Lifelines December 15, 2019

His entry into this world was hardly remarkable.  No headlines greeted Him, just a string of “No Vacancy” signs.  Oh yes, there was that place over with the animals.  Let His expectant mom find a space there.  Noteworthy?  Not exactly, at least not from a human perspective.  But this was no ordinary baby.  This was the Son of God on a most extraordinary mission.

There were few clues along the way that this kid was anyone special.  How significant could a carpenter’s son possibly be?  He tipped His hand a little when He was twelve (Luke 2:41-51), but no one really understood.  His parents experienced some anxiety, and He hinted at His bigger purpose.  Life was apparently typical otherwise, and His mom cherished it all.  It would become clear to everyone in years to come.         

He stepped onto the public stage at age thirty and was nothing like the experts expected.  He was baptized by the eccentric John and was immediately in a face-to-face fight with the devil.  The tempter assaulted Him in multiple attacks but failed.  The enemy was not finished.  Rejection was swift from the covenant people of God.  It was a hostile environment for the Prince of Peace, and He persisted.  He never wavered.  He came to seek and save the lost.  The world, as unwelcoming as it may have been, needed Him.

He spoke in the language of the people, and they were amazed.  His simple lessons carried profound meaning.  Parables left the disinterested masses unimpressed and the disciples thirsty to learn more.  Commoners, sinners, tax-collectors and the rejects of “proper society” gravitated to Him to listen.  That same “proper society” criticized Him for the company that He kept.  His footprints lead in a unique direction.  A cross was on the horizon.

He ruffled the feathers of the elite.  Well, maybe that is an understatement.  The desire to kill the Son of God might be a bit more than ruffled feathers.  They joined hands with the civil establishment of the day and anger turned into action.  Mobs gathered around Him and dragged Him before the authorities.  Apostles abandoned Him.  One betrayed Him.  Another denied Him.  None stuck with Him.  Death closed in. 

He was whipped.  Mocked.  Spit upon.  Blindfolded and beaten.  A crown of thorns adorned His head.  The once-innocent baby born among the animals was now being treated like a common criminal.  Nails were driven through His flesh, and He was suffering the worst possible end to His life.  “It is finished,” was His simple declaration as He drew His last breath (John 19:30).  Mission accomplished. 

That scene is not the end of the drama.  Three days later the tomb was deserted.  No need to seek the living among the dead.  We should always remember that combination of love and power.  Love to send His Son to die for our sins.  Power to raise Him.  Amazing grace.  Awesome God.                 

Lifelines June 10, 2018

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”  The circumstances that surrounded that plea make it virtually incomprehensible.  Darkness would soon descend.  Actually, it had already enveloped the hearts of men.  Satanic hatred controlled them from within.  Their hands simply carried out their deeply distorted desires.  The devil had them, or did he?

Blood mixed with spit stained His holy face.  The ridicule of the adversaries echoed in His ears.  Even the crooks hanging next to Him mocked Him.  The pain of nails tearing at His flesh grew to unbearable proportions.  Every breath was a labor.  Suffocation threatened.  Life drained from His wounds.  He gasped for air.  His back was raw from the brutal beating He had taken.  Human sins were heaped onto His divine shoulders.  The spiritual burden was immense.  The physical suffering was indescribable.  “Father, forgive them…”

It was His mission, start to finish.  As He approached its completion, he uttered words that would reveal the point with amazing clarity.  It was all about forgiveness.  Sin wrecked the human relationship with God from the very beginning which immediately took its toll on humanity.  The descent was breathtaking, from paradise to murder in one generation.  He came to deal with the root cause of that problem.  “Father, forgive them…”

Peter stood among the perpetrators.  He had traveled and talked with the Lord.  He had seen miracles that defied explanation.  He saw storms calmed, the lame healed, the sick cured and the dead raised.  He himself had walked on water, if only for a step or two.  He also saw Jesus crucified.  He confronted the instigators with their sin.  They had killed the savior.  Surely, this was an unforgivable sin, right?

“What shall we do (Acts 2:37)?”  If ever there seemed like a dilemma with no solution, this was it.  The message hit them right in the heart, but how could they fix it?  It may have appeared hopeless, but there is always hope with the Lord.  Peter’s response?  “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…Acts 2:38)”

Forgiveness?  Even for murdering the Son of God?  Yep, God promised it (Acts 2:39).

The cross reveals the horror of sin.  It took the most dramatic demonstration of the love of God in history to show the lengths to which He would go to solve the estrangement that sin causes.  It severs our ties to our Creator.  He is love.  No God, no love.  He is light.  Separation means eternal darkness.  Without Him there is no life.  We get the point.  Sin separates us from Him and all that is good (James 1:17).

“Father, forgive them…” It epitomizes the Lord’s intentions.  It captures the mission of Jesus.  He endured the torturous death of crucifixion so that we might be forgiven.  It is His heart’s desire for all of us.

Lifelines May 20, 2018

Henry David Thoreau once observed, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” That nineteenth century sentiment sounds incredibly contemporary. It illustrates the feelings of futility that have run through civilizations from the beginning of time and characterize our age as well. We are among the richest countries on earth, yet financial prosperity has not proven to be the answer. What is?

“These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full (John 15:11).” Reflect on the brief biographical information that is available about Jesus, and we find nothing about His possessions. By His own admission, foxes and birds had what he did not (Matthew 8:20). Yet, in His closing conversation with the apostles before His crucifixion He spoke of His joy and of theirs being made full. He obviously knew something.

We must not miss the amazing timing of His words. The cross waited. The sins of all people of all times would soon be heaped on His shoulders. The back-lashing, crown of thorns, humiliation, ridicule and nails through the flesh were gruesome; but they were not the worst. No, the dreadful punishment for all of history’s sins made that seem like a hangnail by comparison. It wrecked His eternally perfect relationship with His Father. All of that was imminent, and He took time to converse about joy?

It is a byproduct of an intimate bond with Jesus Christ. We search in vain for joy when we should be pursuing the joy giver in a relationship so close that He compares it to a vine and branches. Abide is the word He uses multiple times to describe it. That is where we live. It is our life. It took just four verses of His gospel for John to get to the topic of life. It permeates His work. Jesus offers an abundant life (John 10:10), and that has nothing to do with material possessions. An insect can eat those. A thief can steal them. Time will destroy them (Matthew 6:19-21). The Lord offers something much more permanent than that. We focus on tomorrow. He looks at eternity.

It is that continual relationship with Jesus and His word that maintains a vital connection and results in a fruitful life (John 15:5). It is neither sporadic nor marginal. No, the harvest comes when we surrender every breath we take to His control. It is then that our home address is within His love. It is a rich and rewarding relationship known as discipleship. That is job one for those who truly want the joy filled life that only God can give.

God the Father is glorified, and we perpetually stay within the love of Jesus. The lines of communication between earth and heaven are opened. Jesus lived joyfully, explained it and then died. Are we looking and listening?