Today’s Scripture – June 19, 2018

Luke 23:32-34 (NIV) Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Jesus was not crucified alone; two other men, convicted of robbery (Mark 15:27) were crucified with Him, one on His right, the other on His left. Crucifixion was a nasty business, and none of the gospel writers go into any of the horrible details. Their original readers had seen crucifixion and needed none, and the details were too gory and violent for them to capture for future readers.

Crucifixions were designed to be a deterrent as well as a punishment. For that reason, they were not conducted on some far-off hilltop, but right next to a main road near the city, so that all could see what the penalty was for crimes against the Roman empire. The victims were stripped completely naked – no loincloth to protect modesty for either men or women – and their wrists were nailed to the crossbeam, with their arms stretched as far as they could get them to go. The crossbeam was then lifted up and dropped into place over the upright, the jolt often dislocating the victim’s shoulders and elbows. The crosses were short, and the feet of the condemned were only a few inches off the ground. The victim’s knees were slightly bent, and a spike was driven sideways through their ankles into the upright. Then the soldiers would go about their business, leaving the person suspended to die.

Death usually occurred over several hours, although people could sometimes last for a day or two. When death came, it was usually the result of a combination of shock, congestive heart failure, and suffocation. Hanging with all the person’s weight suspended from the nails in their wrists caused the muscles of the chest to cramp and the diaphragm to spasm. Before long, the person found that they could breathe in, but not out. To relieve the pressure, he or she was forced to push themselves up on the nails driven through their ankles. That allowed them to breathe until exhaustion made their knees give way, and they sagged down again.

The periods between needing to push themselves up got shorter and shorter, and the amount of time that they could hold themselves up became shorter as well. All of the pressure on the chest muscles and the restricted breathing caused fluid to start building up in their lungs and around their hearts, causing increased distress. Finally, after their strength was gone, or after their legs were broken so that they could no longer push themselves up, death came quickly.

One of the most remarkable things in the whole crucifixion narrative is Jesus’ prayer from the cross. After going through all of the excruciating pain of having nails driven through His feet and ankles, after having His shoulders and elbows dislocated from the jolt of the crossbeam being dropped roughly into place, after watching the soldiers walk away to cast lots for His clothing (a normal “perk” for those on crucifixion duty), Jesus still prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” What love! What grace!

Father, it is amazing to think that his prayer from Jesus came, not before He had gone through all of this agony and suffering, or after it was all over, but right in the middle of it, while the nails were still causing Him extraordinary anguish. We can forgive others when all is said and done, after the pain has subsided. But to forgive in the midst of being mistreated, tortured, killed, is on a whole different level. But that supernatural love is the level of love and grace that we are called to imitate. Help us, Lord. There is no way we can love like that on our own. Help us to love like Jesus loves. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 18, 2018

Luke 23:26-31 (NIV) As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”‘ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

In the greatest miscarriage of justice in history, Jesus was condemned to be tortured and killed by crucifixion. The charge was blasphemy, claiming to be the Son of God – which is only blasphemy if you aren’t the Son of God! The means of securing the death penalty was not a reasoned criminal case, but political pressure and false testimony.

Jesus received the traditional scourging before being led out to be crucified (Matthew 27:26). The scourging with metal-tipped whips was designed to cause massive shock and blood loss. The scourging was not limited to 39 lashes. That rule was based on a Jewish law, designed to not bring degradation to a brother (Deuteronomy 25:3), and the Romans did not observe Jewish law. If the flogging was too severe and killed the person, that was simply one less job for the soldiers to do. But even if it didn’t kill the person outright, the severe beating usually shortened the length of time that the person was on the cross before they died, a benefit on this Sabbath eve, when all of the victims had to die and be taken down from the crosses by sunset, a Jewish law that the Romans DID honor.

In addition to the normal flogging, Jesus was also subjected to ridicule by the solders, who put a scarlet robe over His shredded shoulders, a crown of thorns on His head, and a staff in His hand. He was then “honored” as the king of the Jews for a short time, before they began to slap Him, spit on Him, and beat Him over the head with the staff (Matthew 27:27-31).

The beating and abuse had been so severe that Jesus’ strength utter failed Him on the way through town carrying the 70-pound crossbeam lashed across his shoulders. So, the guards impressed Simon from Cyrene, who was in town for the festival, to carry the crossbeam to the execution site.

Some executions garnered very little attention from the general public. But Jesus had quite a crowd following Him through the narrow streets of the city, many of them women, who wailed in grief over Him. Jesus’ word to them was a warning that looked forty years into the future, to the time of the siege and fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Rome. In that day, those who did not have children that they would have to watch slowly waste away from starvation and disease would be considered fortunate. In that day, unlike the day Jesus was being led out of the city to a cross, when one person would experience God’s punishment to pay for sins, all who were left would experience God’s punishment, and there would be no place to hide.

Father, Jesus lived one moment at a time, just like us. But He always had His eye looking forward, and His mind and heart were always focused on the big picture. And He warned and warned all of those around Him of what was coming so that they, too, could be prepared. I’m sure that it was frustrating to Him that so few paid attention and turned away from the sin that was leading them to a moment of judgment. I know that it is often frustrating to me when I find the same lack of response from my family and friends. But He kept on warning and encouraging. Help me to be as faithful with the people I have contact with as he was with those He could speak to. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 17, 2018

Luke 23:13-25 (NIV) Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”
With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

This was the worst day Pilate could ever remember. He had breathed a little easier after he sent Jesus to Herod, believing that Herod would take the whole case off his hands. But then, not an hour later, the priests and leaders showed up again with Jesus still in tow.

Pilate told them clearly that neither he nor, apparently, Herod, had found Jesus guilty of anything deserving punishment, certainly not of being an agitator of the people. But, for some reason that he couldn’t quite fathom, the whole crowd seemed thirsty for blood. So, Pilate tried to placate them by promising to whip Jesus as punishment for any small crimes that He may have committed, before letting Him go.

But, to his surprise and dismay, the crowd shouted him down, demanding over and over again that if anyone was released to them, it be a REAL insurrectionist and murderer named Barabbas. And, even more alarming, they were shouting that Jesus be crucified, the most heinous penalty that Rome every dished out, and typically only for the most heinous of crimes, crimes that he was sure Jesus had never gotten near.

Pilate tried to reason with the leaders and the crowd, but the more he tried, the more rabid their response became. In fact, they were dangerously close to starting a riot. If that happened, Pilate would have to respond harshly to put it down, which would reflect poorly on him with his superiors, all the way up to the emperor. Governors were supposed to maintain the peace with as little bloodshed as possible.

In the end, it was simple math that caused Pilate to turn Jesus over for crucifixion. Better for one likely innocent man to die than for a rebellion to be sparked that would cost the lives of dozens, perhaps hundreds. With a deep sigh, Pilate gave the order, and unwittingly set in motion the end-game that God had determined would happen from before time began.

Father, so much of the time we lose track of the fact that You are working Your plan in the world. We have the privilege as Your people to work alongside You, or we can choose to defy Your will, try to work against Your purposes, and end up crushed in the gears You are turning. How much better to simply keep our ears and eyes open and our hearts soft so that You can use us to work Your plans. Lord, help me to never defy Your will, to never say no to You, to never get in Your way. If I work with You, I understand that I will be swimming upstream against the culture of the world, but I will also be working in the sphere of your love, Your power, Your grace. MUCH preferred. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 15, 2018

Luke 23:8-12 (NIV) When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends–before this they had been enemies.

Herod had been trying to see Jesus ever since word of His miracle-working power had reached him. A big reason for his desire to see Jesus was his absolute terror that Jesus was in fact John the Baptist risen from the dead to avenge his wrongful beheading by Herod (Mark 6:16).

Herod was greatly relieved the moment he saw Jesus face to face. This was not, in fact, John, but some other holy man. As soon as his mind was relieved of that worry, he turned his thoughts to the hope that Jesus might be persuaded to do a magic trick, a miracle for him like those he had heard so many stories about. But it was not to be.

Instead, Jesus stood silently in His bonds while the chief priests and scribes loudly shouted their accusations at Herod and urged him to judge Jesus guilty of something. While they did this, Jesus didn’t look angry or sullen, as Herod had seen many prisoners look. He just looked a bit weary, and maybe even a little bored with the whole thing. This man was clearly not a threat to Rome. And it was equally clear that Herod was in no danger of losing his throne to this stoic preacher, despite the protestations of the leaders that He fancied Himself the Messiah.

It was then that an impish idea struck Herod. Jesus was being accused of being, the Messiah, the true king of Israel. They would just see what kind of a king He would be. Herod draped one of his own royal robes across Jesus’ shoulders, and he and his soldiers bowed down to Him in mock adoration. But that game grew tiring after only a couple of minutes.

Herod had gone from worried, to amused, to annoyed in the space of these few minutes. His annoyance was not directed at Jesus, poor wretch that Herod saw Him to be. And it was not directed at Pilate for sending Jesus to him in the first place. In fact, Pilate’s stock had actually gone up several points in Herod’s eyes at his recognition of his sphere of authority. No, he was annoyed at the leaders, the chief priests and scribes. They had clearly trumped up these charges against this poor man, had gotten up Herod’s hopes that he might get to see a miracle, and then had completely wasted his time with someone who was so clearly a nobody. With the royal robe still draped across His shoulders, Jesus was quickly dispatched back to the governor.

Father, it is fascinating to me that neither Pilate nor Herod could see who Jesus really was. Despite the fact that the beatings and ridicule He had already endured had not caused Him to lower His head in shame, despite the fact that He stood alone, tall and calm, in the face of His storming enemies, they could see nothing beyond the bruised and battered visage. Despite their cross-examinations, they had absolutely no idea who it was who was standing before them. Truly they had eyes but could not see, and ears but could not hear. Empower me, Lord, to be able to see truly at all times, to be able to see past the surface of things to the reality beneath, so that I can not only know You better, but so that I can see other people as they truly are, just like Jesus (John 2:25). Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 14, 2018

Luke 23:1-7 (NIV) Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.”
So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”
But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”
On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

Now that the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty of a capital crime, all they had to do was to convince the Roman authorities that Jesus was a subversive, so that they would do their dirty work for them. As in every Roman-occupied land, the local authorities had no right to sentence anyone to death (John 18:31). So, they had to present Jesus to Pilate, the governor, as a rebel and a real danger to the Empire.

Their charges were all either slanted versions of the truth, or complete lies. They accused Jesus of misleading the nation, by which they meant that Jesus had taught things that undermined their own authority and opposed their traditions, which was true (although not misleading, but leading into the truth). But they knew that Pilate would hear the charges as an accusation that Jesus was stirring up opposition to Rome, even though He was doing no such thing. They accused Him of opposing paying taxes to Rome, which was a direct lie. Jesus had famously said in front of a whole crowd that the people should give to Caesar that which belonged to Caesar, and to give to God which belonged to God (Luke 20:25), absolutely not an opposition to paying taxes, and at the same time not strongly advocating for it so as to alienate His followers. And, finally, they accused Jesus of fostering subversion against Caesar by claiming the title of Messiah, the true king of the Jews.

Pilate was a discerning man and could tell that something underhanded was going on; that these leaders were trying to get Jesus out of the way due to jealousy (Matthew 27:18). So, he turned to Jesus, and asked Him directly, “Are you the king of the Jews?” There was something in the way that Jesus answered, “Yes, it is as you say,” while looking him straight in the eyes with compassion and not a hint of the rebellion that he so often saw in the eyes of those that he was trying, that immediately convinced him that Jesus was no rebel, not a subversive at all. So, he turned back to the elders and pronounced their charges baseless.

The high priests and leaders of the Sanhedrin could feel the moment slipping away from them, and redoubled their urging of Pilate, trying to persuade him that Jesus was a troublemaker, stirring up the people of the entire province of Judea from Galilee in the far north, where He came from, all the way to Jerusalem in the far north.

Pilate instantly seized on the word “Galilee”. If Jesus was from Galilee, he could hand the whole messy situation over to Herod, the tetrarch of that part of the province. He was in town for the Passover, and sending the whole crowd to him for resolution would instantly rid his day of the whole noxious affair!

Father, one thing we learn from this is that the enemy and all those who are in thrall to him don’t fight fair! The devil is an expert at twisting the truth, and he speaks his native language when he invents lies against Your people (John 8:44). So, we should not be surprised when lies are told about us in an effort to shut us up or make us go away. Instead, like Jesus, we should live such holy lives that any charges that are brought against us will immediately be shone false (1 Peter 2:12). Help me to live exactly that kind of life, and then, like Jesus, fully entrust myself to Your care and guidance whenever the enemy rises up against me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 13, 2018

Luke 22:66-71 (NIV) At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us.”
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”
Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

Now that it was daylight, the Sanhedrin could legally meet to decide a capital case. Even though many of those present had been at the “hearing” at the high priest’s house during the night, where Jesus was found guilty in advance of His “official” trial, this trial still had to happen before charges could be brought before governor Pilate.

The Sanhedrin called witnesses, but they could not find any two whose testimony about Jesus’ words or deeds agreed closely enough for a conviction. Finally, in frustration more than out of legal correctness, the high priest (Mark 14:61) asked Jesus directly if He was in fact the Messiah.

Jesus was not going to answer that question directly. First, it would be playing directly into His accusers’ hands. Their view of what the Messiah was supposed to be, an earthly king of David’s line who would take over the throne and oust the Romans, was so far removed from the reality of who He actually was, that if he admitted to the title, they would only hear Him admitting to their picture of the title, not the reality. In addition, they had already rejected Him as their Messiah, so even if He had been what they believed the Messiah to be, they wouldn’t believe Him anyway.

But Jesus would own another title that the leaders were very familiar with: The Son of Man. This term comes from Daniel 7:13-14 and was widely interpreted as not only a term for the Messiah, but also someone who was more than a mere man – a “Son of God”, someone who was actually a personification of the Lord Himself.

The leaders sat bolt upright when Jesus claimed this title for Himself in the court. They apparently could not get Him to call Himself the Messiah, but if they could get Him to admit to being the Son of God just a little more clearly, they could claim blasphemy, a capital offense. So, they asked a direct question: “Are you then the Son of God?”

Jesus’ answer, “You are right in saying I am,” may seem a bit cagey in translation. But in Greek and Aramaic, it is actually a direct and forceful “yes,” much like the English, “You said it!”

That was all that the Sanhedrin needed. Jesus had admitted to being the Son of God, an equal to God Himself, which they considered blasphemy. And He had shown that He would not directly deny being the Messiah, the rightful Jewish king and therefore a direct rival to Caesar, which would enable them to charge Him with treason against the Emperor, a capital offense under Roman law.

Father, Jesus clearly shows that sometimes it is best to not debate with those who are persecuting us, trying to win the argument. It is better to not play the game when the cards are clearly stacked against us. Instead, we are to rely on Your Spirit to tell us what to say, and when, and even how to say it (Luke 21:12-15). That, of course, doesn’t mean that those words will get us out of any suffering or loss, but it does mean that the words that You give us will strike directly into the hearts of those who hear them, and will have great potential to convict any whose hearts are open to the truth, thus making any suffering that we endure fruitful for the kingdom. Help us, Lord, when the trials come, to put our full weight of trust in You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 12, 2018

Luke 22:63-65 (NIV) The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him.

The abuse of Jesus began in the garden, when the temple guards bound Him tightly before leading Him off to the high priest’s house. They didn’t have to bind Him at all; Jesus offered no resistance to them, and even stopped His followers from interfering. But, at this point, it was all about authority and control. The leaders hoped that by abusing Jesus, they could cause Him to lash out, to lose control, to say some unguarded word that could be turned against Him.

But now, when the leaders could find no grounds on which they could accuse Him credibly to the governor, they ramped up the mistreatment. Blows rained down on Jesus, drawing blood from His mouth and nose, and swelling His face.

And, of course, the mocking began. The guards knew that many considered Jesus to be a prophet. So that became the centerpiece of their abuse. They put a blindfold on Him, and then took turns hitting Him across the face and demanding that He name the one who had hit Him.

Through all this abuse, Jesus stayed still and didn’t say a word. He knew that, as bad as all of this was, it would get far, far worse before death put an end to His agonies. And He was not going to say a word in response that could be used to tarnish His reputation when all of this was over. Every word that he allowed past His lips were only words that would glorify the Father, or enable God’s plans for Him to move forward.

Father, thank You for this example given to us by Jesus. Very few of us today have had to endure the increasing level of abuse for our faith that Jesus did, but even as the beatings and tortures increased, He still demonstrated divine peace and patience. Help me to stay in His footsteps any time I end up facing opposition, or even suffering, for His name. Help me to surrender myself to your path, no matter where that path leads, and to say and do in those times only what You direct. Amen.

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