Give me what I Deserve! But Are you sure that’s What you REALLY Want?

There is a lot of talk these days about justice. We all want fairness and respect no matter who we are. But, do you really want what you deserve? Stop and think about that before you answer too quickly… Take this story, for example:

A Realistic Assessment

There was a crucifixion taking place, and two men were hung on either side of Jesus. “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)

deserve

The “thief on the cross” is perhaps the last eyewitness to talk to Jesus before his death. There is a little semantic disagreement about the two thieves’ crime in the Gospels, since Matthew calls the two men crucified with Jesus “robbers” and Luke calls them “criminals”. Most scholars simply agree that they had apparently committed a crime worthy of capital punishment, and this criminal in particular supports that because he says to the other: “we are getting what our deeds deserve.”

Who Was This Guy?

Here are a couple of observations about this unknown eyewitness: Firstly, he had a realistic view of his own situation, and was honest even to the point of saying that he was getting what he deserved. Tell me, what would the outcome be like if each of us got what we deserve? What if you were judged TODAY based on what you deserve? Do you have any selfishness, anger or pride? Any secret sins or prejudices? People today try to shift the blame to society or their upbringing, but he was accountable for his actions without pointing fingers or making excuses.

Secondly, he saw something in Jesus that impressed him so much that he was convinced of His righteousness.

Thirdly, he called Jesus by name. I don’t know how much he knew of Jesus, but his direct address speaks of personal connection and faith.

Fourthly, he saw Jesus as a future king, and asked to be included in his future kingdom.

Good News

Jesus then told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. This is perhaps the most obvious explanation of Grace in the entire Bible. There is no doubt in my mind that this criminal was forgiven for his crimes and redeemed from sin’s marketplace into God’s kingdom. It is also comforting to know that his salvation was effective today. Jesus doesn’t describe purgatory or a waiting room for heaven.

Ask yourself, what are the dynamics behind this criminal’s redemption? He could not point to a life of good deeds. If good works were required to make it to paradise, then this conversation could NOT have happened. This criminal came to Christ “just as I am”. He had faith in who Jesus was, and acknowledged him as king. He was given assurance that he would see Jesus in paradise that very day.

Here’s the deal: NOTHING about that has changed in over 2,000 years. None of us is good enough to earn our way into heaven. Each of us stands condemned for what we’ve done; but if we come to Jesus in simple faith and ask him to be king, we will be with him in paradise. No matter who you are or where you stand today, I hope to see you there!

Be Careful What You Ask For

Do you really have the nerve to ask for what you just deserve?
Think of it before you start: what really lurks within your heart?
Are you righteous? Are you sure
That what’s within your heart is pure?
Where final justice is concerned,
I will not ask for what I’ve earned!
Just like the thief on Calvary,
I’ll ask: “Lord, Please remember me!”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Sentence that wasn’t a Sentence: Was Pilate Complimenting Jesus?

One of the most unusual testimonies about who Jesus was is expressed in a short sentence that wasn’t a sentence: “I find no fault in this man.” Consider the reactions of Pontius Pilate and his wife:

“While he [Pilate] was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19 NASB)

So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” (Luke 23:3-4 NASB)

sentence

Surprising Testimony

Not all of the testimony in Jesus’ favor came from friends, or people he healed… You’d expect those folks to say that Jesus was somebody special, but why would someone from outside this inner circle say good things about him? These two Romans, who had no real personal concern about Jewish claims or religious arguments, encountered Jesus and evaluated him based on face value.

Pontius Pilate’s wife called Jesus a “righteous man”, and Pilate himself found no fault in him. Instead of finding an arrogant upstart or a shrewd political operator, Pilate found a humble, quiet man who refused to pontificate or even dispute the scurrilous claims against him. Jesus’ simple affirmation of the truth and his quiet dignity unsettled Pilate so much that he washed his hands of Jesus’ blood in front of everyone. Ironic that he wanted no part of Jesus’ death, but still sent him to the cross…

Which Sentence?

Here at the end of Jesus’ kangaroo court trial, Pilate uttered a sentence without ever actually pronouncing a sentence on the defendant. I’ve often wondered if, years later, retired and sitting on his porch in Italy, Pilate thought about Jesus and reflected about the things he said. “My kingdom is not of this world.” “I bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” “You have no power over me unless it had been given to you from above…” (John 18:36, 37; 19:11)

Did his wife ever say, “I told you so! I told you not to have anything to do with that rabbi!”? Did he ever experience anxiety over the role he played in sending Jesus to his death? He encountered the Son of God face to face and then still became culpable in his crucifixion. Can you imagine? But if you stop and think about it, isn’t that what many do today? Technically, isn’t that what we ALL have done?

Since Jesus was crucified to pay the penalty for sin, doesn’t that mean that all of us sinners participated in sending him to the cross? Don’t end up retired somewhere thinking, “Wow, I knew there was something different about Jesus. I should have treated him a little differently.” You’ll regret it.

A Most Uneasy Retirement

In an assignment far from home, caught between the Jews and Rome,
As politics and eternity swirled
in events that surely changed his world,
Pontius Pilate tried to choose, when any way he went, he’d lose…
Pilate tried to wash his hands of the Jewish King, this innocent man.
Events began he couldn’t halt, and so he said, “I find no fault!”
He knew the sentence wasn’t fair, but left his sentence hanging there
To add to Christ’s validity, recorded for posterity,
And echoed through eternity…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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The Eyewitness without Eyes: we didn’t see THAT Coming

We are looking at various eyewitness accounts about Jesus recorded in the Bible. If you want something more current, there is a great website called “I Am Second” that offers hundreds of personal eyewitness testimonies from people TODAY about what it’s like to encounter Jesus and to put him first in your life. It’s filled with people from every walk of life, including both celebrities and everyday people. They tell their stories simply and in the first person narrative, saying “this is what happened to me”. If you watch a few of them, some of the first-hand reactions to Jesus will surprise you. The statements each individual makes are compelling in both their content and presentation.

An Unexpected Reaction

In the Gospels there are also some great snapshots of eyewitness reactions to Jesus of Nazareth, including this one, which provides testimony from a place you’d least expect it: “Then he [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:31-34, NIV)

eyewitness

The eyewitness in this passage is not one of the people in the synagogue, even though they were amazed at his teaching, and it’s not Luke, who recorded it later for posterity. It’s not even the poor man who was possessed… For a clue as to its identity, read verse 34 again.

This eyewitness appears on the scene from almost out of nowhere with a startling affirmation about who Jesus was. It’s not surprising that people were amazed at his teaching. He spoke with authority. As a result what Jesus said contained so much truth that even the small portions of it we possess are still amazing to us today, twenty-one centuries later. (Small portions, you ask? Don’t forget that John ends his Gospel with this: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25)

“Out of this World” Recognition

What’s significant about this passage is the fact that He was recognized by the spirit who possessed a man in the Capernaum synagogue. This spirit called him by name and identified him as “the Holy One of God!” Jesus told Pilate in John 18:36 that He came to usher in a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one. If that statement was true, I guess it makes sense that a spirit would recognize a spiritual king and know about who he was. You may not acknowledge a spirit world, but I’ll tell you this: the spirit world acknowledges you.

How often have you seen evil in our world that seems beyond human comprehension? (Think: Holocaust, mass murderers, senseless shootings…) If there is no evil spirit at work, why are there those who worship Satan or practice dark rituals? Second, there is evidence of evil taking place somewhere every day. I don’t think most of us even begin to know about places that Satan and his minions touch our world, but I bet you’ve seen evidence of it. Surely we can look around our world and see inhumanity because that’s exactly what it is. Humans act “inhuman”, motivated by forces beyond themselves. Consequently they achieve levels of evil that the average person doesn’t even think of.

I’m sure that onlookers in the synagogue at Capernaum had to be asking themselves, “Who was this man who taught with authority and was known by name to even the spirit world?” Do you ever wonder about that yourself? It’s a great question—read a few snapshots about Jesus this week and answer it for yourself.

Moving Time

I made my home here years ago, so cozy and secure;
I found myself a helpless host whose motives were impure,
Who followed my suggestions, stepping deeper into sin
So smoothly that he didn’t hesitate to let me in!
Capernaum has really been a great place to reside.
The coastal vibe is nice, and there are places we can hide.
The synagogue gives handouts, and they think my host is crazy–
Though truth be told, he’s really just inhabited, and lazy…
Wait! Who is THAT?! He hurts my eyes! My heart is seized with fear!
The Holy One of God?! What is HE doing way out here??
I’ve never felt a spiritual force so powerful and big;
I guess I’m gonna have to go and find another gig…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Woman Whose Day Didn’t Turn Out Like She Planned

There was once a somewhat bold and saucy Samaritan woman who lived on the outer edges of social convention. As a result, perhaps, she went to the well at midday to draw water and ran into a strange man, resulting in one of the most surprising conversations in history… John puts it like this:

“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:27-29 NIV)

More Unusual Than You Think

Why does John point out that the disciples were so surprised? Today, it may be common for conversations to occur like that. But Jesus’ conversation with the woman by the well in Samaria is one of his most interesting and intriguing encounters in history. It is a passage full of surprises.

woman claim

By even having this conversation, Jesus breaks all kinds of social barriers and engages in a conversation that ends up changing the lives of an entire village. Because Samaria was considered apostate, devout Jews would often journey far out of their way to avoid going through there. Jesus intentionally walked through Samaria and even stopped to rest. Stepping outside of accepted social convention, he talked to a (socially) lowly woman, which was forbidden for a Rabbi. Not only that, but she was a SAMARITAN woman.

To top it all off, the woman had a morally questionable background (which apparently Jesus already knew), because she had had several husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. She went out to the well at midday rather than in the morning (ostensibly to avoid the other women who would be getting water); so she was probably not very popular with other women in the village.

But the Thing That REALLY Stands Out…

The disciples were surprised to find Jesus talking to this woman for all of these reasons. And in the aftermath of the conversation, there is an additional surprising and interesting detail in these verses that I had never noticed before; did you catch it? The woman left her water jar! She was so excited about her conversation with Jesus that she totally forgot why she had gone to the well in the first place.

In America we take drinkable water for granted, but people value it greatly where it is scarce. Water is incredibly important in the trans-Jordan area, and water jars aren’t cheap, so it is not surprising that she was going to the well. But, she was so motivated by her conversation with Jesus that she just took off for the village and left it all behind.

When Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman, He crossed cultural boundaries and broke down social barriers. He surprised her by knowing details about her life, things for which she had been judged and scorned; yet he showed her no condescension or scorn. She responded to this remarkable man not only because of what he told her, but HOW he told her as well.

On that fateful afternoon, she couldn’t help it– she left everything, went back to her village and told everyone what she had discovered about this man! Yeah, the disciples were surprised to find him talking to a woman; but the woman was surprised even more. She snuck out to the well at midday to avoid judgment and awkward conversations, and was instead surprised by wisdom, acceptance, and love. If you have been avoiding God because of guilt or judgment, have your own conversation with Jesus. He might just surprise you, too.

The Woman at the Well

The scarlet woman snuck out to the well,
Because the other women put her down;
They’d all decided she was going to hell,
And no one even wanted her around;
Until a stranger asked her for a drink,
And told her every thing she’d ever done;
Surprised, she didn’t know just what to think,
But wondered, somehow, if he was the One…

He wasn’t prejudiced like all the rest,
And she could only look at him and nod;
He seemed to call her out to be her best,
And introduced her to the Living God.
You and I have both been there,
Struck by hatred, hopelessness and lies;
Until we looked and found an answered prayer–
Until we looked in Jesus’ eyes.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Come, and See: the Obvious Choice that was not so Obvious

When Jesus arrived on the scene, his cousin John was preaching to large crowds who gathered to hear him outside of Jerusalem. “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come”, he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.” (John 1:35-39 NIV)

come

Maybe the Best Preacher Ever

John the Baptist became well-known during his ministry, so much so that Scribes and Pharisees would come out to the country from Jerusalem to question him, and a group of disciples gathered around him. In spite of his humble circumstances, and through no desire of his own, he became a celebrity. He was a dynamic preacher calling the children of Israel to repent and embrace the Kingdom of heaven.

John testified eloquently about the arrival of God’s son, and his followers had come to him from all over as he preached to large crowds. His disciples were dedicated men who were seeking the Kingdom of God. They followed John for months if not years, watching and waiting for the Messiah to come. It may seem logical that John’s disciples would leave him when Jesus arrived, but that had to be far more difficult than it might seem on the surface of things.

John was famous, an established prophet, a rising star in the eyes of the Hebrew world. He preached with power and conviction, and his conduct was impeccable. He drew big crowds, and he had the attention of everyone who worshipped the Lord.

A New Kid in Town

When Jesus showed up on the scene, he was unknown, a young carpenter from Galilee without much street cred. There had been no miracles. No one had heard of him, and there were no crowds following him around. All of that came later. To most folks, He was just a guy from Nazareth until John pointed him out.

Knowing “the rest of the story”, it only makes sense to us that John’s followers would gravitate to the Messiah, but in the first days after Jesus’ arrival, who knew? It couldn’t have been obvious or intuitive to anyone. Religious leaders came from Jerusalem, not Galilee, and Rabbis had formal training in the Temple Courts, being apprenticed for years until they were ready to step out and lead a group of men…

Even later on, many of the disciples weren’t exactly sure who Jesus was, and they didn’t know in advance what would come from this Rabbi, so this early in the game… I’m sure they were hoping for an obvious sign that they were making the right play. When Jesus showed up, John’s disciples had to make a choice, and they had to leave a successful ministry for an unknown start-up.

A Difficult Choice

After John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus, two of John’s followers approached Jesus. In this well-known response, Jesus didn’t give them a list of his accomplishments, he didn’t pontificate or try to impress, he merely said, “Come, and you will see”. That is his invitation not only to them but to all mankind, and to every one of us: Come check me out. Watch what I DO. See if I’m legit or not.

Have you ever really, REALLY taken a look at who Jesus was and what he did? If you haven’t yet spent a day at his place hanging out, then perhaps you haven’t seen him the way he intended you to. Over the next few days in this blog we will spend a little time looking at Jesus and hanging out with him. Come, and see.

Hold That Thought and Watch This

We Christians think we have to sell
the Bible’s thoughts on heaven and hell
So sinners one and all can learn
That surely they must “turn or burn”.
We share the gospel when we can–
The Four Spiritual laws, the fall of man,
The Roman Road, salvation’s plan
Spelled out in an effective tract
Which we can share with grace and tact.
And yet there is no better way
Than what the Savior had to say
When John’s disciples asked if He
Was who they thought. His words can be
A template: He said, “Come and see,
And if you want to know: “Watch me.”
They did. The rest is history.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Eyewitness Accounts Exist; But are They Enough to Convict YOU?

The Christmas season always has so much meaning to me that I hate to see it end. But the tree and the Christmas lights are down. Before we get TOO far into 2022, let’s pause to reflect one last time about the Christmas story. I love it because it’s a story filled with humility and surprise, full of unexpected details that validate the arrival of a long-awaited king. And it’s also amazing because every year it presents evidence through eyewitness accounts. It’s a yearly reminder that Jesus was a REAL person who was born and walked among us.

Really

His arrival was witnessed by shepherds and magi, by townspeople and angels. At the time, men recalled Scriptures from long ago and quoted them while celebrating the birth of Jesus; they still do today. Why do so many people commemorate his life every year? We’re a long way from first century Judea, and there is so much legend and commercialism today around the Christmas baby Jesus it might be easy to forget who he really was and what he really did.

Lest the story seem ancient and quaint, I thought it would be good to play “Eyewitness News” through the gospels and get some first-hand accounts from people who were there, who saw Jesus, talked with him, and witnessed what he did. After all, eyewitness accounts can get someone convicted in a court of law; maybe they are worth listening to about this man Jesus.

eyewitness

Actual Testimony

Do those accounts provide any real evidence about him? The story of the baby Jesus reminds us how he came to earth; the things he did as a man reveal WHY he came to earth. One of the early reporters was his cousin, John the Baptist, who said this: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire…” (Matthew 3:11 KJV) and this: “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he said, Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35-36 KJV)

Before Jesus ever drove money-changers from the temple or performed a miracle, and before his wisdom changed the way everyone looked at religion, John identified him as a game-changer. Long before the cross, and long before Jesus said, “This is my body”, John pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God, the sacrifice who would take away the sins of the world.

This past Christmas season, we’ve celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus, the newborn king. Let’s not forget who he grew up to be. Christmas may begin in a manger, but it ends on a cross. Reliable witnesses provided proof of Jesus’ birth; they also remind us throughout the Gospels that we should celebrate his life as well! If a reliable eyewitness account can get someone convicted of murder, perhaps we should allow a few good eyewitness accounts to get us convicted about how to live…

The Shepherd’s Account

I saw him there, your Honor, in the manger where he lay;
I saw him in the village, with the other kids at play.
He taught there in the temple court when he was just a lad;
The elders were astonished at the questions that he had!
I saw him heal the sick and lame, and heard him preach and teach,
While hundreds fed on fish and bread extended from his reach.

You asked me here and swore me in to give my testimony.
I raised my hand and told this court that not a word is phony!
The angels told us we would find a new-born baby boy,
Whose birth would change the world, and bring us tidings of great joy!
I swear, Your Honor, on my oath that every word is true;
That many people heard his words and saw what he could do–
I’m sure you would believe in Him, if you had seen him too!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread