Matthew 20:17-19: “Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!’”

As the day of His execution drew closer, Jesus began to share with His disciples what was about to happen. He knew the exact date and circumstances of His death. People on death row are familiar with the agonies of awaiting their own execution, except that Jesus had volunteered to die that way. It was a sacrifice He made.

Jesus did not die to prove a point, but to open the door to freedom. All slavery is opposed to freedom. Slave drivers can be money, sexual promiscuity, drugs – just to name a few. Slavery promotes disrespect; and disrespect reaps a bitter harvest. Injustice in the end is self-defeating. A human society wholly based on slavery is on the brink of death.

In whichever form slavery rears its ugly head, it remains a curse and its growing tumors destroy the face of humanity. Jesus died to remove these cancerous ulcers once and for all. He came to establish the kingdom of God and as such reestablish human-kindness.

God will not be the slave owner of His own creation. He refuses to enslave us, even if it is for the right reasons. The very day He forces us to be free we are no longer free. That is why freedom of choice is non-negotiable. Freedom is also the mother of all creativity. God gave us artistic license, and He will never take it back. As much as slavery dehumanizes us, glorious freedom enables us to be truly human.

Jesus knew that He would rise from the dead on the third day after His execution. And so it happened. The grave could not hold Him. Its tombstone was rolled away and Jesus emerged, alive and well. The wonderful news is that we too will rise from the dead when we put our trust in Him.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Freedom from death is His greatest gift to give – and it is ours to accept it.

Isaiah 53:5-6: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The concept of putting ourselves first has thrown the world under the bus. Jesus entered the scene of the accident with a refreshingly different approach saying: “Love God and your neighbor as yourself!” He lived these words so we can see and judge for ourselves that His way of life not only works, it is the only way how life makes sense. And I believe this is the reason why Jesus calls Himself “The Way.”

We are drowning in a lifestyle detrimental to our physical and mental health. And sometimes the only way to save us from drowning is to let out the bathwater until we sit in an empty bathtub. This is the year 2020 approaching Easter, and all around us the streets are empty, the shelves in our grocery stores are blank, public buildings such as schools and courthouses look hollow-eyed, in short: we sit in an empty bathtub.

Acts of God are as surprising and unforeseen as they come. It would be cruel to think or say that God punishes us for whatever sins we have committed. I don’t believe that is His style. God has better things to do. That is why Jesus said that He did not come to judge but to save the world. However, an act of God makes us aware of things that we could not see before. Reduced to emptiness we can appreciate what counts. Life counts. Love counts.

God’s generous love includes people who don’t accept Him. A beautiful mystery is being revealed when we become aware of God’s love. Jesus’s death and resurrection revolutionized the fabrics of all creation. In the new world to come, even animals will stop killing each other. The lion won’t have lamb for dinner and people will have learned how to be kind. It will be a safe world for our children and children’s children.

When we left Paradise we became strangers to God and His kingdom. It is a difficult pill to swallow that an innocent man was brutally murdered to make things right for everybody, but Jesus’s healing of a broken relationship will always be remembered. To be reconnected to the source of all being is the most striking experience there is. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, but by His wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:3-4: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.”

Job sat in the dust scratching his sores when several of his friends showed up. He had lost everything dear to him – his family, his possessions, and his health. The men were genuinely speechless when they witnessed the extraordinary pain their friend Job went through. So they sat down and mourned with him for a while without speaking a word. Maybe this is what they should have continued doing, but at some point they did speak up. After assessing the situation they essentially told Job: “Everything is your fault! God is punishing you for your sins.” However, none of the things happening to Job was his fault. It was an act of God.

When Jesus was executed on the cross, the people around him hurled insults at Him saying: “Save yourself if you are as wonderful as you claim to be.” Jesus on the cross was considered a fraud. If He truly was the Son of God, He would not let Himself get killed – or wouldn’t He?

It is ironic that everybody likes to judge while nobody wants to be judged. Whether we become witnesses of a sad scene, or we see someone at his or her breaking point, we should never jump to conclusions. In most cases our hasty deductions are plain wrong, and the damage of our snap judgment calls can cause a lifetime of pain.

Who likes to hear that Jesus’s suffering on the cross was entirely our fault? Nobody does – at least I don’t know anybody who enjoys hearing that – but here is the good news: Jesus is not mad at us. He suffered greatly at our hands, but He suffered willingly; His goal was to eliminate all judgment calls, whether they are inappropriate or justified. He took the blame and accepted all punishment there is. Now, what is left for us?

* Peace – with nothing left to blame, punish, or judge;

* Healing – coming from a Savior who was in our shoes and has all the empathy for our cause that we can hope for.

Jesus picks up our broken pieces and makes us whole again – trusting Him is the key. If we don’t know Jesus yet, we will find that it is easy to get acquainted – He is truly welcoming – and our acquaintance will soon blossom into a friendship that goes beyond our lifetime.

Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The human spirit is unfettered and free. Try to subjugate humans, in the end they will shake off the shackles. This is why ultimately all totalitarian systems are doomed. From God’s perspective, absolute rule is not His style. Nothing could be further from our Creator’s intentions. God simply is no autocrat or control freak, which is why He created no robots, but living beings endowed with free will.

God created us to be free.

Initially there was no law; but then the tree of the knowledge of good and evil misled us. I call this the “Tree of the dos and don’ts” or the “Tree of the Law”. God commanded us not to eat its fruit because He knew full-well that we would get lost in the Law. Against His expressed wishes, however, we still went for it.

Eating from a cursed tree, we were robbed of God and freedom.

Meanwhile, the Lord has been diligently at work to help us. He gave us the Ten Commandments so that we could see firsthand that in a world ruled by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil not even the wisest body of laws would bring peace. We had to learn this the hard way. When we finally realized the impotency of the Law, God sent His Son Jesus. He came to restore us to a forgotten life – the way things used to be, before we got involved with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In a passage of rites, Jesus gets nailed by the Law – nailed to a tree – and dies, which is all the Law can do.

There is absolutely no life in the Law.

With the arrival of God’s Son, the age of the Law has expired. Jesus’s death and subsequent resurrection started a whole new era; He brought us God’s kingdom. We do not become good by refraining from sinning, but by accepting Jesus’s wonderful gift. Plain and simple – unless we do not want it plain and simple, which puts us right back under the Law nailing us to a tree.

The law kills, while the Spirit of God brings life.

In general I love trees – but definitely not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! This tree has brought us nothing but grief. Old habits die hard, and die-hard fans of the Law are everywhere on this planet, however, religious indoctrination is not what Jesus had in mind for us. While He Himself fulfilled the Law to the t, He came to save us from the Law and its repercussions.

Jesus came to set us free – and He freed us indeed.

“Oh, freedom, Oh, freedom
Oh freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free”

Songwriters: R.W. Singleton
Posted in Law

Genesis 2:18: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”

We are not alone. God created us for community. It is in times of isolation that we become acutely aware of that.

After creating Adam, Eve followed. Some may say that with Eve came trouble, but trouble came long before Eve. In fact, Adam was troubled without Eve. He searched high and low for his equal. And his Creator profoundly understood.  After all, God is Trinity. Before there was anything else, there was relationship, relationship among the Trinity that is. And relationship is what makes the world go around. On this note, here are some simple observations:

·         Being alone when we are sad, magnifies our sadness. Picture yourself being stranded alone on an island. Soon you’d be talking to trees and ants just for the sake of communication (albeit one-sided).

·         Being with someone magnifies our joy. Shared joy multiplies, as odd as it sounds; after a major accomplishment, what would you like to do? Throw yourself a party of one?

Life without people is an odd couple, similar to faith without works or a fruit tree without fruit. Cherishing our loved ones, we get to share in their sorrow and happiness. That is something we do not want to trade with anything else in the world.

“Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing. It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.” – Rich Mullins

Psalm 62:7: “My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.”

People grapple with the God-factor, wondering whether He exists at all and if so, how to approach Him. There is an endless array of protocol performed in various religions of the world. The need to feel connected to God is as old as humankind.

We live on planet Earth with all its amazing resources, and yet we feel abandoned, sort of like “Kevin alone in the house.” The 1990 John Hughes blockbuster “Home Alone” depicted an eight-year-old troublemaker who is accidentally left home alone by his family during a Christmas vacation.

Home alone – that’s our mantra too. We cry out to the Creator of the universe and pray: “God, please talk to us; God come down to Earth and help us; God, please favor us; God, please protect us; God, please intervene!” – a universal cry that God should come home and make things right. All of creation sighs. In their language the birds in the air, the predators in the bush and the trees in the jungle cry out to its creator. All creation sings when the feet of the Lord Almighty touch the Earth as written in the book of Psalms (Psalm 96:12):

“Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. “

God on Earth is not a new concept. The Egyptian Pharaohs of old established a government run by the Sons of God. There is a reason why many world religions advertise that God comes down in human form. We need God to be near. The good news is that God in fact is near. God has many names, the one I personally love the best is the Hebrew name Emmanuel – God with us.

All around the world people seek God’s favor. Trying too hard, they put a lot of effort into breaking down an unlocked door. Heaven’s door however is already open wide, and to our surprise, God is knocking on our door. He reaches out to us. One of God’s finest features is His mercy. He became a human being to help us. His Hebrew name “Yeshua” (English: Jesus) means translated “God saves”. Jesus came to reconnect us to the source of all being and is currently asking us to accept His gift.

Turns out, God Himself does all the dirty work. It is God who restores the communication between Him and mankind. We may build elaborate temples and do a lot of good works, but all of these efforts do not open Heaven’s door. God reaches out to us; our part is simply to respond.

The Holy Spirit is poured out for us and at work everywhere. The secret to successfully navigating through life lies in receiving God’s signals and learning to walk with Him.

Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.”

Do you think a life free from trouble brings us happiness? I am not so sure about that. There is a German idiom that actually makes fun of the desire to live in a world without problems: “Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen!” which loosely translated means: “Everything’s just hunky-dory!”

God’s peace comes to full fruition in times of trouble, which is why it is known to surpass all understanding. I believe problems ultimately are our friends. Vexing issues and even heart-wrenching suffering are an unwanted, but essential part of life. Suffering shapes us, especially when we include Jesus into the equation.

Jesus suffered like a champion. He was not defensive or lashed back at those who made Him suffer, and yet He was no doormat either. He was the King in chains. Pilate took note of that when he saw Jesus in his interrogation room (Luke 23:3):

“So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.”

Jesus took the bull by the horns and fully cooperated when He was apprehended by the Roman authorities. He knew what would happen, and He was prepared. So instead of being preoccupied with resisting His arrest and speaking up for himself, His mind was free to look around and notice someone else’s need. He continued to make life better for the people around Him until He drew His last breath. Here is a list of things He did while on trial and even while dying on the cross:

* He healed someone’s ear (Luke 22:49-51);

* He made arrangements for His mother’s continued care (John 19:25-27);

* He consoled the person crucified next to Him (Luke 23:42-43);

Trying to make sense of a bad situation, we may throw a pity party, or even get angry. All these kinds of reactions are understandable, but they are a waste of our time and energy. Jesus inspires us to take a different approach.

Suffering turns into a blessing when it becomes a community outreach. The 2020 outbreak of a virus that wreaked havoc on every continent of this planet is a recent example. It is ironic that social distancing and quarantine brings people together, but it does. We suffer together, and together we fight the disease. On the other side of this nightmare we find that a vicious virus has forged a world community that we forgot we had all along.

“What if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise”    Laura Story