I wonder how Mary must have felt on the long trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. After all, it was about an 80 mile journey over bumpy and hilly terrain, she was riding on a donkey, and she was pregnant. Nine months pregnant! It is not as if Mary was reclining comfortably in a cushioned seat of a spacious SUV, with temperature control and high-performance tires. She was atop a rough-riding, slow-moving, fierce-smelling animal.
Then, as if the arduous journey were not enough, when Mary and Joseph finally reached their destination there was no place to stay. The town was packed with people, and the inn was full. Therefore, they had to take up lodging where the animals were kept. And it was there, in the most humble of circumstances, that Mary had a little lamb!
A young girl lived near a spooky-looking cemetery, and in order to get to the store she had to follow a path that went through the cemetery. Yet the young girl never seemed to be afraid, even when it was dark outside. When someone asked her, “Aren’t you scared walking through that cemetery?” she replied, “Oh, no, I am not scared, for my home is just beyond.”
Because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, Christians believe they have a home just beyond the cemetery and therefore have no need to fear it. Since He conquered death and lives again, they will also conquer death and live again.
During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sentenced a young soldier to be executed. It was to take place when the curfew bell sounded. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and clung to the clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!” Cromwell commuted the sentence.
All of us were like that young soldier. The guilt of our sin was exposed and punishment was soon to commence. Then love intervened. It was not in the form of a girl climbing into the belfry and clinging to the clapper of the bell, but in the form of God’s Son climbing down from heaven and clinging to the old rugged cross. Her bruising and bleeding was nothing compared to His. And just as the soldier was spared by her act of love, we are spared by His act of love. If I may slightly modify Cromwell’s words, “We shall live because of His sacrifice!”
My Name on His Cross
My Name on His Cross
A carpenter in Jerusalem supported his family by making crosses for the Romans to use in crucifixions. His young son often worked with him in the shop. One day, his son came running in with panic on his face and said, “Dad, the preacher that we love so much just passed by carrying a cross.” His dad was quite upset, for he really loved Jesus of Nazareth. His son added, “And it gets worse. They are about to crucify him on a cross that I made.” “I am sure that is not true,” the father replied. “There are many carpenter shops that make crosses for the Romans.” The son began to cry as he said, “You don’t understand, dad, I always sign my work when I am finished. I just saw my name on his cross.”
I can relate with the terror that young boy must have felt, for in a very real sense it is my name on that cross. I made it with my sins and signed it with my guilt. When I close my eyes and envision Jesus being led to Calvary, I see my name on His cross!
Daniel knew of the king's decree. It was clearly worded and widely circulated. It said that anyone caught praying to God for the next thirty days would be cast into a den of lions. Yet with his windows opened and his eyes closed, Daniel bowed his knees in prayer.
Daniel was convicted of violating the king's decree and thrown into the lion's den. However, God saved Daniel by putting the ferocious felines on a fast. He sent an angel to shut their mouths. Daniel was too committed to compromise his convictions, are we?
A young lady bought a book and some cookies while waiting for her flight. A man sat down next to her and began reading a magazine. The packet of cookies was on the armrest between them. When she ate the first cookie, he ate one also. She thought, “What nerve! I can’t believe he would do that.” This went on over and over. Each time she would take a cookie, he would grab one too. Finally, there was but one cookie left. Unbelievably, he took half of the last cookie. The lady was infuriated and stormed to the boarding place in a huff.
When the lady boarded the plane and sat down in her seat, she looked into her purse and saw her packet of cookies. It had not been touched. Feeling absolutely ashamed, she realized that the man had shared his cookies with her. May God help all of us to develop a love for Him and others that demonstrates itself in our willingness to share the cookies!
Henry "Box" Brown
Henry "Box" Brown
Henry “Box” Brown was a 19th-century slave in Virginia. He devised a plan to escape slavery by having himself mailed to a free state by Adams Express Company, which was known for its confidential and efficient services. It cost him $86 dollars to be shipped in a small box (3 feet long by 2 feet wide) that was marked “dry goods.” He almost died along the way, but finally emerged 27 hours later in Pennsylvania.
Brown’s plan required him to be placed in a confined space and carried by others for 27 hours to secure his freedom. God’s plan required Jesus to be placed in a confined space, the womb of a woman, and carried by her for nine months to secure our freedom. Jesus was not being shipped from oppression, He was being shipped to oppression. He went from paradise to a plantation for our liberation!
One of the most stunning statements made about Jesus in Scripture is this: He did not sin. He was a perfect person who never fell short, never missed the mark, never had a moral misstep or blameful blunder during His thirty-three years on earth. The Bible says He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21), He was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), and He “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22).
That last verse is particularly powerful because of who wrote it. Peter was not only an apostle, he was part of the Lord’s inner circle. He was with Jesus on a daily basis. There was probably no one who knew Him better or had greater access than Peter. Yet he says that Jesus committed no sin. There was no pride, prejudice, or pretense to be found. He never had a slip of the tongue or lapse in judgment. He was perfect! Therefore, Jesus is qualified to be our sacrifice for sin, “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
In Our Image
In Our Image
A teacher asked one of her students what he was drawing. The little boy answered, "I am drawing a picture of God." The teacher told the boy that he cannot draw a picture of God because no one knows what He looks like. The boy replied, "Well, they will when I am finished."
We all have our picture of what God looks like, don't we? This can be dangerous because we tend to envision Him in our own image, fitting neatly into a mode that we have developed. In other words, we confine God to our ways rather than conform ourselves to His ways. Be careful that your picture of God does not "draw" you away from the truth!
A woman picked up a glass of water and asked her audience, “How heavy is this?” Guesses ranged from 8 ounces to 20 ounces. The woman replied, “The actual weight does not matter. What matters is how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, my arm will ache. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and even paralyzed.” She continued, “And so it is with worry. If I worry for a little while nothing seems to happen. If I worry for a bit longer I begin to hurt. If I worry all day long, I feel paralyzed and incapable of doing anything.”
Jesus did not want His warriors to be worriers. He urged them to trust God, keep things in the proper perspective, and realize they do not have to carry their burdens alone. Moreover, research shows that 85% of what we worry about never happens. So, the best thing we can do is “let go and let God.” Pass that glass!
Do you have a “void” inside that can’t seem to be filled? Most of us do. But here’s the irony, the more we try to fill that void the emptier it becomes. For instance, if we try to fill it with food, we’re left feeling hungry; if we try to fill it with people, we’re left feeling lonely; if we try to fill it with money, we’re left feeling bankrupt; if we try to fill it with entertainment, we’re left feeling bored. These things may provide temporary relief, but they offer no permanent solution.
To truly find that which can make us full, we must look to that which is empty. “Some of our men went to the tomb and found it empty…” (Luke 24:24, GW). The empty tomb of Jesus Christ holds the answer to being made full.
A marine biologist placed a shark in a tank with bait fish. The shark quickly swam around and ate all of them. The biologist then inserted a piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate sections. When more bait fish were put in the other side, the shark quickly attacked but hit the divider and bounced off. Over time the shark got less aggressive and finally gave up altogether. When the fiberglass was removed, the shark did not attack the bait fish swimming around because he still believed the barrier existed.
Some Christians are like that shark. They have been so discouraged by past setbacks that they stop trying and just give up. They convince themselves that barriers are always standing in the way, even when they aren’t. However, Jesus taught His followers to be persistent and not to lose heart. Both sharks and saints would do well to remember the old proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”
Jesus did not pen a single page of the New Testament. He was not a writer, but a speaker. And he spoke like none other. His words left crowds stunned, critics silenced, cruelty stifled, and creation shaken. They were both piercing and powerful.
Jesus spoke and the sea stood still; Jesus spoke and the demon stood down; Jesus spoke and the deceased stood up; Jesus spoke and the disabled stood tall; Jesus spoke and the detractor stood corrected; Jesus spoke and the sinner stood forgiven. We speak because He spoke!
A man was crossing the desert and found a wonderful spring filled with cold water. It was so refreshing that he filled a leather bottle and took some to his king. Unaware that the water had been tainted by the container, he presented it to the king. The king took a deep drink and then highly commended his loyal subject for the gift. It was not the water the king enjoyed, but the love that motivated the man to bring it.
Like that king, our God is gracious and kind. He looks beyond the imperfection of the gifts we offer to the love that motivated those gifts in the first place. Such love makes bitter water better!
Jesus gave up magnificence for mundane, harmony for hatred, reverence for revulsion, and loftiness for lashings. He left His throne for thorns, His nobility for nails, and His crown for a cross.
Crucifixion was a particularly prolonged, painful, and public way to die. In fact, the word “excruciating” means “out of crucifying.” The person usually lingered for hours before finally succumbing to heart failure, shock, asphyxia, or dehydration. The ISBE says, “The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths.” And yet Jesus willingly took up His cross for us. Are we willing to take up our crosses for Him?
Andrew introduced his brother Simon to Jesus, the Lord looked at him intently and said, “You shall be called Cephas,” or Peter (“rock”). Have you ever wondered why Jesus changed Simon’s name? It had nothing to do with his physical appearance or the conversation that took place later at Caesarea Philippi. It had everything to do with the potential Jesus saw in him. He looked beyond what Simon was to what Simon could become.
Reaching Simon’s potential was not easy. He made plenty of mistakes. There was the reckless rebuke (Matthew 16:21-23), the presumptuous proposal (Matthew 17:1-5), the selfish sleeping (Matthew 26:40-44), the detestable denials (Matthew 26:69-75), etc. However, he finally lived up to his new name and became a “rock” for the Lord. In Peter, we see that there is no limit to our capabilities if we don’t “cap” our “abilities.” So, what does the Lord see in you?
"Barabbas” was a notorious criminal who is mentioned in all four gospel accounts. Known by some manuscripts as “Jesus Barabbas,” he had committed robbery and murder during an insurrection. And as a result, he was an inmate on death row in Jerusalem at the time Jesus was brought before Pilate.
Pilate unwittingly pitted against each other two people who represented the most antagonistic forces of all time when he asked the crowd, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” Barabbas was the essence of carnality. He was a vile and violent lawbreaker. He was the worst Pilate could offer. Jesus, on the other hand, was the sinless Savior. He was the best God could offer. The contrast could not be clearer. Yet the crowd called for Barabbas to be released. They wanted him “let loose” (GNV). …The sad reality is that we “let Barabbas loose” every time we turn away from righteousness to pursue some sinful enticement. We are choosing carnality over Christ!
David’s “giant” stood over 9 feet tall, wearing body armor that weighed 125 pounds, and carrying a spear with a head that weighed 15 pounds. He was a champion warrior whose thundering voice and towering presence caused his enemies to fear. David did not appear to stand a chance. His opponent had all the advantages (size, experience, artillery, athleticism). However, David was not fighting alone. God was on his side.
Rather than looking at the size of the giant, David was looking at the size of his God. And as a result he prevailed! The “giant” challenging you might come in the form of anger, anxiety, guilt, pride, or prejudice. It might be a financial burden or health crisis. However, God is bigger than that giant. He can help you to prevail!
There is an attorney who is willing to plead your case before the high court. He is a flawless and famed advocate for those who stand accused. You can rest easy with him on your side.
This attorney wants to stand up for you. He desires to be your defender. He is your one and only hope. And best of all, His services are offered free of charge. Do not miss your opportunity to get this “high-powered defense lawyer” on your side (1 John 2:1, Voice)!
A forest fire destroyed a farmhouse in western Canada. As the embers cooled, the farmer was walking over the ruins and noticed a burned lump on the ground. It was one of his hens. When he turned the hen over, three chirping baby chicks emerged. The hen saved the lives of her helpless brood at the cost of her own life.
Jesus, who once used a hen analogy Himself (Matthew 23:37), did the same. He laid down His life to save ours. We can emerge from the smoldering ruins of sin because of the Savior’s sacrifice for sin.
Alexander III was the emperor of Russia from 1881-1894. On one occasion, he signed an order consigning a prisoner to life in exile. It read simply, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.” His wife Maria, however, was very compassionate and when she saw the order, did something that would change the prisoner’s life in a big way. She moved the comma. It now read, “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.”
All of us were guilty of sin and should have been eternally exiled. Yet God made pardon possible through His Son. Jesus left the glories of heaven to die as a perfect sacrifice so we could have the comma changed from “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia” to “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.”
A man was speaking to about 200 people during a seminar. He held up a $20 bill and asked, “Who wants this?” Hands immediately went up in the air. He then crumbled up the $20 bill and asked, “Who wants this now?” The hands remained in the air. He proceeded to drop the $20 bill on the ground and grind it with his shoe as he asked, “How about now?” Still the room was full of raised hands. That is because the crumbled and dirty $20 bill had not lost its value. It was still worth something. And so it is with us!
There are times when sin leaves us scrunched and stepped on. We are no longer “finely creased.” However, that does not mean we have lost our value to God. He still sees worth in us even at our most unworthy point. This does not excuse the need for repentance, but it should motivate us to seek repentance. God still wants us!
Build It Right
Build It Right
A wealthy businessman noticed that a local carpenter was living in a rundown house in the community. So he hired the carpenter to do some work for him while he went on a long vacation. He said, “I want you to build a house. Use only the best materials. Hire the best craftsmen. Spare no expense.” However, the carpenter cut corners at every turn. He used inferior materials and sent unskilled workers to the site. When the rich man returned, he inspected the new house and then said, “Here are your keys.” The carpenter had been building his own house!
This story should serve as a warning for all Christians. The cheating we do when no one else is looking affects us far more than we realize. Moral missteps and spiritual shortcuts now will lead to chipping, cracking, and even crumbling later. Don’t look back on what you were building with regret!
A knight appeared before his king and declared, “Sire, I have just returned from pillaging and plundering all of your enemies to the east!” The king replied, “But I don’t have any enemies to the east.” The knight said, “You do now.”
Too often Christians fight battles and make enemies that are not necessary. We “major in minors” and bind our traditions, preferences, and opinions as if they were Scripture. When that happens, the gospel is hindered and brethren are harmed. Let us get with each other at the cross rather than getting cross with each other!
A man was working on the roof of a church building in Werden, Germany, when his safety belt snapped and he fell. The situation could have been tragic for the man if he had not landed on a lamb grazing below. Though the lamb died, the man survived. As a token of his appreciation, the man erected a stone carving of a lamb on the roof.
That lamb did not have a choice. He had no idea what was coming. If he did, there is no doubt the lamb would have moved over and let the man fall to his death. Yet there was another lamb that did have a choice. He did know what was coming. And by grace, He willingly chose to lay down His life for us!
Can you imagine being part of the “First Family” in America or the “Royal Family” in England? You would experience privileges that the rest of us can only dream about. For instance, you would have direct access to a very powerful person, be lavished with gifts that someone else paid for, be constantly protected from harm, and forever be recognized as belonging to an exclusive fraternity.
If you think that would be cool, this will really blow your mind. Christians have been adopted into the family of God. They are part of His household. He is their Father and Jesus is their older brother. They have become heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. As a result, Christians have direct access to a very powerful person, are lavished with gifts that someone else paid for, are constantly protected from harm, and will forever be recognized as belonging to an exclusive fraternity. So, are you up for adoption?
A group of men were looking for a place to hunt. They pulled into a farmer’s driveway and one of them went up to see if they could hunt on the land. The farmer said, “You can hunt, but do me a favor. That donkey over there is 20 years old and is very sick. I just don’t have the heart to kill her. Will you do it for me?” The man replied, “Of course I will.” As he got back in the car, the man decided to play a joke on his friends. He said, “We can’t hunt here, but I’m going to teach that old man a lesson he won’t forget.” He then stuck his gun out the window and shot the donkey. Almost immediately, a second shot rang out from the passenger side as one of his friends yelled, “I got the cow!”
"Rashness” is being overhasty in action without due consideration. There are many examples of rashness in the Bible. For instance, Moses acted rashly getting water from the rock and was prohibited from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20); and Jephthah and Herod made rash vows that cost people their lives (Judges 11; Mark 6). Rashness can hurt feelings, ruin friendships, and divide congregations. It is far better to practice prudence. As Proverbs says, “Wise people think before they act...” (13:16, NLT).
On August 5, 2010, a group of 33 Chilean miners became trapped nearly half a mile beneath the surface of the earth. They found themselves cut off from above, buried 2,300 feet deep, and unable to do anything about it on their own. They had to rely on outside intervention, which finally presented itself after 69 days in the form of a specially-designed capsule.
The rescue of the Chilean miners perfectly illustrates the concept of salvation by grace. Man is cut off from above, buried deep in sin, and unable to do anything about it on his own. He must rely on outside intervention, which has come in the form of Jesus Christ. He is the saving capsule! However, man must get “into” Him (Galatians 3:27) and “remain” there (John 15:4) to reach the top.
Paul Jennings was a slave for President James Madison and his wife Dolley Madison. After the President's death, Dolley sold Jennings to an insurance agent named Pollard Webb for $200. The next year, Daniel Webster paid $120 to purchase Jennings’ freedom.
Daniel Webster paid the price for Jennings’ to be free. This reminds me of the precious word “ransom” in Scripture. It is from the Greek word lytron, and means “a price for release.” Jesus came to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Paul said we were “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Isn't that amazing? Jesus did for us what we could not have done for ourselves. He paid for our freedom!
LeBron James violated royal protocol by wrapping his arm around Duchess Kate for a picture in 2014. The faux pas took place at an NBA game between the Cavaliers and Nets in New York, and left the British media reeling. Though palace officials downplayed the incident, royals are to initiate handshakes and conversations, and they are not to be touched.
I wonder if Christians sometimes view God like that. In their desire to show Him proper respect and reverence, they keep their distance for fear of violating some kind of "royal protocol." They don't want to get too close or speak too soon. While it is true that God is holy and must be approached with the utmost regard, He is also our "Father" and we are His "children." Our relationship is more familial than formal. He loves us and seeks our affection!
Restrained by Love
Restrained by Love
A three-year-old boy was sitting at the dinner table with his parents when he suddenly declared, “Jesus died on the cross.” They were impressed by his surprising remark and asked him why Jesus died on the cross. He thought about it for a minute and said, “Because He couldn’t get off.” There is actually a lot of truth to that answer. Jesus couldn’t get off the cross — not because of the nails in His hands and feet, but because of His love for mankind. That love held Him far more firmly than any physical restraints ever could.
Jesus gave up magnificence for mundane, harmony for hatred, reverence for revulsion, and loftiness for lashings. He left His throne for thorns, His nobility for nails, and His crown for a cross. He did for us what we could not have done for ourselves. As Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
The Extra Mile
The Extra Mile
Have you ever had somebody go out of their way for you? I am not talking about in little ways, like getting up from the table to grab the ketchup, I mean in ways that really required effort and sacrifice.
Not long ago my family was driving down I-65 when our tire blew. It was a cold, snowy night. We didn’t have cell phone reception or much distance between us and the passing semi-trucks. Feeling desperate, we sent a text to someone we knew in the area. He soon arrived at our stranded vehicle. Then he drove us 20 miles to get a new tire at Wal-Mart, bought us dinner, drove us back to the car, and installed the new tire. …I guess we could call him "The Good Kentuckian!”
The gospel is “the power of God” (Romans 1:16). “Power” comes from the Greek word dynamis, from which we get our English word dynamite. Hence, the gospel is God’s dynamite! And we certainly see that dynamite working in the lives of Christians around the world.
Christians have seen the gospel “blow up” their fears and failures, and give them a true sense of peace. They have received a “blast” of purpose in life; they have obtained a “burst” of understanding in the Word; and they have experienced an “explosion” of improvement in the home. That same gospel can give your life the “boom” it so desperately needs!
God knew what awaited His Son. He knew they would spit in His face, strike Him on the head, strip off His clothes, and sarcastically kneel before Him. He knew that His Son would be scourged, spiked, and speared. None of it was a surprise. All of it was expected. From the stumbling Savior trying to carry His own cross to the scoffing soldiers casting lots for His garments to the sobbing sisters watching in the distance, this horror scene had played out in God’s mind many times. And yet He allowed it to happen.
God’s love is too great to describe with words. It is beyond the limits of human language. He “did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). What earthly father would give up his son for someone else? Yet God did just that.
Adopted by God
Adopted by God
“Adoption” comes from a compound Greek word that means “to place as son.” Though adoption was not widely practiced among the Jews, it was quite prevalent in the Roman Empire. An adopted son was deliberately chosen to perpetuate the father’s name and to inherit his estate. Paul said that Christians have been adopted into the family of God.
Jesus is the only natural son of God. The rest of us are sons by adoption. We have become His children and He is our “Abba.” (“Abba” is an informal Aramaic word for “father.” It is a term of endearment reserved for a child. The English equivalent is “daddy” or “papa.”) This makes us heirs of God and fellow heirs with Jesus.
Before a severe storm hit western Pennsylvania, David Kostka was umpiring a little league baseball game. When he saw a black funnel cloud heading toward the field, he rushed into the stands and grabbed his niece. He then pushed her into a nearby ditch and covered her with his body. After the tornado passed, the girl’s uncle was gone. He had given his life in the deadly storm to save her life.
Jesus loved us so much that He left heaven, came to this earth, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross to shield us from the devastating effects of the storm of sin. He gave His life to save ours!
Two Soviet ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia in 1986, killing many people. An investigation revealed that the crash was not caused by mechanical failure or weather conditions. It was the result of pride. Both captains knew of the other ship’s presence and could have easily steered clear, but neither would yield. A lack of humility cost hundreds of people their lives.
Everything about the Lord’s life — from His birth in a barn to His burial in a borrowed tomb — stood as a rebuke of pride. He was meek, mild, and modest. He sought to serve rather than be served. He understood that God reigns in the highest heavens and in the lowliest hearts. The poor in spirit will be rich in spirit!
There Were Witnesses
There Were Witnesses
Suppose a man robbed a bank at gunpoint, and five people got a good look at him. Their eyewitness testimony would carry a lot of weight in court, wouldn’t it? Now suppose that five more people came forward who also got a good look at the man, and then five more people after that. Can you imagine how overwhelming the testimony of 15 eyewitnesses would be in the conviction of that criminal?
Now consider how many people were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There weren’t just 5 or 10 or 15, we’re talking about more than 500 people. And they all got a good look at Him! There was Mary Magdalene and the other women, the apostle Peter, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the rest of the apostles, the five hundred, James, Stephen, and Paul. Hence, there is no question that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. The eyewitness testimony is simply overwhelming. The only question is whether or not you will make Him the Lord of your life.
Gaze of Grace
Gaze of Grace
When the Israelites despised the food God sent them from heaven, He sent them something from the earth — fiery serpents. “Fiery” could have reference to their color, but more likely refers to their venom. Their bite burned! The NIV says “venomous snakes” and the NRSV says “poisonous serpents.” These agents of death were coming out of crevices, curled up in corners, slithering in the sand, and hissing at their heels. They spread through the camp like wildfire and killed many of the Israelites. However, when the people begged for mercy a bronze serpent was lifted up that they could look upon and be healed.
The Israelites experienced a horror scene that sounds like something out of Hollywood: slithering slayers lurking in the shadows, hiding behind rocks, climbing on the pottery, and clinging to the walls, just waiting to attack their next victim. Then grace entered the picture. God intervened. Healing happened. The symbol of death became a symbol of life. All they had to do was “look” to the right thing in obedient faith. Have you done that?