I retorted “I don’t know about all that but whatever the Episcopalians believe is what I believe.” I had no clue what the bible said because I had never read it and for some reason this bothered me.

As the months passed I watched Ellen become stronger ... we would argue ... I would win but didn’t really feel that I had won. She was being transformed into something beautiful. Then Good Friday 1976 came ... by now we were watching the 700 Club almost every night ... I was often moved by testimonies of healings and miracles. That Friday night Pat Robertson invited us to take communion with him ... we used a hamburger bun and apple juice ... it was so moving ... my heart was touched and broken. The next night we attended a Full Gospel Businessmen’s convention with Jerry and Marvale ... a medical doctor spoke ... the message was endearing ... then came an altar call for healing ... Ellen still struggled with diabetes and went forward for prayer. As I watched her go forward my heart broke once again and I closed my eyes and prayed my first real prayer. I began to pray by saying “God if you will heal my wife I will stop drinking” ... as I spoke a presence came over me ... I became aware that I was a sinner ... I felt dirty on the inside ... I changed my prayer and told the Lord I would give up the booze because it was what he wanted me to do ... I didn't really know it but I was surrendering my heart to Him. A minute later I opened my eyes and there was Jerry standing in front of me – he told me that the speaker was praying for people and asked me to go down with him. I went down and the man put his hand on my head and blessed me ... that was it ... I thought that nothing had happened ... that is until the next day.

The next day was Easter and we went to church in the evening with our neighbors ... no one had a clue what I had done in the quietness of my heart the night before ... I didn’t plan to tell anyone. I remember, like it was yesterday, that night at a large church in Houston ... I was caught up in worship for the first time in my life. I remember we were singing a chorus from the Andre Crouch song "My Tribute". We were repeating the verse "To God be the glory" … I was in a state of surrender … singing my heart out … entering a most holy place of worship … then ... shock of all shocks ... I came to the realization that I was no longer singing in English … I was totally freaked out ... I tried to rationalize but I couldn’t – God had met me, given me a spiritual gift and assured me that I was His ... powerful transformation was beginning ... it was the beginning of the wildest ride of my life ... a ride with my friend Jesus

It has been fun remembering and writing about that season of my life some 30 years ago ... a sweet memory that I will celebrate this week as I remember Jesus’ week of passion ... a week that started with praises ... continued with betrayal, denials and death ... and ended with miraculous resurrection. What a difference between Good Friday and Easter ... back then and back in April 1976.

... first posted on April 7, 2006

He saw the Joy

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. [Hebrews 12:2 GW]

The spikes ripped through his hands and his feet. The pain was excruciating. The shame unbearable. Every part of his body shook with agony. Thoughts of despair captured his mind. He was fully human and experienced torture as one of us. Yet he saw the joy beyond the cross. He saw resurrection.

Unlike the thieves who flanked him on each side, Jesus transcended pain. And shame. And agony. And despair. These things could not lay hold of him. As he hung on the cross he forgave. He blessed. He gave us an example to follow in difficult times. His inner eyes were fixed on a resurrection from death.

Jesus turned evil inside out that first Good Friday. He had an inner vision of joy that caused him to endure death. Overcome shame. Perhaps this vision of joy could do the same for us in hard times? Maybe life is all about embracing joy? And in the end, seeing joy is all about seeing our resurrection.

Dear Jesus. Help us to embrace the joy that is ahead of us when we endure hard times.

... this devotion is part of a series on the book of Hebrews.

Unbearable Sorrow

I want to share a bit on a topic that has been on my mind since I read a post that my friend Jill Hollis wrote about her gut-wrenching battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. Here is an excerpt from her post:

"I believe that this life is full of the unbearable. Often unimaginable heartbreaking pain and suffering."

Reminds me of this line from The Impossible Dream, that beautiful anthem from Man of La Mancha:

"To bear with unbearable sorrow. And to run where the brave dare not go"

The words take me back to that Intensive Care Unit where I, along with my two young children, watched my first wife breathe her last breaths. Sometimes our sorrow is so unbearable. Often life presents us with seemingly impossible circumstances. And sometimes it feels like God is not there.

But on that occasion. As Ellen was slipping off to a new life. A nurse walked in and asked if she could sing Amazing Grace. Ellen's favorite song. With tears rolling down our faces we witnessed the passing of our beloved wife and mom. The song made our sorrow a bit more bearable.

I don't really have any answers to the question of intense sorrow other than to say that life is often riddled with pain and suffering. But I think that in the midst of our pain God sometimes reveals Himself in unusual ways. I think of this verse from the book of Hebrews that speaks of angels:

"Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?"

The word Greek word translated "angel" is sometimes translated "messenger". Perhaps that nurse with the beautiful voice was one of those messengers? Perhaps one of the purposes of angels, be they heavenly or earthly, is to help us bear the unbearable? Perhaps the admonition to bear one another's burdens or sorrows is a primary reason for our existence? Perhaps sorrow is unbearable without angels?

Thank you Lord for the angels in our lives.

- originally posted in September 2009

A Criminal’s Death

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 NLT]

These words break me and inspire me. When I compare my attitude to that of Jesus I find myself severely lacking. It is impossible for us to comprehend what it was like for Christ to lay aside eternity and enter a finite existence. It has been compared to a human being being born as an ant, living as an ant and giving their life so that other ants might live. Yet even that scenario comes up short.

The phrase "he took the humble position of a slave" teaches us what real humility looks like. It is hard for many of us in America to understand what it is like to be a slave. Yet how many of us have worked in jobs that we hated or have suffered in abusive relationships. These images begin to describe the humility of Christ Jesus as he walked amongst us and was lastly condemned to a cruel death.

Who among us would voluntarily die a torturous death for someone else? A fate reserved for criminals and those despised by "civil" people. I find it ironic that the people who should have known better, both religious and secular leaders, acted like criminals in the ways that they treated Jesus. Such is the path of the proud. Yet, in contrast, the humble road always causes us to pick up our cross. How could it not?

Dear Lord. Teach us to walk as slaves. Help us to deny ourselves and pick up our cross.

... this devotion is part of a series about the writings of Paul..

It is Finished!

He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. [John 19:30 NASB]

The words “It is finished” are translated from one Greek word: “tetelestai”. The word is an accounting term used in Jesus' times to indicate something that was “Paid in Full”. When I consider this aspect of the cross I think of the word redemption. Jesus death redeemed us and paid our debt in full.

The idea of being redeemed speaks of a debt that was owed and is now forgiven, or paid in full. It reminds me of a phrase in the Lord's prayer that is often translated "forgive us our debts". It begs the question: "What was the human debt that was forgiven on the cross?" I think that this debt is the one we have to love both our creator and his creation. We are created to love and we trespass when we do not love.

Some see this word, “tetelestai”, from an accountant's transnational perspective. I think that we miss the message when we reduce it to those terms. Jesus' death was the ultimate act of love. As his divine blood flowed down from the cross he was showing us how to love. He was showing us what love really looks like. When he died his mission of love was finished. Our debt of love was paid in full by his redeeming love.

Lord help me to love as I remember the price love paid for my redemption.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

Has there ever been a more surreal death in all of history? Lean into this with me if you can. For hours, in the middle of the day, darkness reigned over the earth. The atmosphere was tenuous and people were certainly on edge. Then from the cross a scream penetrated the darkness. It was God's own son crying out with words of being forsaken. Oh my! Small wonder that some thought he was calling out for Elijah. Who would have ever thought the Messiah, the son of God, would feel forsaken and say such a thing.

This short statement so encourages me. Many times I have felt forsaken by God. When my first wife died at 43 my soul cried out with words too painful to say out loud. In hospital rooms and rehab facilities I have felt so alone and forsaken. To know that Jesus experienced like feelings of being forsaken gives me courage to hope again. To know that my Lord knows what it is like to feel forsaken gives me renewed energy to pray. The son of God could have kept silent but broke the silence so that we would know that he understands us at the deepest of levels of our pain and despair. Who is like this Messiah? Who is like Jesus?

My God. My God. Thank you for suffering the pain of feeling forsaken.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

I Thirst

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

These words are the first that Jesus speaks to us that reminds us that he was fully human. So far he has spoken divine words of forgiveness, assurance and care to those around him. John, the gospel writer, seems to indicate that Jesus said “I thirst” to simply fulfill this Messianic prophecy from Psalm 69:
“They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
His statement caused wine vinegar to be given to him thereby fulfilling the prophecy. Yet, I think that the message from these words is much deeper than a mechanical fulfillment of prophecy. In these words we see into his sufferings and get a glimpse into the normalcy of his death. Like so many others who have died Jesus body suffers dehydration and he becomes thirsty as his body enters it's final stages.

These final words remind us also that Jesus is the giver of living water and his blood is representative of what we remember when we drink of the cup at communion. His words also remind us that he calls all who thirst spiritually to follow after him. He is the only one who can satisfy us and quench our soul. He is the only one who has suffered and died to do so.

My soul thirsts and aches after you Lord. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

Behold, your son! ... Behold, your mother!

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in all of the hoopla that is surrounding Jesus as he suffers on the cross and forget that one is watching him with a broken heart. What would it have been like to have been Mary? Can you even imagine watching your son being treated in such a vile fashion? What a nightmarish experience this must have been for Mary as she watched her beloved son, who has done absolutely nothing wrong, be nailed to the cross. Words escape me as I try to come to grips with her feelings.

Yet another is also watching with a broken heart. John, the writer of the gospel, who describes himself as "the disciple whom he loved", is standing next to Jesus' mom. He too cannot believe what he is seeing. His soul has been pierced and hope seems so far. To these two hurting souls Jesus speaks sweet words calling them into a family relationship. With these words Christ is speaking to us about finding comfort in each other when life seems out of control. In a sense we are God's familial gifts to each other.

Lord, give me an open heart for your family. Help us to share our pain with each other.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

Today you will be with me in Paradise

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Two condemned men are watching Jesus. These two are also nailed to crosses. Both have joined in with the crowd in their mocking of Christ. Both have heard Jesus pray and offer forgiveness to those who mock. To those who drove the nails. To those who gamble for his robe. One hears him forgive and continues to mock him - perhaps he saw forgiveness as a sign of weakness? Yet the other responds differently and rebukes the other thief. Two thieves. Two men dying. Two different reactions.

What follows is truly amazing. Nailed to a cross a thief cries out for the forgiveness that Jesus offered. The mocker has been transformed by Christ's words of forgiveness and now defends him to the other thief. And all the while Jesus is listening. Not only to what the man says but to the faith that comes from his heart. Then, in an amazing mix of boldness and desperation, the thief cries out to Jesus. And, oh my, Jesus' response to him is so unexpected. So amazing. So divine. As he is dying he offers hope to everyone.

I am in awe of your forgiveness Lord. Help me to forgive as I am forgiven.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

Father, forgive them, for they know not

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

The circus has begun and the folly of humanity is on trial.

While three men suffer in excruciating pain, the vilest acts in humanity come forth.
People stand by gawking.
Men gamble for the clothes of the suffering.
Religious leaders sneer and laugh with devilish glee.
Soldiers join in and pretend to offer to quench the thirst of the suffering.
The image painted here is one of utter darkness.

There does not seem to be any hope for the people watching these men die.

Then, from one of the crosses, a man speaks and light enters the darkness.

In a few words Jesus turns the circus into something beautiful.

Yes, the darkness is still there but something has changed.

The condemned Messiah has taken control of the atmosphere.

With one sentence he proclaims that FORGIVENESS REIGNS!!

I can hardly take it in. Mockers are forgiven. Gamblers forgiven. Thieves forgiven. Murderers forgiven.

Hallelujah! In utter pain and desolation God the Son reigns from the cross.

The extent of your forgiveness amazes me Lord. Help me to always forgive.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

the Violent take it by Force

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,
and the violent take it by force. [Matthew 11:12 ESV]

Things changed when John appeared preaching. His ministry was unconventional and not commissioned or sanctioned by the religious leaders. He did not look or act like one of those leaders. He preached outside of town instead of in a synagogue. Yet the heavenly kingdom began to advance. With passion.

The Greek word biastés, translated here as "the violent", can also be rendered "one who is eager in pursuit". That captures for me the essence of what Jesus is saying in this verse. People were being transformed by John's ministry. Instead of observers they were becoming people in eager pursuit of God.

Lord, we ask today for a divine eagerness that would compel us in our service to you and your world.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Thy Face. Thy Way.

For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. [Matthew 11:10 KJV]

The Greek translation of "thy face" is "the face of you" and "thy way" is actually "the way of you". I want you to stop for a moment and think about those two phrases. Is it possible for one to really know the way of God if one is not familiar with the face of God? Consider what King David writes in Psalm 27 verse 8.
My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" Your face, LORD, I will seek.
To seek the face of God is to seek the heart of God. To know the way of God we must first know his heart. Knowing the way or will of God is a somewhat natural result of knowing the heart of God. In that sense, the Baptist's mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah, the incarnate face and heart of God.

Stop again. Consider what you just read. Jesus is the full expression of the face and heart of God. If you desire to know what God is like, the you must study the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus. John the Baptist pointed to him. The gospel writers testify of him. To know Jesus is to know the heart of God.

Our desire dear Lord is to know your face. Your heart. Your way. Your messiah.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

More than a Prophet

Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. [Matthew 11:9 NLT]

What do you think Jesus meant when he called John "more than a prophet"? In the following verse he identifies John as the prophesied messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah. So is that what made John something more than a prophet? What makes someone more than their gift or calling?

It is difficult to know for sure that John was "more" because he was the messianic forerunner. Could Jesus have thought that John was more than his ministry? More than his gift? Could it be that Jesus thought of John first as his friend? Could it be that Jesus was referring to who John was rather than what he did?

I can relate to identifying with a spiritual gift or professional role. Sometimes words like pastor or prophet cause us to walk in strange ways. Religious titles can cause us to be proud modern day Pharisees. Not so with John. He was more than a prophet because he was more than his job description.

Help us Lord to identify more with being your friend and your child than being your minister.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

What did you go out into the wilderness to see?

Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? ... A man dressed in fine clothes? ... A prophet?" [Matthew 11:7-9 NIV]

Sometimes the questions that Jesus asks are more revealing than his answers. In these question he hits on three expectations than we all have of our religious leaders. We want them to be relevant, adapting to the times. We want them to look good. And most of all we desire them to be a man or woman of God.

Expectations often blind us to understanding God's will. The Baptist was not swayed by religious tradition. He looked more like a wild man than a preacher. Yet, to those who came hungry for God, he was a prophet. Those who heard his preaching were moved by the Holy Spirit. Others rejected him and God's will.

This last group reminds me of me in my younger years. I held a fairly rigid view of what it meant to be a leader. I did want a relevant and externally presentable man of God. Yet the thing that ensnared me the most was what it meant to be a man of God. Years later my eyes opened to what that phrase meant.

Lord, give us discernment regarding the leaders that we choose to follow and listen to.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Answers for a Man in Prison

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” [Matthew 11:3-6 NIV]

At first glance Jesus' answer to John the Baptist is a bit confusing and a tad harsh. On the surface John seems to be asking Jesus if he is really the Messiah. It is a reasonable question for a man in prison to ask. After all, was it not prophesied by Isaiah that the Messiah would set those in prison free?

Jesus' answer is twofold. He first answers the external question. I am doing things commensurate with Messianic ministry. Jesus then goes deeper. He focuses on the heart of John's question. He tells John that he is not going to rescue him. Then proceeds to counsel him saying that he is in danger of stumbling.

Jesus advice is so appropriate for people who are suffering. It is so easy to stumble spiritually when our prayers are not answered. And sadly, the stumble often leads to a rejection of God. Yet there is a blessing for those who persevere in faith in hard times. These are the ones who emerge with a refined faith.

Help us Lord to not stumble over unanswered prayers.
Teach us to allow suffering to refine, and not destroy, our faith.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.