Monthly Archives: December 2018

Today’s Scripture – December 31, 2018

John 19:17-22 (NIV)
Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others–one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Now that Pilate had condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion (while at the same time casting himself, the most powerful Roman in Jerusalem, as a victim of the mob), all that remained was for the soldiers to carry out the sentence. They marched Jesus and the two others scheduled for execution that day (Matthew and Mark identify them as robbers – Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27), out of the city gate to a place poetically known as Golgotha, Aramaic for “place of the skull”. In Latin, the same word is translated Calvariæ Locus, the source of the English term “Calvary.” This place was right next to the main road into the city and was chosen for the execution place of in order to maximize the visibility, and thus the deterrent effect.

Crucifixion was a nasty business, and none of the gospel writers included any detailed description in their writings. The one condemned carried the heavy crossbeam of his or her cross bound by rope to their outstretched arms, to the execution site, where the upright beams awaited, planted deep in the ground. When they arrived, the criminal was stripped naked, and then thrown on his back to the ground, where his arms were pulled outward, and spikes driven quickly through his wrists. The crossbeam was then lifted to the top of the upright, where it was dropped into place, the jolt often dislocating elbows and shoulders. The feet were pushed up, bending the knees slightly. A spike was then driven quickly through the heels or ankles into the wood of the upright. The process only took a few minutes, and then the person was simply left hanging there to die.

Before the criminal was paraded through the streets to the execution place, a placard was made with the name of the person and the crimes of which they had been condemned, written in Latin (the language of Roman government), Greek (the trade language, commonly known among the people), and Aramaic (the local language). This placard was carried before the condemned person in order to communicate clearly that this is what happens to those who commit the crime, as a deterrent to those who might be contemplating doing the same thing.

Jesus’ placard said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” (The other three gospels give abbreviated versions of the inscription.) This greatly displeased the religious leaders who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, so they demanded that Pilate change it to “He CLAIMED to be the king of the Jews.” But Pilate, in a final slap back at these men whom he felt had forced his hand, refused: What I have written, I have written.” End of discussion.

Father, our version of crucifixion has often been so sanitized that we are only able to contemplate a small fraction of the agony and torture that Jesus suffered for our sake. The early Christians had seen crucifixion up close and shuddered when they thought of Jesu willingly submitting Himself to that gruesome process on their behalf. Lord, help me to never forget the horrible price that was paid, the horrible suffering that Jesus went through so that I didn’t have to, the shame and disgrace that He subjected Himself to so that I could gain eternal life. Thank you! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 26, 2018

John 19:13-16 (NIV)
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

What should have been a fifteen-minute hearing and judgment was now dragging into a several-hour affair, and Pilate was seemingly no closer to a satisfying resolution than he had been at the start. He had underestimated the hatred that the Jewish leaders had for this man, Jesus, and he still couldn’t figure out where all that animosity was coming from.

Pilate had tried legal statements, he had tried to incite pity for Jesus, and he had even feigned complete indifference. But the crowd, incited by the chief priests, seemed to be out for the blood of Jesus, and nothing short of that seemed to be able to satisfy them.

Finally, Pilate brought Jesus outside, and sat on the judge’s seat on the mosaic floor of the patio. The accusations against Jesus had begun with the charge that He had claimed to be the Messiah, the rightful king of the Jews. That should have aroused unity among the Jewish leaders, but mysteriously the Jewish leaders had charged Jesus with insurrection against the emperor, a man whom they openly despised.

Pilate pointed at Jesus, so bruised, and battered, and covered with blood that He was nearly unrecognizable, and said, “Here is your king!” At this point, by allowing the possibility that Jesus really was the Messiah, he hoped to divide the crowd, breaking down the strange unity that had been mustered against Jesus. But the crowd refused to be swayed, and the chants of “Away with Him!” and “Crucify Him!” rose and swelled like waves.

Pilate shouted into the crowd, “Should I crucify your king?” giving this tactic one final try. But the stunning answer came back from the chief priests at the front of the crowd: “We have no king but Caesar!”

Pilate was speechless. He knew that, without any doubt, those men hated the emperor, despised the fact that he had taken away their autonomy in their own land, that they were under the thumb of Rome to the point that they had to come to Pilate and seek authority to execute someone who they saw as having committed a capital crime. And Pilate also knew that, if an opportunity presented itself to overthrow Roman authority and take back self-rule, these leaders would jump on it in a heartbeat.

But now these same men were calling for the death of someone who probably had a better chance of uniting the people against Rome than anyone up to that time. And not only calling for His death, but death by crucifixion, the most agonizing form of execution ever devised. And, to top it all off, they were pledging allegiance to the Emperor! It made absolutely no sense to Pilate. What had Jesus done that could possibly cause this level of, not merely rejection, but red-hot anger?

He gave up. There seemed to be no resolution to this uprising other than to give the crowd what they wanted. So, he washed his hands of the whole affair (literally: Matthew 27:24-26), gave the order to have Jesus crucified, and handed Him over to the soldiers to carry out the execution.

Father, it is stunning to see these chief priests, the ones tasked with standing in Your presence on behalf of the people, so blinded by hate and resentment that they were in one motion rejecting Your Messiah and rejecting You as their king! And they were so focused on their primary agenda of getting rid of Jesus that they couldn’t even see what they were doing in the process! Lord, help me to stay clear-eyed always, and to never allow myself to get so emotionally tied up by anything in this world that I turn away from You or Your will for my life. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 23, 2018

John 19:10-12 (NIV)
“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

Pilate really had no idea of what to do about this whole Jesus situation. He was realizing that it was far more complicated than he had originally figured it to be. This was no matter of justice, but of political intrigue, and of dark plots to silence an innocent person who had merely become troublesome to the powers that be.

Jesus’ silence unnerved Pilate sparking his outburst: “Don’t you realize I have the power to either free you or to crucify you?” He was actually pleading with Jesus for help, hoping that He would give him something, anything that he could use to write an exoneration, enabling him to push back against the political pressure.

But Jesus’ eventual answer was not very helpful. Any power Pilate had in this situation he had only because God had given it to him. So, his threats were meaningless. He was only being carried along in the current of God’s plan, just like Jesus Himself was. The one who had the greatest sin, the greatest guilt, and therefore the greatest accountability in this whole situation was the high priest, Caiaphas, who had handed Jesus over to Pilate. Caiaphas, as the supreme religious leader of the Jewish people, should have known that Jesus Himself was legitimate, and that what He was teaching and what He was doing were all completely in line with God’s word and part of His plan. Then Jesus quit talking – there was nothing more to be said.

Pilate determined that he would play hardball to get the charges against Jesus dismissed as being without merit. But he was shocked and dismayed when the chief priests changed tactics as well. Their new line of offense was that Jesus, as the supposed Messiah, threatened to unite popular opinion against the Emperor, and was therefore an existential threat to the empire. If Pilate refused to act against that threat, he himself was an enemy of Rome, and these leaders would make sure that Rome heard all about it. The whole thing had gotten way out of hand!

Father, sometimes we try to fight against Your will because we don’t readily recognize it as Your will, and because the path seems to lead to dark and dangerous places. But You never promised us sweet and pleasant days if we follow You; You simply promised that You would be with us as we follow and obey (Matthew 28:20b). Help us to hear Your voice clearly, then to follow You wholeheartedly all the way to the end, so that we can see Your plan carried out fully and successfully in our lives. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 22, 2018

John 19:6-9 (NIV)
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.

While Pilate was contemplating what to do with Jesus, he received a letter from his wife warning him not to have anything to do with Him and telling him that she had had a troubling dream about Him – a bad omen! (Matthew 27:19) So, Pilate was unprepared and dismayed by the crowd’s reaction to the battered and bloodied Jesus, dressed mockingly as a king in a purple robe and crown of thorns: “Crucify! Crucify!”

His first response was somewhat snide and dismissive: “You take Him and crucify Him if you want Him to be crucified. I have examined Him and have not found Him guilty of any crime.” And that should have been the end of the matter.

Btu the chief priests, out of anger and fear that their plans were unraveling, tipped their hand. It wasn’t for sedition that they had brought Jesus to Pilate for his condemnation. It was for blasphemy, a violation of Jewish law. He had claimed to be the Son of God, tantamount to claiming to be God Himself. (John 10:30-33)

Pilate was stunned speechless at this. Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God? That was vital information! Why had it been withheld from him until now? His mind instantly went to all the stories he had learned as a child about the days when the gods and their offspring lived among human beings. And if they were treated badly by the people, things turned out disastrously! He wasn’t sure that he believed those old stories, but here was a miracle worker who claimed to be the Son of God just like in the stories; a man who had invaded his wife’s dreams and who had just told him minutes ago that He had a non-earthly kingdom. It all fit!

White-faced, Pilate turned and walked back inside and had Jesus brought to him. His question was direct: “Where do you come from?” After he had ordered Jesus to be beaten, and after he had allowed Him to be humiliated, he was filled with dread that Jesus would say that He really had come from heaven, and that Pilate, his family, maybe even the whole city of Jerusalem was about to be leveled by God’s wrath. But, to his frustration and dread, Jesus looked him in the eye and said…nothing.

Father, it seems that since people couldn’t understand Jesus, their darkened minds being unable to grasp His words or to see the real power behind His miracles, many of them reacted with fear rather than reverence. It was fear that determined the chief priests to destroy Jesus, to eliminate what they could not grasp or control. Pilate, on the other hand, was filled with awe that turned his fear in a different direction, making him determined to set Jesus free (John 19:12). Lord, help us to always take Jesus at face value, and to let those things we don’t understand drive us to worship, not fear. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 20, 2018

John 19:1-5 (NIV)
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

Pilate was perplexed by the seeming inflexibility of the Jewish leaders. He had figured that he would be able to simply declare Jesus not guilty of sedition and release Him. But the leaders were insistent that He was a danger to the empire.

The plan he came up with was not very subtle. He would have Jesus flogged for whatever crimes He might possibly be guilty of. He figured that when the leaders saw that He had been suitably (and painfully) punished, they would be satisfied and go away.

The soldiers in charge of the punishment took some extra liberties in carrying out their orders. None of them enjoyed the process of flogging a person. It was brutal, nasty, bloody work. And, unlike the Jewish justice system, which limited the number of lashes to 40 (Deuteronomy 25:2-3, although the number was usually limited to 39 in case there had been a miscount), the Romans had no limit. The number of blows was prescribed according to the severity of the crime.

Since Jesus had been called the king of the Jews, the soldiers played a parody with Him after they had finished beating Him. A crown they wove of thorns, more of a cap than a circlet, was pressed down on His head, drawing blood from the many deep puncture wounds it caused. A commander’s purple robe and a stick used to deliver beatings placed in His hand as a scepter (Matthew 27:29) completed the picture.

For a few minutes, they knelt mockingly in front of Jesus shouting “Hail, king of the Jews!” (Matthew 27:29) But that game quickly grew boring, and they began beating Him on the face and head with both their fists and with the stick that they had put in His hand.

When Pilate next saw Jesus, He was a bloody mess. Pilate was sure that this severe punishment would satisfy the desire of the chief priests to see Him suffer for whatever sins He had committed in their eyes. So, he announced to them that he had made sure that Jesus had been adequately punished, and then brought Him out to face the crowd with an impressive wave of his hand, and a booming, “Behold, the man!”

Father, Pilate’s error was to miss entirely the hatred in the hearts of Jesus’ accusers, and to mistake their motives. They didn’t want Him punished, they wanted Him dead, and were willing to go to any lengths to make that happen. They had no regard for Roman law unless it could be moved to do for them what they were forbidden to do themselves. Lord, I have a hard time fathoming such hatred in the hearts of people that were supposed to belong to You! Protect us from ever allowing our hearts to grow so hard that such thoughts and feelings are even possible. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – December 19, 2018

John 18:37-40 (NIV)
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

Pilate had to deal with all kinds of people in his role as governor and was a shrewd judge of people. He dealt with thieves and brigands on an almost daily basis, and Jesus was clearly not one of those. From time to time, he had to deal with religious zealots who believed that God had called them to overthrow the Roman government and restore rule to the kings of Israel. That was the charge that had been leveled against Jesus. But Jesus did not strike Pilate as a religious zealot.

In his questioning, Jesus had just told Pilate that He was in fact a king, but a king whose kingdom was not of this world. That sounded insane, but as Pilate met Jesus’ level gaze, he saw no insanity in those eyes. What he saw was something completely other than insanity, something that he had never seen before. And it made him desperately uneasy.

His follow-up question was more of a statement: “So you’re saying that you are in fact a king.” And Jesus’ answer was strongly affirmative: “You say I am a king and you are right – in fact, I was born to be a king.”

This whole situation was getting stranger and stranger. Jesus claimed to be a king, but not the king of the Jews, who was trying to overthrow the authority of Rome. Instead, He was clearly saying that He had been born to be the king of an otherworldly kingdom. Pilate had no idea what to do with that.

And then Jesus stated, “I have come into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” So, Jesus was a philosopher! That at least made some sense. It seemed like everyone in the empire was a philosopher those days. Everybody claimed to have some great insight into ultimate truth. With a flippant “What is truth?” he left the room without waiting for an answer to talk to the Jewish leaders.

Pilate wasn’t sure exactly who or what Jesus was, but he was sure of one thing: Jesus was clearly no threat to the empire or the Emperor. It was just as evident that the chief priests were trying to railroad Him out of jealousy (Matthew 27:18).

It was then that an idea struck him. For years, in order to engender peace with the Jewish leadership, the governor had released one prisoner at the Passover feast. And Pilate had continued that tradition when he took office. He would offer them an obvious choice: he could release Jesus, the “King of the Jews,” or he could release Barabbas, an unsavory brigand who he was sure nobody wanted to see back on the streets. But to his amazement and dismay, when he made the proposal, the chief priests chose to have him release Barabbas!

Father, who Jesus was was clearly making an impression on Pilate. But he was now enmeshed in the political intrigue that surrounded Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders. And, at this point in the process, he had no real idea of how far that intrigue would ultimately drive him. Jesus stated that everyone who is of the truth listens to His voice and, by implication, obeys what He says, even when it goes against popular opinion or political correctness and expediency. Help me Lord, to always listen, and to always obey, no matter what the cost. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – December 18, 2018

John 18:33-36 (NIV)
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

The religious leaders had accused Jesus of claiming to be the Messiah, the rightful king of the Jews, whose intention was to forcibly wrest rule of the land from the empire. If true, this would fall under the charge of sedition, inciting rebellion against the leader of the nation, in this case, the Emperor. And that was indeed a capital offense under Roman law.

But Jesus didn’t look much like a rebel to Pilate. And He didn’t look much like a king, either. But Pilate asked the question anyway: “Are you the king of the Jews?”

It should have been either a yes or no answer – simple, basic. But as soon as He heard the phrase “king of the Jews,” Jesus’ raised His head to look Pilate in the eye. He had not been present for the conversation between Pilate and the religious leaders, having been marched inside to a holding area as soon as they had arrived, while Pilate heard the charges against Him. Jesus wanted to know if that was what the religious leaders had charged Him with (as opposed to the blasphemy charge that the Sanhedrin had convicted Him of earlier, but which carried no death penalty, no penalty at all, in fact, under Roman law). Or perhaps Pilate had heard about Jesus from other sources and was wondering himself if He might be the Messiah.

Pilate’s answer was sharp and dismissive. As the governor, the representative of the Roman government, he had to be impartial in matters of the law. Of course it was what the chief priests had accused Him of! But he was curious as to what Jesus had done to cause that kind of backlash, the kind that would make the whole religious establishment array itself against Him.

Jesus’ answer was two-fold. Yes, He was indeed the king of the Jews, the Messiah. But no, that word did not mean what the religious leaders were claiming.  He had no designs on overthrowing the imperial power in Israel. As evidence, He pointed to the fact that there had been little resistance to His arrest. (Pilate would have heard of a pitched battle going on at the fringes of the city.) Nor were there riots in the city that surely would have been happening if Jesus had been gathering followers to seize control.

Instead, Jesus claimed that His kingdom, real as it was, was not even of the world – it was a spiritual kingdom, from another place entirely. Jesus realized that Pilate would not fully understand the truth He was presenting. But He also knew that the truth was important, because it completely negated the claims that the religious leaders had made against Him.

Father, even though Jesus was silent for much of the legal wrangling that was going on around Him, when directly asked, He always directly answered with the truth – never filtered or spun, but the straight truth, even if He knew that it was over the heads of His hearers. Lord, help us all to have that same, very simple approach to the truth, keeping ourselves out of the picture as much as possible. It is the truth, and only the pure, unvarnished, unspun truth that is able to set people free. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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