Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: December 2015 (Page 1 of 2)


O Preacher2016 dawns at midnight.  Global celebrations.  Times Square packed with partyers (and extra NYPD to guard against terrorists).  Time, too, for resolutions.

According to Wikipedia, resolution-making has religious origins. Babylonians promised their gods at the end of the year they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.[2]Romans began each year making promises to the god Janus (after whom January is named.[3]).    In  Medieval  times knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.[4

I wonder:  Do “Christian” condemners of Christmas and Halloween celebrations abstain from New Year’s resolutions due to its pagan origins?  Logic would argue they should, but I think all such abstention foolish.  Such observances are what I make of them, not what some ancient folks did.

Even so, I usually don’t make them, because mostly I don’t keep them.  Seems I’m not alone.  According to “Statistics Brain Research Institute”,  only 8% of Americans are successful.  49% have infrequent success.  And 24% always fail.

That doesn’t mean resolutions are wrong or useless.  It’s wise to aim at “doing better”—especially if our resolve is God-centered.  Jonathan Edwards, the well-known 18th century Puritan, made 70, though not at New Year’s.  Here’s one:  “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.”  More of his resolutions may jog our thinking about appropriate ones.  Find them at

Considering resolutions, the apostle James’ warning comes to  mind . . .

Now listen, you who say,
“Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city,
spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while
and then vanishes.
Instead, you ought to say,
“If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4:13-15).

As does this wise proverb . . .

 In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps.
(Proverbs 16:9)

As aging crept on, I set a target date:  pastor until age 75.  But illness interrupted and I had to retire at 71.  In context, James is rebuking the proud.  I don’t think I was egotistic when I set my goal.  I just didn’t know what would happen even the next day.  My life is an ephemeral mist.  Only the Lord God is an omniscient solid rock.  (Odd metaphor.  Can solid rocks have wisdom?  But you get the idea, right?)

So, in making resolutions it’s best we humbly remember if the Lord wills.  He is sovereign.

Yahweh has fixed his throne in heaven,
his sovereign power rules over all.
(Psalm 103:19, NJB)

Of course, if the sovereign is a tyrant, sovereignty can be terrifying.  But we who’ve accepted the psalmist’s invitation know the Lord is no tyrant . . .

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
(Psalm 34:8)

So, resolution-makers, make them.  Let’s just remember we don’t even know what tomorrow holds and it is the good sovereign Lord who directs the steps of those who take refuge in him.

One more resolution-thought.  This quote (from Lailah Gifty Akita, Pearls of Wisdom: Great mind) captures the popular idea that the year-change on the calendar “ deletes the old mistake-cluttered past and creates a new blank-page future.  The truth is probably better captured in this quote:  “Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.” (Anonymous)

But old habits can go.  A new blank-page future is possible.   The apostle Paul profoundly proclaims it . . .

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!
(2 Corinthians 5:17)


new years resolution statistics


Jesus’ cross gives us access to God in prayer



O PreacherI can’t imagine visiting a best friend’s grave and finding it empty.  Headstone moved.  Dirt shoveled.  Open hole.  No casket.  Empty grave.  Actually, the three women who visited Jesus’ tomb didn’t find it completely empty.

Mark’s report.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb  and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid (Mark 1:1-8).

Before analyzing that, a textual issue demands attention.  After verse 8 in my ESV Bible, a note says, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.”  Then it records those verses in double brackets ([[).

Textual criticism (16:9-20).

Textual critics try to determine the original wording of a text, like the original ending of Mark 16.  Did Mark write it?  Or did someone else add verses 9-20 later?  The bulk of textual critics (has nothing to do with their weight!) believe the latter.  Here’s the story . . .

Mark wrote the Gospel, 1:1-16:8.  Professional scribes hand-copied it (no Xerox) for distribution to churches throughout the Mediterranean world.  Copies were made both from the original and from copies.  Despite meticulous care, copyists occasionally made an error.  Most were minor (spelling of a name, location of a town, etc.)  We have almost 5700 Greek-language copies  (“manuscripts”), not including thousands in other languages (far more than of any other ancient document).  Textual critics determine the original wording of the text by comparing manuscripts and following certain principles (such as, earlier-in-time manuscripts are considered more reliable than later ones—fewer chances of copying errors).  We can be over 99% sure that what our New Testament contains is what the authors originally wrote.

Verses 9-20 didn’t appear in manuscripts until the fourth century.  Where did it come from?  It’s thought that the abrupt ending of verse 8 may have prompted some scribe to suppose that a longer ending had somehow been destroyed.  So he gathered information from the other Gospels and summarized what he thought Mark might have written.  Naturally copyists copying from that copy copied that longer ending.  Hence the explanatory note in our Bibles and my comments on verses 1-8 only.  (This information is provided free and will not be on the test!)

The “empty” narrative.

As noted above, the women didn’t find the tomb completely empty.  Here’s the story in my words . . .

The sun has just risen on Sunday, the day after Sabbath.  Mary Magdalene, Mary (James’ mother) and Salome are on their way to properly anoint Jesus’ body with spices (Joseph of Arimathea’s didn’t have time because he had to bury Jesus Friday before sundown).  They know which tomb because two of them had watched the burial (15:47).  Theirs, of course, is a sad task, and one not without risk, since Jesus had been crucified for treason against Rome and the Jewish Court had judged him a blasphemer.

Not until they neared the tomb did the women wonder who would roll away the huge stone that sealed the entrance.  (A tomb like this was actually a small room cut into the rock with “benches” on three sides where a family’s stone coffins—“sarcophagus”—would be laid.)  The “door” was a huge wheel-like stone that fit in a slot that could be rolled open and closed.)  The women approach the tomb and see the stone rolled open.

Cautiously entering, they find a white-robed young man.  (It wasn’t empty.)  Naturally they’re shocked and frightened.  (Where is Jesus’ body?  Who’s this guy?)  The man tries to calm them.  He tells them Jesus has risen.  He points: “See the place where they laid him.”  He gives them instructions:  “Tell the disciples and Peter  (yes, especially him who denied Christ) Jesus will meet them in Galilee.”

The women are literally shaking for fear.  This is a nightmare.  First Jesus is horribly crucified and buried and now maybe an evil enchanter is spinning a cruel tale about dear Jesus’ missing corpse.  They run for their lives, saying nothing to anyone.  (THE END)

The take-away.

I feel like the copyist—there should be more.  Why would Mark end the Gospel with scared-to-death women running from Jesus’ empty tomb?  Any answer is a guess.  But maybe Mark wants us to feel something of the same fear and amazement those women felt.  Maybe he wants that abrupt ending to sort of  shock us.  Maybe he wants us to stand in awe of the Resurrected Christ who had been the Crucified Christ.

I know I don’t.  Too many Easter sermons.  Ho hum.  Risen.  When Jesus stilled the storm with a word, disciples fearfully asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (4:41).   Maybe Mark wants to wake us from mental fog to fearfully ask, “Who then is this, that even his own death obeys him?”

And maybe, even more importantly, he wants me to ask, “Will I, a mere mortal inevitably facing my death, run away from Jesus?  Or,  will I, with unanswered questions about suffering and the death-process and when and why, trustingly run to him?”




P.AllanThis is holy ground.  This blood-stained, dusty, rock-hard earth.  This killing-hill where Romans crucified dozens, maybe hundreds, of Jewish law-breakers.  This skull-mound, outside Jerusalem city walls, infamous forever because of One prisoner executed here.

We reach this place, Mark writes,  “When [the Jewish soldiers] were finally tired of mocking [Jesus], they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again.  Then they led him away to be crucified (15:20).  Mark continues with a report that reads like choppy headline news with few details. 

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross (15:21).

Jesus would have been boxed in by four Roman soldiers with a servant carrying a placard:  THE KING OF THE JEWS.  At some point en route, it became obvious Jesus was too weakened to carry his cross.  Simon was a Jew from North Africa present for Passover.  If Simon’s Rufus is the Rufus Paul mentions in Romans 16:13, this family became believers.  Did being forced to carry Christ’s cross eventually lead Simon, and then his sons, to faith?

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.  And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.  It was the third hour when they crucified him.  The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.  They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left (15:22-27).  

“They” were Jerusalem women who offered crucified Jews a drug to dull the pain.  The Greek tense suggests they  tried several times to give Jesus a drink.  Jesus refused it.  Mark doesn’t explain why.

Such awful agony Mark glosses over when he writes,  “And they crucified him”!  The Jewish historian Josephus calls it “the most wretched of all ways of dying.”  Not the nails, but his body sagging as he hung, made breathing an unrelenting struggle. (For a further description of Christ’s crucifixion, see Eventually death would come from suffocation.   But not yet; according to Mark it’s 9 a.m.

Humiliation accompanied suffering.  Before they drove the spikes, soldiers stripped the prisoner.  Then, after hanging Jesus up, they gambled for his clothes beneath his cross.  A  perk for the soldiers’ assigned despicable work.  Over Jesus’ head they posted the placard with his crime.  Common thieves flanked him on both sides.

We might claim the charge false.  But in fact he was “the King of the Jews”, even King of the Romans.  He was, and remains today, a deadly threat to every authority that refuses to bow.  Yet, that day, he was merely a message from Pilate declaring what Rome did with “would be” kings.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”  In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!  Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him (15:28-32). 

Humiliation continued.  Passover pilgrims,  packing the nearby road, threw Jesus’ supposed words in his face.  Chief priests and law-teachers jeered. “Messiah, Israel’s King, jump off the cross so we can see and believe in you!”  Even the dying thieves sneered between suffocating breaths.

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”– which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (15:33-39).

From noon until three eerie darkness shrouded the city.  An angry storm erupting.  Creation itself revolting.  As if God the Father turned away the light of his face from his Son.  Suddenly a heartrending, mournful voice cried out:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Literally hell for the King of heaven.  Some misunderstood, thinking he was calling Elijah.  They  looked for a miracle from the long-gone prophet.  None came.

Instead, in the anguish of suffocating death and with a loud cry, “Jesus breathed his last.”  The temple curtain tore open top to bottom.   At the cross a silent moment.   Mourners looked closely.  No, Jesus wasn’t breathing.  Finally, the Roman centurion, closest witness,  pondering the fearful awe of the moment and how Jesus had died, declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.  It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached,  Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.  When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.  So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid (15:40-47), 

Mark reveals here what he hasn’t throughout his writing:  several women at the cross “had followed [Jesus] and cared for his needs.”  Many other women also were there.  Unheralded they have played a vital role in Jesus’ ministry.  They will again.

But now, according to Jewish law, Jesus had to be buried before sundown.   Joseph of Arimathea, of whom we know nothing except that he belonged to the Jewish Sanhedrin and obviously honored Jesus, approached Pilate for Jesus’ body.  After ascertaining Jesus was indeed dead, Pilate permitted it.  Joseph painstakingly lowered the body, carefully wrapped it in newly-bought linen, and gently laid it in a tomb, which he sealed shut with a large stone.  Both Marys looked on.

* * * * *

Unless Mark totally made up this narrative, there can be no doubt Jesus died.  The question is:  why?  Certainly he had the power to blow away his enemies the way he’d driven out demons!  And why didn’t Mark explain?

I think Mark didn’t tell us why Jesus died because he wanted us to stand at the cross confused and shaken and ask what the disciples must have:  Why?  Why did Jesus who claimed to be Messiah, who announced God’s kingdom at hand, who opened blind eyes, stilled a storm, and raised a dead girl . . .


Still of Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Easy to spout out learned answers.  Better to ponder them with our mind focused on Mark’s narrative.  If it stuns a bit, so much the better . . .


Coming Christmas Morning

O PreacherChristmas morning.  Lois in the kitchen preparing for children and grandchildren coming later.  A few quiet moments for me to pray and ponder.  Reminiscing about long-ago Christmases when our son and two daughters were children.  A familiar reminder to you who have young children:  enjoy them this Christmas season.  They will soon celebrate in their own homes with their own little ones.

For some reason, woke this morning with these fascinating words from the apostle Paul . . .

The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
(Romans 13:12a)

It’s his reason for urging us to live morally upright lives as Jesus’ followers . . .

. . . you know that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.
(Romans 13:11,12)

I’m not thinking of Paul’s exhortation as much as the far-gone night and at-hand day.

I tend to see this world as “day.”  What lies out there in the future, even though Jesus promises glory beyond comprehension, seems “night” both because (unless Jesus comes first) I have to pass through the “night” of death and the future beyond death is unfamiliar territory.  But here Paul writes of life in this world as “night” and the future in the world to come as “day.”

It reminds me of Christmas morning when my brother and I were kids.  How hard to fall asleep the night before!  Too excited!  Too much anticipating what would be under the tree!  (Our parents never put our presents out until we were safely in bed.)  Struggling to sleep made Christmas Eve the year’s longest night.

But then the night was over!  I opened my eyes in record time (not like on school days).  I think my brother and I had it in our genes to naturally be as noisy as possible to wake up Dad and Mom.  Finally they rolled out, warning us to wait in our rooms until they made sure everything was ready, turned the tree lights on, and called us.  “Okay, kids.  Al.  Glenn.  Come on.”  Down the hallway we hustled toward the living room and the thrill of Christmas morning around the tree half-hidden behind piles of presents.

This world—the world where we live, the world we know, the only world we know—is “night.”  It’s filled, as Paul writes here in Romans, with “orgies and drunkenness”, with “sexual immorality and sensuality,” with “quarreling and jealousy.”  It’s also marked by disappointment and dissatisfaction and disability and death.  It never delivers on its promises.  Its “toys” always break down or wear out.  Oh, there’s goodness and joy to be sure.  After all, despite sin’s ravages, this is still my Father’s world.  But the evil one and our fallen natures corrupt and darken even the best of what God has made.

It is night.  But it’s “far gone”!  The day is at hand!  Christmas morning like none other is about to break into this darkness.  Jesus, born that first Christmas day, is coming again.  He who is the Light of the world will split the night with his glory.  He will call us:  “Okay, children.”  He’ll call us by name.  “Allan, Glenn, come.”  And we will rise with pounding hearts and wide-eyed looks and breathless hearts at the thrill of this “Christmas morning”  around the One who gave his life for us and comes now to gather us home to a world where it will never be night.

That day is at hand! 

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Holy Words

O PreacherRejoice!  It’s the same Old Story!

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour! The Lord is with you.’  She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean,  but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour.  Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David;  he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ 

Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.  And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month,  for nothing is impossible to God.’  Mary said, ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.’ And the angel left her (Luke 1:26-38).


A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town  where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.  At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “You are blessed by God above all other women, and your child is blessed.  What an honor this is, that the mother of my Lord should visit me!  When you came in and greeted me, my baby jumped for joy the instant I heard your voice! You are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” 

Mary responded, “Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior!  For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed.  For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me.  His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him.  His mighty arm does tremendous things! How he scatters the proud and haughty ones!  He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.  He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.  And how he has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful.  For he promised our ancestors– Abraham and his children– to be merciful to them forever.”  Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home (Luke 1:39-56).


Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly.  As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this happened to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning, God is with us).”  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife,  but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus (Matthew 1:9-25).


At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own towns to register for this census.  And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time. 

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. 

That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened,  but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!   The Savior– yes, the Messiah, the Lord– has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!   And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others– the armies of heaven– praising God:  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors” (Luke 2:1-14).


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has still not overcome it (John 1:4)!

The Empty Christmas Chair

O PreacherAround many tables this Christmas an empty chair will sit.  A most-loved one will be missing.  Nothing will fill the chair nor the heart.  If all your chairs are full, some Christmas soon they won’t be.

” . . . it is appointed for mortals to die once”
(Hebrews 9:27, NKJV)

My brother died this year.  My sister-in-law wrote recently how some things don’t seem to change for the Christmas season, “but others are oh, so different.”  I can’t fathom the depth of the loneliness.  I’m not even sure that’s the correct word, nor that I can find it.  After so many Christmases, especially those with her son, how does she—how do they—“celebrate” Christmas?

It comes like a blow to the stomach, the thought that their story is replayed again and again and again.  Sometimes the circumstances of the passing are far worse, sometimes less so.  But surely all bear some brokenhearted void.

I dread the thought of Lois’ chair being empty, as I know she dreads the thought of mine.  After 53 years of a loving marriage beyond our dreams, how will one of us endure it?

Christmas tree in front of window

We’ll all come to that Christmas with the empty chair.  But  , , ,

. . . there was a baby in a manger . . . a sinless God-Man on a cross . . . an empty grave and an ascension into heaven.  Without the baby, we have no hope.  Without the cross, we’re  dead in our sins.  And . . .

. . . if we have hope in Christ only for this life,
we are the most miserable people in the world
(1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
. . . he was buried,
he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
(1 Corinthians 15:3,4, ESV).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16, NIV)

“There are many rooms in my Father’s home,
and I am going to prepare a place for you.
If this were not so, I would tell you plainly.
When everything is ready, I will come and get you,
so that you will always be with me where I am.”
(Jesus, John 14:2,3, NLT).

There is, because of Jesus, another emotion, when we see the Christmas empty chair.  Emptiness, yes, but also longing.  C. S. Lewis wrote of it . . .

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

It’s our desire “for our own far off country”, he wrote, saying that sometimes we call it “Nostalgia” or “Romanticism” or “Adolescence” or “Beauty”.  But . . .

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—
are good images of what we really desire;
but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,
breaking the hearts of their worshipers.
For they are not the thing itself;
they are only the scent of a flower we have not found,
the echo of a tune we have not heard,
news from a country we have never yet visited.

At present we are on the outside of [that]world,
the wrong side of the door . . .
But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour
that it will not always be so.
Someday, God willing, we shall get “in” . . .

And when by God’s grace through simple faith in Christ we do, we will find the empty Christmas chair filled with the one we love—forever.

A Politician & the Crucifixion

P.AllanPilate found himself in a precarious place.  Early that morning the Jewish Sanhedrin had brought him a prisoner.  Mark reports . . .

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1). 

Mark, in his keep-it-simple style, gives few details.  Between verse 1 and verse 2 presumably the chief priest told Pilate the charge.

Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”(Mark 15:2a)Actually they had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy (Mark 14:64).  But, since Pilate wouldn’t have cared, they “upped” his crime to treason.

He answered him, “You say so” (Mark 15:2b).  

The original Greek is, “You say.”  That’s either a local idiom for “yes” or an ambiguous answer because “king” meant something different to man.  Either way, the Sanhedrin is too steamed to stay silent.

Then the chief priests accused him of many things.  Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.”  But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed (Mark 15:3-5).

What kind of prisoner is this?  Why in the world didn’t he defend himself?  By now a  crowd has gathered.  (Pilate held court outside, because the Jews didn’t want to defile themselves by entering Pilate’s headquarters.)   Some in the crowd approached Pilate and asked him to keep his Passover-prisoner-switch-custom.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked.  Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection.  So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.  Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over (Mark 15:6-10).

Here’s Pilate’s predicament escape.  He knew this “king” wasn’t guilty of treason.  He heard  jealousy in the priests’ voices.  And, if there were any people Pilate hated more than Jews, it was the Jewish authorities.  Besides, clearly some in the crowd wanted this “king” dead, while others wanted him freed.  Either way they might riot.   So, hoping for a peaceful outcome that would spare him trouble with the Emperor,  Pilate shouted to the crowd:  “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

Unbeknownst to Pilate, while he’s holding court, priests are working the crowd.  Once cries for crucifixion start, crowd-mentality would rule until the whole mob would want blood.

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.  Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”  They shouted back, “Crucify him!”  Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified (Mark 15:11-15).

Jerusalem was like Jupiter—really far out “nowhere.”  When the Emperor appointed Pilate Prefect in Israel, he wanted a wise leader who would keep the repulsive, upstart Jews quiet.  Pilate started about the time Jesus began his public ministry.  He ruled harshly and the Jews despised him and everything about Rome he represented.  If he hoped for a better post or at least to retire with full benefits, he had to make the best of his situation.  He headquartered at the seaside city of Caesarea, but as usual he visited overcrowded Jerusalem for Passover to keep the peace.

Now, all he can do to stop a riot is to hand Jesus over to his soldiers for crucifixion. Mark spares us the gory details of the beating that came next, focusing instead on the humiliating mockery Jesus endured . . .

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.  And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him.  And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.  After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him (Mark 15:16-20).

* * * * *

This “trial” leaves me with two thoughts . . .

First, politicians haven’t changed much in 2000 years. Sounds cynical.  All politicians aren’t “politicians”.   And, strictly speaking,  Pilate wasn’t a run-for-office politician.  But he was a bureaucrat.  And, when it came down to a choice between administering justice and keeping his powerful office, well, you know. Thank the Lord our hope for a better future doesn’t lie in hands like his!

Second, Pilate the politician (and the politician-like Sanhedrin) didn’t win.  In fact, they didn’t control the outcome at all.  John tells us that when Pilate bragged he had authority to release or crucify Jesus, Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Since God the Father—together with his willingly submissive Son—was in control, why then did Jesus submit to such injustice at the hand of a self-serving politician?  Jesus himself had answered the question months earlier.  His disciples had been fighting like politicians for the most powerful, prestigious positions in Messiah’s kingdom.  Jesus reminded them how Gentile rulers lord it over their subjects.  He insisted if they wanted greatness, they would have to be servants.  Then he gave the reason why and at the same time told us why he submitted to a selfish bureaucrat . . .

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,


Christ Before Pilate, Mihaly Munkacsy

Those who believe him are among the “many”.  Are you?
















































































































































































































































































































































































































































Events like this often make me wonder what would happen if Jesus had been born on earth thirty years ago in our country (or in yours, if you reading this outside the USA).  Would our government—whether a democracy, a dictatorship, or some other type—treat Jesus any differently?  Would Jesus threaten the nation’s leaders as he threatened Israel’s then?  Would government leaders today want Jesus out of the way as they did then?  Would politicians, to protect their own power and position, unjustifiably execute Jesus?

I think any government today would treat Jesus essentially the same as Israel’s and Rome’s did then.  Why?  Because Jesus would be bringing a different kingdom (Mark 1:14,15) that would threaten every government today.  They’d have to do away with him.

But here’s what’s incredible: Jesus didn’t die just because the Sanhedrin was envious and Pilate was threatened.  ” . . . Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel [did] whatever [the Sovereign Lord’s] hand . . .  had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27,28).

or the Mark predictions and ransom—Jesus wins over politicians







Politics played a pivotal part in Jesus’ crucifixion.  Clearly ).  But the Sovereign Lord used a typical politician to bring about Jesus’ crucifixion.






Winning “Voice”

O PreacherI’m way behind in Christmas blogs.  Trying to finish the Gospel According to Mark first.  But when I heard Joseph Smith sing, I had to share the blessing.  He sang this song for his winning finale on the TV show, “The Voice.”

God sure has a way of getting his message out, doesn’t he!

Just Who’s On Trial Here?

P.AllanThe fix is in.  The Sanhedrin (the 70-member Jewish Supreme Court) holds all the cards.  Jesus doesn’t have a chance.  After arresting him that night at Gethsemane . . .

They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire (Mark 14:53,54).

The first hint the fix is in:  instead of taking Jesus to the temple (where trials were normally held), they take him to the high priest’s house (Peter follows them “into the courtyard of the high priest”). 

The second:  looks like Sanhedrin members were ready to come at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night.

According to Mark, the third is no hint at all . . .

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any.  Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.  Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him:  “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'”  Yet even then their testimony did not agree (Mark 14:55-59).

The fix-hints are piling up.  Take the matter of Jewish law.  It required a minimum of two independent eyewitnesses whose testimony agreed in every detail.  Mark (probably getting this information from two Court members who followed Jesus—Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea) reports . . .

“Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.”  It’s starting to look like the Keystone Cops.  No two could get their stories straight.

So the court apparently had their witnesses lined up, but somebody dropped the ball when it came to coaching them.  There were other “witnesses” who claimed they heard Jesus plan to destroy the temple—a serious charge since the whole Roman world considered destroying a place of worship a death-penalty crime.  But, as before, the charge didn’t stick:  one said Jesus planned to burn it, another that he would tear it down with bare hands (or something like that).  No agreement; no credible witness.

Can’t you see the high-priest’s red face?  His blood pressure’s rising to the red zone.  What kind of idiots are these “witnesses”?    Everything had gone so well.  They had Jesus.  But now they can’t even find two schmucks who can tell the same story!  He’ll have to do it himself . . .

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:60,61).

To be acquitted Jesus had to answer charges against him.  But Jesus knew the charges were fabricated.  He was innocent.  The sure-thing trial had crumbled into an embarrassing fiasco.  The high priest shot his strongest salvo:  “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  This one Jesus answered . . .

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

I’m guessing several seconds of silence reigned with not a few mouths hanging wide.   He was calling himself Messiah according to prophecies like , , ,

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13,14).

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Psalm 110:1).

Then, the instant it all sunk in . . .

The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked.  “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death.  Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him (Mark 14:63-65).

Meanwhile, Peter is doing precisely what Jesus predicted–what Peter vehemently dismissed . . .

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by.  When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.  But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.  When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.”  Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”  He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”  Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept (Mark 14:66-72).

Despite our promises how weak we are!  And how merciful Jesus is!  After resurrection, the angel specifically names Peter as one disciple Jesus wants to welcome back (Mark 15:7).  For now, Peter weeps.

* * * * *

Here’s the compelling question:  Just who’s on trial here?  Clearly Jesus.  He stood bound and accused and finally condemned before the Jewish authorities.  I suggest, though less clearly, it was the Sanhedrin members who voted Jesus worthy of death.

This was their last, official opportunity to acquit Jesus.  They knew his miracles and teachings.  They knew the witnesses offered fabricated testimony.  They knew Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah based on Scripture.  Nothing he had done proved any different.  The high priest was actually obligated to recognize Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Yet in their pride and greed they incited each other to a guilty verdict and actually beat him.  At his Coming, Jesus  will stand in judgment over them.

We assume, when we hear the Gospel, that we evaluate Jesus, that we sit on the judge’s bench and Jesus in the defendant’s chair.  But in reality, Jesus judges us.  What he decides is truly a life-or-death matter.  We’d better understand just who’s on trial here.

one of the misconceptions of the christian faith throughout the years ...





Jesus Alone

P.AllanFrom The Last Supper to his last breath, Jesus was alone.  Not without people, without friends.  Not solitude for renewal, desertion for death.

Sheep Scattered.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “Today– yes, tonight– before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”  But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same (Mark 14:26-31).

After singing a final hymn , Jesus leads his disciples to the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem.  There,  under the night sky, he tells them they will all desert him and be scattered like sheep (in  fulfillment of Zechariah 13:7).  But, he promises, he will rise and gather them again in Galilee.

Peter (the one whose foot seems permanently planted in his mouth) declares he’ll stay, even if he’s the last man standing.  Jesus, however,  predicts Peter will deny knowing him three times. Peter found room for his second foot when he insisted no way that would happen.  All the rest shouted “Amen!”

How often I’ve prayed prayers of devotion and sung songs of allegiance to Jesus.  (” . . . and nothing I desire compares with you.”)  With shame, I’m reminded how often I’ve chosen something other than Jesus or been silent when I should have spoken his name or withdrew because he didn’t do what I wanted.  How firm my faith before the test!  When the fearful, the unexpected, the irrational hits, only then I realize how like Peter I am.

But What You Want.

Image result for Gethsemane

Gethsemane was a  tree-grove on the Mount of Olives.  There, Jesus prayed alone.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”  Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.  Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42).

Mark has reported Jesus healing the incurable, stopping a killer storm, driving out fierce demons, and out-debating his public enemies.   Here he shows Jesus in a different light:   terrorized (“deeply distressed”) and tormented (“troubled”).  Jesus, admits he feels as if his soul is drowning to death in grief.

When he walks further into the darkness, he leaves the three disciples to stand guard and pray.  Instead, with hour late and stomachs full, they fall asleep.  Jesus is alone.

He prays like a child: “Abba (“Daddy”), Father, you can do anything.  Take this cup from me.”  Three times.  Lying prostrate on the ground. Pleading that his destiny of suffering might by taken away.  The cross’ shame and pain. The weight of the world’s sin.  The separation from the Father.  Devastating, drowning distress.

I understand why Jesus would pray, “Take this cup from me.”  But I can’t comprehend what he prayed next:   “Yet  not what I will, but what you will.”  Such love for the Father and us—it’s  beyond me.  I can’t say, “It’s like
__________”,  because there is no ‘like’.”


Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him.  The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 

Christ Arrested by Soldiers

Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?  Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”  Then everyone deserted him and fled.  A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him,  he fled naked, leaving his garment behind (Mark 14:43-52).

A dark comedy.  The Sanhedrin commissions an armed mob of temple police, maybe with a few rented Roman soldiers added.  Like sending the National Guard to arrest a handful of book readers protesting a library’s shut-down.  But they didn’t succeed due to the size of the mob.  It was because ” . . . the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”   And that fulfillment included ” . . . everyone deserted him and fled.”  Jesus alone.

Oh, the young man who ran off naked?  Probably Mark.  Either too humble or too ashamed to name himself.  (I would have omitted me entirely.)

For Us.  My disability often leaves me feeling weak and vulnerable, especially when I’m  by myself around  even a handful of other people.  So I’m always glad when Lois comes with me.  I don’t know if Jesus felt weak and vulnerable on the Mount of Olives that night.  But I do know this . . .

Jesus was alone so, no matter how I feel, I never have to be.

holding hands - The Thinking Moms' Revolution



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