Behold the Man #2

I posted earlier this month about a phrase that caught my attention —Behold the Man!–this is what Pilate said when he brought Jesus out to face the crowd demanding his crucifixion. God evidently isn’t done with teaching me about this yet, because it came up again, in a different form.

My husband and I watched a miniseries entitled North Water. It tells a dark and disturbing story that I didn’t especially enjoy. However, the first episode was called “Behold the Man!” so that got my attention. Now, this series has nothing to do with Jesus. It focuses on the depravity of man. The main character, a surgeon named Patrick Sumner, suffers betrayal and is exposed to all sorts of difficult experiences. He encounters thievery, perversion, murder, selfishness, addiction and more. He almost dies as the result of the sinful behavior of others. He starts out as a “good” person who wants to do the right things, but by the end of the story he also kills a man and steals his money. Some would say his behavior was justified because he was trying to right the wrong that had been committed against him, but sin is still sin.

So, what is my takeaway from this? The comparison between the human being Christ was (sinless) and the human being I am (sinful). Christ was able to suffer many of the same things Patrick did. He was betrayed, deserted, mocked, beaten and finally killed. Yet, as the Bible tells us:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15

Patrick cracked under the strain of sin. He couldn’t be righteous. He needed a Savior. So do you and I! Behold the man Christ, and behold yourself. Be thankful He could do what we cannot.

For more posts about the atonement of Christ see:

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Most Certainly True

Interactive Study Blog – Hebrews Chapter 10

Behold the Man!

As part of my morning devotions, I’ve been reading through the gospel of John. Recently I came to the section of the passion account when Jesus comes before Pilate. Pilate has had Him flogged but finds no reason to punish him further. He brings Jesus out to the crowd, hoping they will agree to releasing Him. Here’s the way the scene is described:

“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!'” John 19:5

After finishing with John, I turned to the next chapter in a book about art I had been using (Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey–Book Review). Imagine my surprise when the painting being discussed was Ecce Homo (it means Behold the Man) by Caravaggio! It’s a picture of the very same event I just read through in my Bible!

This was too much of a Godcidence to ignore, so I’ve spent some time meditating about it. Here’s what I’ve concluded. The disciples and other people from the time of Jesus had a hard time seeing Him as God. They knew Him as the son of Joseph and Mary, a carpenter, a teacher. They were constantly forgetting (even right after the fact) that He could perform miracles. He told them he would die and rise again — more than once–but they still had trouble believing it.

Fast forward to 2022 — we’re in the opposite predicament. We’re so accustomed to understanding Jesus as the Son of God, that we often forget that He was also fully human, just like we are. During the week of His passion, He was repeatedly flogged, spat upon, betrayed, demeaned. We don’t stop to think how difficult that was for Him to bear in His humanity. How would we feel? Would we be able to keep our focus on God and His Holy Will? Probably not. Almost certainly not.

So, it’s good to remember during this period of Lent, just how much Jesus suffered for us. He couldn’t brush it off, just because He was God. The pain and suffering was exactly the same for Him as it would be for any of us. Never take that for granted! Behold the man!

1For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15

For more about Christian art see:

Praying with Art

Contemplative Vision by Juliet Benner–Book Review

Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review

What Stands Out–Nehemiah

Recently I’ve been using the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan to read several chapters of the Bible each day. Because I’ve become used to reading in a slow, meditative way (lectio divina), I’m finding that even when I read more quickly, certain things stand out. Here’s what stood out for me in the book of Nehemiah.

“We will not neglect the house of our God.” Nehemiah 10:39b

In case you don’t know, or don’t remember, the book of Nehemiah is the last historical book in the Old Testament, and it is a record about how the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon. They rebuilt the walls of the city and revived the worship life of the nation. Reestablishing the temple required sacrifice. The people (according to God’s law) were to give a tithe (one-tenth) of all they produced for the support of the Levites (their priests) and to maintain the place of worship. After 40 years of exile, they were more than willing to do this.

This verse makes me think about my own commitment. Of course, this does mean money. Am I happy to give one tenth of my income to take care of God’s house? Or do I sometimes regard this as a hardship? Do I think of supporting the chuch as a joy and a privilege, or do I grouse about how little others give? Do I give my first fruits, or just what I have left over after doing what I want to do?

We can neglect the house of God in other ways, too. During this time of the pandemic, many of us have become accustomed to avoiding church services. Watching the Pastor preach on Zoom or YouTube services may be better than nothing, but should not become a continual substitute for meeting together, as Paul urges us to do in the book of Hebrews:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another ….” Hebrews 10:24-25a

Meeting together encourages us to love and serve others. It fosters accountability and Christian action; it reminds us that we are not alone in our Christian walk. How lucky we are to have a church building and a church family!

In our country, it’s easy to take our churches for granted. I do it sometimes, and you probably do, too. The people of Nehemiah’s time knew what it meant to enjoy God’s law in God’s house. Take a page from their book — don’t neglect the house of the Lord. It’s a privilege we should never take for granted.

For more about the church see:

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered by James C. Wilhoit

We (the Laity) Are the Church

Do I help or hurt the Church?

What My Faith Means to Me #3

This was written by husband for one of his seminary classes, and I thought it went along well with the earlier posts by our daughters when they were confirmands.

When I think about God I think first of the awesome wonder of a Being who can create all that is from nothingness, simply by willing it into existence. It is so far beyond my understanding that simply trying to establish boundaries for this act of power, to express parameters for such a God is impossbile. My mind can conceive many wonderous, Wonderland-like things, but creation, ex nihilo, is so frar from my understanding of what is possible that I can only accept it on faith.

The author of Hebrews describes faith as …the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (11:1). Hope and evidence, yearning and established fact. It is in this faith, this gift of God that I can come to terms with that which is beyond knowing. The Hidden God reveals Himself to His creatures in ways which we can only dimly comprehend. In this realm of the poorly understood Truth, we are forced to become like children, guided toward places we can only imagine, trusting the choices of the loving Father who leads us.

When I was a child my father would take our family on Sunday afternoon drives in the country. After leaving our neighborhood I would be totally lost, unable to recognize any reference points in the landscape around me. Yet I never worried about the unfamiliar homes, fields and woods that we saw. My trust in my dad’s ability to bring us safely back to our home was absolute.

distant man driving fancy red cabriolet along town street

Just so my faith in the loving heavenly Father is absolute. As my father’s repeated ability to find our home again reinforced my trust in him, so the long record of God’s faithfulness and care for His people reinforces my trust in Him. In Scripture, in the lives of people I have observed, and in my own life, God’s faithfulness is always apparent, always comforting, always objectively true.

To be continued …..

For more about faith see:

What Does It Mean to Walk by Faith?

What My Faith Means to Me #2

What My Faith Means to Me

Jesus, the Word of God

It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, which is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to him. ” C. S. Lewis

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” Hebrews 1:1-2

Our High Priest

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin .”Hebrews 4:15

When we are challenged by the difficulties of life, it may help to meditate on the verse above. Jesus, although God, was also fully human and experienced many of the same situations that we do. For example:

  1. He was betrayed by a friend (Judas)
  2. He felt overwhelmed by His mission (in the Garden of Gethsemane)
  3. He grieved when His friend Lazarus died
  4. He was rejected in His home town
  5. He was tempted by the devil in the desert
  6. He became angry with the moneychangers in the Temple
  7. He allowed Himself to become weak and be arrested
  8. He suffered when he was beaten
  9. He was ridiculed by the guards
  10. He appeared to be a failure when he died on the cross

How did he manage to endure all this without sin? He prayed; He turned to the Scriptures; He trusted God; He kept His mind of His mission and His goal, instead of the esteem of the world.

We’re not perfect, like Jesus. We will sin. But we can follow His example, and be comforted.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Grade Yourself #3

I’ve been thinking a lot this month about grading yourself honestly on how you are doing spiritually — is it possible (see Grade Yourself)  and who/what should you compare yourself to in assigning a grade (see  Grade Yourself #2 ).  I concluded with input from a friend, that each of us should be “graded” against ourselves.  How have we matured in our relationship with God, our good works, our understanding of Scripture over the past weeks, months or years.

Recently I did another spiritual exercise that had to do with imagining my own death.  How would I want to be remembered?  What would I expect to be said in my eulogy.    What are my life goals and have I met them?  This too, is a kind of “grading” or evaluating.  Of course, it is my faith and not my works that save me, but will I feel at all  worthy to hear these words?

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'”  Matthew 25:23

I thought hard about this.  Looking back on my life, trying to grade myself, I would consider three things.  The first is my life verse(actually it’s two verses):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Second is my personal mission statement What’s My Mission?:

“”To keep in mind that I am a pilgrim on a journey to draw closer to God’;  to recognize and respect this pilgrim quality in others and use my God given talents, insights, and resources to encourage them;  to enjoy the life, friends, family and work with which I have been blessed and to be a peaceful and harmonious influence in all of these places.”

Finally, my core values (L. A. T. C. H. On To Your Core Values):

  • Learning
  • Attentiveness
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Honesty

These are the things I would use to “grade” my life–this is what I would use to see if I had worked toward being the kind of servant God created me to be.

If you haven’t done any exercises like these, I would encourage you to do so.  Knowing what you’re aiming for will help you persevere.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”

 

 

 

What is Hope?

I probably should have written this post earlier in the month, but better late than never!  According to the Bible, hope is an important component of faith.  My Bible dictionary defines it as:

“reliance on God’s blessing ad provision;  the expectation of future good.

The author of Hebrews puts it this way:

 “”Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Hebrews 11:1      

 

In other words,  our Christian hope is not just a wish, it is a confident belief that God’s in charge and he is working all things for our good.       

This hope is based upon the Scripture:

“For whatever was written in former days , was written for our instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we may have hope.”  Romans 15:4

and on the promises of God:

” … in hope of eternal life, which God who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted …. ” Titus 1:2-3

It is described as living (1 Peter 1:3), good (2 Thess.2:16), sure and steadfast (Hebrews 6:19) and is listed as one of the great virtues in 1 Cor. 13:13.  It produces purity (1 John 3:3), patience (Romans 8:25), courage (Romans 5:4-4), and joy (Romans 12:12).  It imparts salvation (Romans 8:23), assurance (Hebrews 6:18-19) and stability (Col. 1:23).

What a wealth of blessing are wrapped into this one word!  No wonder it is mentioned so frequently in the Psalms, as the Lord is praised.

“Let your steadfast love, O Lord be upon us, even as we hope in you.”  Psalm 33:22

Readers, may you always have the hope of the Lord in your life!

Our Anchor

When I first starting working as a buyer, back in 1972, not only were there no desktop computers, there was no such thing as voicemail!  All of our records were manual copies, kept in a file cabinet.  I didn’t have a cell phone or a microwave.

While technology has improved immensely, I can’t say the same for my physical body.  I’m about thirty pounds heavier, I have to dye my hair to keep the gray away, and I have all sorts of aches and pains I never imagined!

A  Greek philosopher, Heraclitus once said “change is the only constant in life.”  That seems about right.  That’s one of the things that makes life uncertain — it’s impossible to predict what things will be like in thirty or forty years.  Our jobs may become obsolete.  Our health may fail.  Our best friend may move across the country.  There could be wars or climate change or natural disasters.  Who knows?

That’s what makes faith so important.  It gives our life an firm foundation because the truths and character of God are certain.  When everything else around us falls apart, those things remain the same.  In our Hebrews sermon series at church, the most recent sermon centered on this verse:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

There’s a big word for this — immutable.  In the book of Malachi, God Himself tells His people:

“”I am the LORD, and I do not change.”  Malachi 3:6

In other places in the Bible we are told that God’s love is steadfast and His mercy endures forever.  These are just different ways of telling us that we can trust God and rely upon His promises.  He knew us in the womb where He formed us, and He will love and care for us until the end of our earthly lives and beyond.  That’s the one thing we can count on.

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. ”  Hebrews 19-20

 

For more posts about the unchanging nature of God follow these links:

A Parent Who Never Forgets

Mercy For Today by Jonathan Parnell– Book Review

 

Strengthen Your Feeble Arms

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. ”  Hebrews 12:12

My husband has been preaching through the book of Hebrews (my favorite).  A few weeks ago, we heard about the great cloud of witnesses who surround us — those biblical and contemporary saints who went before us and suffered for the faith.  Then we learned about discipline, how we should submit to it because God is building our character through it.  Last week’s sermon started with the verse above.  The therefore means we should pay attention to what has come before.  Because we are one in a long line of saints, because we have endured the Lord’s discipline, we are to continue to be strong in order to encourage others.

I have to admit that lately I’ve been feeling rather weak.  I’m getting older (turning 70 later this month) and this coronavirus situation has dealt a blow.  A month or more of enforced isolation somehow lessened my desire to get out and accomplish things.  Church is more difficult — people are uneasy and quick to accuse others of not doing the right thing, some are not attending at all, finances are suffering.  We’re uncertain about the future, and frankly, I’m not sure I’m up to being an optimistic leader right now.

The verse about tells me that quitting is not an option.  We are to remain strong, not only for ourselves but for others.  Any suffering we encounter is simply a consequence of our sinful humanity, and as the author puts it in verse 4:

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  Hebrews 12:5

The last chapter of the book closes with a list of things we can be doing no matter how daunting our situation.  Take a look:

  • “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy.” (12:14)
  •  “See to it that no one misses the grace of God, and that no bitter root grows up” (12:15)
  • “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” (13:1)
  • “Do not forget to entertain strangers” (13:2)
  • “Remember those in prison” (13:3)
  • “Marriage should be honored by all” (13:4)
  •  “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” (13:5)
  • “Remember your leaders” (13:7)
  • “Pray for us” (13:18)

There’s more, but this gives you a taste.  There is much to be done.  We’re to continue serving God and serving others — this much is certain.  Weak knees are not an excuse!

For more on the book of Hebrews, see these posts:

Interactive Bible Study -Hebrews Chapter 12

Interactive Bible Study-Hebrews Chapter 13

Thankful for Others –Hebrews Chapter 12

Thankful for Leaders –Hebrews Chapter 13