Who is Sacred, Who is Not

I wrote this post the other day for CSF. When I was finished writing it, I answered the phone, completed the call, and then posted it to the Life Project, and didn’t give it another thought until a few minutes ago… oops!

How would you approach such a quandary as a Christian? Would you approach it as a legalist and say that a person is sacred if they have behaved themselves and done certain other things that make them “cool” in the church? Perhaps one might say that a person who is a Christian is sacred, but that the lost are not, or maybe that people who are really good are sacred, while the rest are not. Some might suggest that a person is sacred if they are a member in good standing in their particular denomination, or even that no one is sacred until they die and go to heaven.

Yet, I wonder how God looks at this; would He see it the way we do?

Maybe God would say that a person whose sins are forgiven is sacred, and those who remain in their sins are unclean…

I wouldn’t presume to tell you that I am privy to all of God’s thoughts, but I can suggest that Scripture might give us some insight on this topic that can lead us to draw some conclusions.

As we have seen in a previous series of posts, all humans are created by God in His image, and yes, even after sin entered the world in Genesis 3, we still bear His image. With that being the case, and the image of God being in itself sacred, we all have an element of sacredness inherent in our beings; His image. Each of us was conceived in the mind of God and created in every detail with His intentional purpose in mind with talents and gifts, not to mention intelligence as God saw fit to give, and I doubt that God is in the habit of creating that which is unclean or inherently bad.

Yet in spite of this, we make choices as we walk through life, and sooner or later each one of us makes choices that are at odds with the ways of God; some really go out on a dark extreme and really make a mess of things. Yet even in such a dark place, distant and far from God’s presence and will, He still loved us:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Because of God’s amazing love, He sent His Son to die for each one of us, while humanity was still in its sinful rebellion. I don’t know about you, but offhand, I can’t think of any cases in Scripture when God was said to have loved that which was evil, bad or unclean. In fact, the second greatest commandment was that we love our neighbor as ourselves; He made no mention of our neighbor needing to be perfect first, did He?

In fact, which of the patriarchs was so perfect? How about the great Israelite kings David and Solomon; were they perfect? No, I didn’t think so.

I would maintain that every single human being is sacred in God’s sight, not because of the way we behave, but because we were created by God in His image with a purpose that transcends this world. Of course, there are many sacred ones out there who aren’t all that attractive, and some behave in really nasty ways, in rebellion against everything God is and stands for. Yet I really don’t believe for an instant that this sad state of affairs means that they aren’t sacred in God’s sight; can you guess why that is?

Two reasons: First, they are precisely the ones Jesus gave His life to save, and second, because God has gone to all of the trouble to put you and me in this world to take the good news to such people, that they might be brought into His light. Imagine for a moment how different this world might be if more of us saw such people through God’s eyes and took our commission more seriously.

Come to think of it, I have another question to ponder: Who grieves God’s heart more, the lost person who dwells in darkness and acts accordingly, or the Christian who dwells in the light with all of the riches of Christ at his or her disposal, but who is afraid to get their hands dirty taking the light to those dark places where so many need it so desperately?

Yes, I’ll need to ponder that one for some time…

Back to Basics, Part 4

Continued from Back to Basics, Part 3

(See end note)
(See end note)

Following Jesus is all or nothing. He tells us to follow his commands – all of them, not just the few we feel comfortable following.

“My experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We want the power to point out sin; we want the credit and glory for having saved them when it is not up to us.”

In every case I read in the Gospels, Jesus loved first (as he did for us), offered grace first, then gave outcasts and sinners (like us all) the space to recognize and acknowledge their own sins, come to him and allow him to transform their lives. We don’t give people that space; we don’t give them a chance to own their own fallenness. And changing behavior isn’t transformation; it’s a band-aid. Transformation changes hearts and minds.

As I listen in church, as I talk in person to fellow believers, as I read blogs across the Western World, my experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We want the power to point out sin to not only to individuals but entire groups of people. We want the credit and glory for having saved them when it is not up to us.

So, how do we follow the tasks to reconcile people to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-19), and how do we make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)?

Our job, through God’s love, is to open the door for people to reach out to Jesus and for him to hand them the opportunity for His Love and Grace. That is when Transformation occurs. That is when the “Aha” moments happen. That is when the thirst for discipleship transpires.

When we attempt to argue or accuse people into Christ, all we do is cause them to be offended, to turn their backs on God. That isn’t what we want and it certainly isn’t what God wants. If our mission is to reconcile everyone to God and what we’ve been doing isn’t working, we must change our methods.

“The elder son…cannot see the difference between restorative justice and punitive justice. And restorative justice is the Good News.”

In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus begins with, “A man had two sons.” Even though many of our Bibles call it the Parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son, it is really The Parable of the Lost Sons. This parable is not simply about the younger son who was lost to sin.

It is also about the elder son who stood to inherit twice what his younger brother took as his inheritance. The elder brother was lost to legalism, the son who is so focused on the sin of his brother his anger will not allow him to offer grace or accept the double treasure of his Father’s grace and love which has always been there for him. He cannot see the difference between restorative justice and punitive justice. And restorative justice is the Good News.

As we love unconditionally, it doesn’t mean we condone sin, just as forgiveness doesn’t mean we accept bad behavior. But trying to teach someone about acceptable behavior before you accept and love who they are regardless of their behavior will fall upon deaf ears. It will erect a wall that will never allow them to feel safe enough to let down their guard.

Loving unconditionally means we communicate without disgracing or treating people without dignity. It means we create a safe space for them to discover the love, mercy and grace of God. It means we allow them to choose, through that saving grace, to repent in their own time because God’s love and His Spirit moves them to do so. It means we don’t stand in their way or erect barriers of any kind, otherwise we become stumbling blocks.

The bottom line is this: we can either continue pushing ahead, attempting to teach through condemnation and accusation, or we can build authentic trust and relationships through the wisdom and patience of the Holy Spirit, through the compassion of Jesus, and through the love and grace of our Father.

 

The Tree of Life, a nearly 10-foot tall sculpture, was created by four Mozambican artists: Cristovao Canhavato (Kester), Hilario Nhatugueja, Fiel dos Santos and Adelino Serafim Maté. The sculpture was made entirely from weapons that were the remains of the 17-year civil war that killed one million people and only ended when the Soviet Union collapsed and funding ended. This piece was part of the Transforming Arms Into Tools project which employs former child soldiers to dismantle weapons, which has dismantled more than 600,000 weapons in nine years.

Back to Basics, Part 3

“You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears.” (Matthew 13:11-12, The Message)

hand.reaching.out

This series is deeply personal for me.

After I wrote Sunday Afternoon I needed to be lifted out of the hopelessness I felt after the horrible week of killing and chaos. Who better to lift me than Jesus?

I desperately needed to get back to the basics of our Savior’s sweet and redeeming words – back to why we call ourselves Christians in the first place.

The Gospels and Christ’s words are my shelter, my safe place, my refuge when I am confused, when I lose hope, when the world and the enemy become too much for me. This is the whole basis for this series: Back to Basics. The Gospels ground me solidly in the heart and Spirit of Jesus. It’s where I feel most at home.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” So Matthew got up and followed him. And as Jesus sat at the table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were eating with Jesus and his disciples.

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

But when Jesus heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the pious, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:9-13)

There was a lengthy discussion in the comments section of Back to Basics, Part 2 about how we as Christians call people to repentance. Sinners, outcasts, outsiders, even believers who wander from righteousness. I also had the same kind of discussion on another blog about how we treat our Christian brothers and sisters who have fallen into temptation.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

I don’t perceive this statement of Jesus as abandonment. Matthew places this statement right after the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14). Look back at the way Jesus treated pagans, prostitutes and tax collectors. He ate with them, he offered them grace and compassion, he loved them until they were able to feel his heart, able to feel safe enough to be totally vulnerable, able to willingly surrender to him and repent. He didn’t give up on them or ostracize the outcasts; just the opposite. He met them where they were and invited them into his arms where they saw his heart. (Luke 5:29-32, 7:37-39, 15:1, and 19:7)

Eyes to see and ears to hear come from ready hearts – hearts that have been tucked in safely on a bed of unconditional love and grace, of relationship, of knowing the history and hurts of that heart.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is not safe. It says, “Your sin is your face and that is all I see of you or care to know about you.”

“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is not safe. This phrase to all who hear it says, “I don’t want to know your history or pain. I already presume to know you globally through what I have condemned as your sin. Your sin is your face and that is all I see of you or care to know about you. Until you change, you are not worthy of my time or God’s time.”

Focusing on sin does not preach the Good News. It does not make disciples. Focusing on sin negates our own state of being when our Father adopted us through Christ. It negates everything Jesus lived and died for. It negates Christ’s resurrection.

When we focus on sin, we immediately place expectations on those we accuse. We establish a hierarchical relationship to them, we elevate their sin to a place of prominence instead of focusing on the Good News – God’s Grace (Romans 2:1-4, 3:24). And we forget that sin is a lifetime struggle.

Our job is to worry about our own sin, to whittle down our own logs, to look at the person in the mirror and begin there to make a change.

We have been left with two missions (commissions):

Reconciliation: Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

Make disciples: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

So how do we successfully accomplish these missions?

Continued tomorrow in Back to Basics, Part 4.

I Don’t Know What to Say!

There are times in life when we simply don’t know what to say. Suppose the phone rings in the wee hours of the morning, waking you from a deep sleep. If you are anything like me, your first thought, upon the comprehension that the phone is actually ringing, might be something like, “Uh oh, this can’t be good”.

You answer, and the person on the other end is your best friend who tells you that his or her spouse just died of a heart attack; your friend is simply overwhelmed… what are you going to say?

They ask you to come over… what will you say?

You arrive, and your friend is still overwhelmed by what has happened: what will you say?

What can you say? There are no magic words that will make the situation any better, and in all likelihood, your friend doesn’t really want you to say anything, he or she just doesn’t want to be alone right then.

At such a time, few are in the mood for speeches, fewer still are in the mood for condescension: “I told him he should exercise more and lose some weight”.

No, they just don’t want to be alone; it is a basic human need. This is sometimes called “The Ministry of Presence”. Presence is all about a person finding comfort in the fact that there is someone who cares enough about them to be present when they are at their lowest point, even though they might feel awkward or uneasy. It is more about a caring face, than golden phrases; it is more about connection and less about reason.

The Christian presence is powerful, it is more than merely the presence of another body in the room, for as Christians we are a royal priesthood, every one of us (1 Peter 2:9) and as a royal priesthood, each one of us mediates God’s presence to others by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. If that sounds a little too theoretical to you, don’t worry, for I doubt that any mere human comprehends it fully, just know that when you are present with a person in need of your presence, there is more going on than we might be conscious of, for we are bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the situation.

Jesus needed the ministry of presence too. Do you recall the story of His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34), and He asked Peter, James and John to stay close by and keep watch; He needed their presence. As a Kingdom of priests, our presence is an active service to God, one of the most powerful acts of service in God’s arsenal, a service that God has clearly modeled for us.

As you know the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most powerfully significant symbols in all of Scripture, for it represents God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people. It served as the center of Jewish life, their pride, their joy and their great comfort, for when they gazed upon the Temple, they knew that God was present with them. In the fullness of time, God moved His presence beyond the symbol of the Temple, taking on the flesh and blood for of a man, in Jesus Christ. Jesus could walk and talk in the midst of God’s people; He could literally reach out and touch them, share a meal with them and bring hope and comfort to them. Yet He knew that His time was short; preparations were made to keep God’s presence among His people worldwide, and when the time, His people received the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think it is safe to say that God has gone to great lengths to make His presence available to humanity, and part of His effort is for us to make ourselves available to one another in the ministry of presence.

So, what will we say?

Not a whole lot, so don’t worry about it. Maybe a brief prayer, or a longer silent one. Maybe a hug, a shoulder to lean on or to cry on, maybe the holding of a hand. Perhaps an ear to listen… or maybe just being there.

Grace of God

Surrender

Your love and grace have set me free

You saw me broken, lost and flawed

You dried my tears, now I can see

How wondrous is the Grace of God

 

Now when you say to follow rules

I find it curious and odd

I do not mean to ridicule –

How wondrous is the Grace of God

 

When righteous living is your goal

And though the goal I can applaud

Through love the Spirit makes me whole

How wondrous is the Grace of God

 

Don’t set aside His gift of grace

By which the world would be so awed

Surrender rules to His embrace

How wondrous is the Grace of God

 

Your love and grace have me free;

How wondrous is the Grace of God

 

 

“When we make people try to follow our rules and regulations for righteous living we have a problem; we set aside the grace of God.” Daily Enduring Truth

Heretics, Murder and Brotherly Love

A few weeks back I watched “The Tudors” again on Netflix. OK fine, you got me; I binge-watched it!

I had actually seen it some years ago, but enough time had passed so that it was almost like the first time again. As I watched the story of Henry VIII unfold, I was struck with a great sense of thankfulness that I live now and not back then; what a terrible time it was. I must add that I am also thankful that when America was established, our founders went to such great lengths to ensure that no such tyranny could happen here; and so far, their precautions have worked.

Yet more than anything else, I was impressed with the complete lack of understanding that people, at least those in leadership, had of what the Christian faith is all about. To be sure, this is not a Protestant versus Catholic observation, for none of these leaders on either side seemed to have a clue. I suppose that anyone who really did “get” Christianity was murdered, their names lost to history.

The specter of Bishops, Archbishops, even Cardinals  the very people who are supposed to know better, being so full of themselves that they would assert that anyone who disagrees with them on something must be burned alive is almost unbelievable, and yet it happened on a large scale across Europe in those days: Unspeakable evil.

Of course they all knew that there is no teaching remotely akin to this in the New Testament, so why not just make reading the Scriptures a capital offense for anyone outside clerical circles? Some of them did just that. I guess I could rant all day long on this, but history really isn’t my point in writing today…

I wonder: Do we still have the impulse today, to brand other Christians as heretics if they disagree with us on some point of doctrine? Do we belong to church assemblies that assert they are the only ones who are “right” and everybody else is “wrong”? Do our churches assert that they are “true” and all others are not? Do we stick our fingers in others’ faces because they see things a little differently than we do? Do we believe it is a sin for someone to disagree with us on a doctrinal point?

You are welcome to call me crazy, but it seems to me that these things result from the same impulse that used to burn people at the stake, and that these attitudes are still with us.

I have done quite a lot of Bible teaching over my lifetime, in classrooms, in churches, in writing and in various relational environments, and I always do my honest best to be faithful to Scripture. Yet I more than anyone am very much aware of the fact that I am just as imperfect and fallible as the next guy; surely I make my share of mistakes, and I am happy to admit it and make corrections where appropriate. Even as I write this it occurs to me that I’m getting close to doing the very thing by implication that I’m writing against, so let’s be clear; no, you don’t need to do or think as I do! Instead, I would simply encourage you to ask yourself a series of questions, much like those I posed above; do some soul searching, take this to God in prayer, for this is an important issue.

Jesus taught many things during His ministry and the highest of His teachings was that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; He made this all very clear at the end of His ministry when He commanded His disciples to love one another. Doesn’t love require that we not burn one another at the stake, either literally or figuratively?

Well dear friends, at least it’s something to think about, don’t you agree?

The Church as We Know Her

Recently, God started revealing another aspect of this Christian walk that I couldn’t quite figure out for some time. A simple statement someone mentioned opened up a beautiful perspective on the “why.” First, I wanted to explain a little of the background, relevant as to how I’ve come to see things.

It appears many Christian organizations are adamant about defending their stances while claiming Biblical backing. Mostly though, this backing seems skewed. One example (of many), when Paul speaks about deacons and overseers, the requirements wouldn’t be terribly hard for the majority of “laity” today. Yet many in a congregation are relegated to participating in a weekly ritual instead of becoming deacons and overseers as new fellowships form. The requirements have now been elevated beyond the reach of most laypeople. Instead of a spreading, there is a containment in deference to building a ministry upwards instead of letting it flow outwards.

What we see in the early church is an out-flowing as congregations spreaded from house to house and new overseers and deacons became needed to serve these new fellowships. These weren’t paid positions, and they didn’t require the purchasing of buildings and other worldly assets. Instead, any money voluntarily given was used for those who needed it—whether that was inside or outside of that specific congregation. In comparison, much of our money today goes to keeping the machinery running instead of helping others. The small percentage that may go to others is paltry in comparison to the potential impact we could be having in our world.

However, even though the format we’ve established today may (arguably) not be Biblical, there is, admittedly, some movement of the Holy Spirit—if only on rare occasion. This is upheld as irrefutable proof that “our” ministry is right and that if we continue to repeat the same things over and over, the Holy Spirit will continue to move in the same way. In other words, it would seem that we seek containment and control of the Holy Spirit within our doctrinal confines, even though this may not be our conscious intent. We seek to market God to others in the setting and way we’ve predefined, setting limits as to how the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in our world.

This brings me to the question that has been on my mind for some time, but I couldn’t quite resolve—If our modern church entity wasn’t Jesus’ intent (according to how he describes her in the Bible), why do we see an occasional movement within these institutions? I’m not necessarily speaking of an emotionally charged movement (I have honestly never been able to relate to those being such a heavily introverted thinker), but a tangible spiritual awakening of souls when they encounter Jesus “face to face.”

The answer was so simple yet so profound when I came across it—If someone is truly seeking healing (or salvation, or whatever terms we may use), Jesus heals them where they are at, regardless of the faulty systems we create to try to contain his movements. In contrast, Jesus healed me after I had been outside of what we know today as church for over 11 years!

Suddenly, another aspect of the Bible began to crystallize for me. Like Israel demanding a king when they already had God as their Sovereign, we tend to believe we are in need of a hierarchical clergy system when we already have Jesus as our direct High Priest and Shepherd. Our systems only seem to increase the gap between us and Father by eclipsing the direct relationship that was established by the Son in his incarnation and through the victory of the cross. Yet still, this doesn’t stop the Holy Spirit from working. God still works through our broken systems to bring about healing to those who believe that is where healing can be found—even if it furthers our often misguided agendas. Jesus is concerned first and foremost with bringing restoration to the broken in hopes that they will see the beauty of living in his kingdom—the kingdom that isn’t constructed by human hands.

So why don’t we all just participate in the system we have even though it’s imperfect? I’ve come to believe, through no small amount of pain, that some may be called into those systems where God leads them, as was I for a time. Likewise, I believe some may be called outside of those systems, again, where God leads them, as I now have been. However, it would seem our systems do more to inhibit the gospel—the kingdom brought near by Jesus—from spreading in the world than they do to advance it. Likewise, we get a dichotomy of in versus out that only serves to harm our witness to the watching world—where we are called to love one another. So many hurting people are seeing how much professed Christians hate each other, partially because of our “in” or “out” statuses and partially because of our rigidness. These battered souls are choosing instead to pass altogether on seeking healing if it only seeks to convert them to a “side” in that same conflict.

Our call is to humbly embrace our “in” or “out” brothers and sisters and allow those who need healing to follow the Holy Spirit to a place they can find just that. Perhaps we need more fluidity to move with the Holy Spirit as it moves like the wind to where those in need reside. Instead, the dogmas we’ve created, both inside and out, serve as walls that we are continually hindered by. This not only hurts our witness, but it keeps us from truly loving each other on a deeper, spiritual level.

This is a rough lesson God has been walking me through over the past 2.5 years on the outside, and there are still plenty of snares and diversions that seek to drag me away from pursing such love for others. Still, I believe Jesus’ Church will survive and become stronger regardless of our human attempts to bend her to our worldly agendas—whether those reside inside or outside of an institution.

A Soldier’s Duty

When our battalion was called together, I wondered if it had something to do with the rumors that the Jews were on the verge of rioting. Pilate just released a rebel leader to them to calm them down, but maybe extra precautions were being taken.

When we arrived in the governor’s headquarters, there was a man there badly scourged. Some of the soldiers stripped him and made him wear a royal scarlet garment. Then, they twisted together a crown of thorns, placed it on his head, and gave him a reed for a scepter. As blood tricked down the prisoner’s head, they began kneeling and saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.” We laughed uproariously and then spit on him, as most of us were miserable with the predicament at this posting. One soldier took the reed and struck the prisoner on the head repeatedly.

When we were done venting our frustration, the other soldiers replaced the prisoner’s original clothes. I was assigned the duty, along with several others, to escort this prisoner to his execution. This wasn’t anything new as I’d assisted with many crucifixions since I’d been assigned to this garrison.

As we made our way towards Golgotha, the prisoner was barely able to carry his own cross. Yet, as beaten and bloody as he was, he seemed determined to make the journey.

“So what’d this guy do?” I asked one of my fellow soldiers.

“Claimed he was the Son of God, so his own people want him dead. They even stated that he was a threat to Caesar by his claims.” he replied.

Okay, I suppose that makes sense, especially since the Caesars claim to be sons of god. Do they really execute people for that though? Sure, lock him up for being crazy maybe, but this seems a bit extreme. Perceiving my thoughts, the other soldier just shrugged. I guess if it’s our duty to execute, we execute.

It seems most of the crowd hated this Jesus fellow, so I guess we didn’t have to worry too much about the zealots today. Though, there were a handful of people weeping as they followed us on to Golgotha—probably some close friends and family members. Suddenly, the prisoner turned and made a statement that sounded like Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. He spoke with such conviction, yet he still had such compassion in his voice, as though he was sorrowful if such a thing were to happen to the very people condemning him.

Not much longer after that, the prisoner collapsed. Some of the soldiers tried to get him back on his feet while the rest of us watched the crowd. Suddenly a man stepped out and looked directly at me. I quickly readied my spear, but then noticed his composure. He had tears running down his face and his hands were together upright in front of him. I believe this symbolized that he had no weapons or intent of violence. As I relaxed my defensive posture, still unsure of what the man wanted, he looked over to the prisoner on the ground.

This man’s actions caused a slight ache in my heart. This must have been a good friend of his for him to risk his very life by interfering in an execution. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do. If the centurion saw him, he might run him through or arrest him. I suppose I can do something to help him out. At first I thought to push him back into the crowd before the others noticed, but they might think a fight was about to break out.

After a moment’s thought, I stated loudly “You, help this man carry his cross.” I glanced over towards the centurion and he seemed to be okay with this solution.

After a long trudge, we finally reached the top of the hill. The assistant laid the cross down, then gently rested the prisoner beside it. While the other soldiers were beginning to prepare the crucifixion, I stepped aside to talk to the man who had assisted.

“Who are you…and why’d you do that?” I asked, “Why would you risk your life for a man who’s already dead anyway?”

“I’m Simon, and…” he stated as he struggled to restrain his tears, “he showed me mercy when I didn’t deserve it….He really is the Son of God…and he’s doing this for all of us….including you.” With that, my heart stopped mid-beat. There was something in this man’s words, as though he had been through an unfathomable experience. Could there be something more to this Jesus? Could he really be divinity?

“Hey,” the centurion bellowed from behind me in the midst of my thoughts, “I’ll hold him, you hammer in the spikes.” Oh no, anything but that. The centurion shook the hammer slightly suggesting that I hurry up and take it. Reluctantly, I did. Then he handed me three long spikes.

As I aligned the first spike to Jesus’ hand, I hesitantly raised the hammer. I looked over to Jesus who had quite a peaceful expression considering the ordeal he had been through. My eyes began to fill with tears as thoughts invaded my head again. If he really is the Son of God….if I do this. “Oh God….please forgive me,” I repeated over and over in my head, still trying to make my trembling arm take the first swing.

“I…” a voice weakly murmured. I looked around a bit confused until my eyes settled on Jesus’. “I forgive you,” he said with the glimmer of a smile on his face. I felt a shiver go through my whole body. Had he read my thoughts? Why would he forgive me? Did he want to be crucified? Why…Why was he doing this?

The centurion didn’t seem to take any notice of Jesus’ comment. Jesus’ eyes stayed fixed on me as I saw a resolute expression come across his face. A peace began to fill me, and I felt that bringing down the hammer was what I was destined to do. I struck the first blow and he grunted. Then he opened his eyes and nodded for me to continue. With that, I struck another blow and another as tears started streaming down my face.

As I completed fastening the second hand, the centurion took notice of my tears. “Are you alright? What happened?” he asked bluntly.

“I’m fine. I just..hit my thumb on that last swing and it really hurts,” I replied.

“Do you want me to finish?” he retorted.

“No! I got it!” I exclaimed a little more forcibly than intended. I didn’t want to place anyone else is such a horrible position.

I finished driving the spike through his feet, then we affixed the notice that Pilate had ordered be attached. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”A shiver again traveled through my body as I read the sign.

The next few hours seemed like an eternity. I would rather have been on the front lines of a war than watching this man die. Many hurled insults as they passed. Some of the other soldiers joined in as well while Jesus’ cloths were being divided up just below him. Even the two robbers on each side mocked him. I hung my head in shame, remembering my actions in the governor’s quarters not even a few hours earlier.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus stated remorsefully as he tilted his head slightly upward. He then looked down directly at me and a bolt of lightning shot through my body. Here he was….crucified….and he’s forgiving the ones persecuting him. There’s definitely something more to him.

When one of the thieves heard Jesus’ forgiveness, he too became remorseful, and even started defending him. He then asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom. Jesus responded kindly—that they would be feasting in Paradise that very day! This Jesus fellow seemed, even in his bleakest hour, to be filled with more compassion than anyone I had ever known.

Then, a darkness began to encroach. At first, I thought the sun was just going behind the clouds, but this became a much thicker darkness than I’d ever seen during daylight hours. I became more aware of the surroundings as I took note of each person still there. Most were familiar except a young man standing out in the edge of the darkness. He too looked to be weeping. One of the other soldiers suggested it was probably a disciple of Jesus’, too afraid to come close in case he was recognized.

Suddenly, Jesus cried out. Simon quickly prepared a drink while some others passing by thought he was calling a prophet from their history. They lingered around for the moment to see if perhaps this prophet would show up. A few moments later, a woman came frantically running out of the darkness. Her pace slowed as she got close enough to recognize the figure on the center cross. I could see the horror on her face as she stood there in shock. Then, tears began streaming down her face as she fell to her knees. I looked over to the soldier next to me, and he seemed just as perplexed as I was, though Simon had more of a shocked expression, as though he knew her.

“This isn’t right!” she screamed unexpectedly. I felt the tears welling up in me as she rocked back and forth and repeated the statement over and over.

As the woman quieted to a sob, we heard a resolute “It is finished” from above us and we all looked up to see an immensely passionate look on Jesus’ face. Tears began streaming from my eyes again as he exhaled one last time, then hung lifeless.

Simon approached the crying woman cautiously and attempted to console her. At first, she seemed startled that Simon was there, but to his surprise, she jumped to her feet and threw her arms around him. They both wept passionately. I sat in awe wondering how they might know each other as they seemed to be from two totally different walks of life. Was this Jesus fellow bringing such diverse people together?

I stood and moved closer, compelled by the compassion still on Jesus’ face. The tears were still running down my cheeks, though I’m not sure if anyone else noticed—and at that moment, I no longer cared.

Just then we got an order from Pilate. We were to remove the body from the cross and give it to a Joseph of Arimathea.

“Okay,” the centurion remarked, “I guess it’s over.” With that, he readied his spear and looked to the body hesitantly. After a small sigh, he plunged his spear into Jesus’ side. I looked on in horror as blood and water poured out, but Jesus didn’t make a move; he was already gone. My heart sank as tears continued to roll down my face. If he really was the Son of God, why didn’t he save himself? And why was he doing this for us?

Without warning, the earth began to shake violently. The other soldiers fell to the ground and I collapsed to my knees while still focused on Jesus. Oddly, it seemed while everything else was in upheaval, I felt an indescribable peace kneeling there before him.

When the shaking finally stopped, light again filled the sky, and I quickly tried to wipe the tears from my face. The centurion, noticing my composure, began walking towards me. I prepared myself for reprimand—or worse—but instead…he gently laid his hand on my shoulder. As I braced myself on my spear and stood to my feet, all those still around drew in closer. Even the disciple that had been off in the distance dared to approach now. I looked up again to the lifeless body on the cross, and my heart was overwhelmed. I was now sure of it, more than anything else I’d ever known.

“Truly, this was the Son of God!”

The Path of Thorns

There’s no way he can worm his way out of this one! We were able to catch this woman dead to rights in the middle of adultery. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when we present her to him. If he excuses her, he will have violated the Law of Moses, and if he condemns her, he will prove that he is just like us. It’s the perfect setup! Finally, we can expose him for the fraud he is.

When we arrived at the Temple grounds, this Jesus fellow was teaching some more of his nonsense to a gathering crowd. Oh are they in for a surprise!

“Teacher,” one of my colleagues interrupted as we burst on the scene, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” As he finished his statement, I reached down and picked up the nearest rock signaling for the crowd to follow suit.

At first, Jesus looked like he had been caught off guard, but instead of fumbling for an answer, he just took a deep breath, let it out, and then knelt down to the ground. He began to draw in the sand as the watching crowd drew in a little closer to see what he might be revealing. Does he think that we’re so naive? Hah! Look at him, acting so calm and collected like he has all the answers. He’s just stalling for time!

As I glanced at what he was drawing, however, a chill suddenly shot up my spine and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Everyone else seemed oblivious, but somehow I knew from the first few strokes what it was—a cross!

Did he know? Had he overheard? It was only an idle comment. My colleagues and I had been discussing this Jesus character a few days earlier. I jokingly made the suggestion that we could set him up so the Romans would crucify him. Had someone told him? Had he been lurking somewhere in the shadows? Or….was he….was he really from God? My heart sank and sweat began to soak my brow as I realized we may have made a terrible mistake.

Just then, one of my colleagues began demanding an answer from Jesus. Jesus stood to his feet, closed his eyes, and let out another long sigh as though he was deeply saddened. Then, he opened his eyes and looked in my direction. At first, my heart began to race, but as I looked into his face, he had a rather remorseful look about him. I couldn’t hold the gaze for long though so I looked away—right to the ground where the completed cross had been drawn. No one else seemed to have noticed since my colleague’s outburst. I began to tremble as my grip tightened on the stone in my hand. It was only a brief moment, but it felt like an eternity tormented by the situation.

“Alright,” Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” This time a bolt of lightning rushed up my spine. I was certain of it now; somehow he knew what I had said. As I hesitantly looked back up, unsure of what to do now, Jesus was looking directly at me. At first I wanted to slink to the back of the crowd, but I noticed that his demeanor had changed—now, he had the most loving expression on his face that I had ever seen. It was like he was saying that it was okay, that he wasn’t angry with me—that…that he was letting me off the hook! Again, his gaze was too pure to look at for long and tears began to well up in my eyes. As I looked down to the stone in my trembling hand, a million thoughts raced through my mind. Why would he just let me off the hook like that? Why didn’t he seek revenge? Why didn’t he tell the crowd the truth—that we….that I had suggested he be setup and crucified? How….how could he just forgive me like that? Is this how our Father really is—loving us even at our worse? What can I do now? Oh God, this is such a mess!

As all these thoughts echoed in my head, tears trickled down my face and splashed against the parched stones. What have I done!? What have I been doing with my life!? The weight of the stone began to increase exponentially. I remorsefully dropped it from my shaking hand, and it hit the ground with a loud thud. I didn’t know what to do, but I could no longer stay there. As I made my way through the crowd, I heard the people murmuring to each other. My compatriots, though, seemed quiet, but I didn’t turn back to see what their reaction was. Then, one by one, I began to hear other thuds as I was making my way out of the crowd. Others were leaving the scene right behind me, but I didn’t turn back to look. Instead, I began to disgracefully run. I ran without stopping through the streets until I reached the residence I maintained there. I rushed to my quiet place and fell to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably.

“God, please forgive me!” I yelled repeatedly. I knew I wasn’t supposed to say his name out loud, but I no longer cared if anyone overheard. My position among the religious teachers was probably forfeit already, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back anyway. Perhaps I should just move back to my hometown. At least my family is still there, and they didn’t have to witness the events of today.

As I sat there weeping, a sense of immense peace came over me that I couldn’t quite explain. I felt that somehow everything was going to be alright.


Jesus and I had a few beautiful conversations after that. I found myself drawn to his loving presence though often his words were so counter to everything I’d been taught to believe. I tried to convince him to stay away from Jerusalem, but he kept assuring me that everything was going to turn out exactly as it was supposed to. I also tried to find the woman that we had condemned to stoning, but she seemed to have disappeared—and asking around was getting me into more and more trouble. Jesus assured me that everything was going to be okay with her also, and that she had her own road to travel. I tried to trust him at his word, but it’s hard to let go of the control I thought I had for so long.

I never returned to my position in Jerusalem, though I often pleaded with some of my former colleagues to abandon their pursuance of Jesus. I spoke with Herod also insisting that Jesus really was the Messiah—the Son of God! I even petitioned Pontius Pilate not to give in to the Sanhedrin, but all was to no avail.

Now…here he is—the Messiah…our Savior—-beaten and bloody, forced to make the trek to Golgotha bearing his own cross. Tears streamed down my face as he stumbled onward, hardly able to carry the weight. I felt powerless. Is this really the path he was destined to take?

And then….he collapsed.

My heart sank as I thought of all the anguish he had already endured. I looked up to see some of my old colleagues across the way. Some looked smugly satisfied at the scene, though others looked troubled, like deep down they knew this whole charade was wrong. Was it happening to them too? Were they becoming remorseful at what was going on? Was Jesus’ love breaking through to them also?

As one of the soldiers prodded Jesus to get him on his feet again, I could no longer stand there and do nothing. As I stepped out, Nicodemus grabbed my arm and whispered harshly, “Simon, what are you doing!? You’re going to get yourself in trouble with the Romans—and the Sanhedrin—and Herod! Think about your family back in Cyrene!” As I looked at Nicodemus, tears dripping from my face, his eyes too begin to swell as he could no longer hold back the pain in his own heart. He sighed remorsefully then nodded as he loosened his grip on my arm.

As I stepped out, I placed my hands together and upright in front of me to show the Romans I had no weapons or intent of violence. I immediately caught the attention of one of the soldiers. He began to ready his spear, but then realized my composure. For a moment, he seemed a bit perplexed. He looked back to the other soldiers that were still attending to Jesus. After a brief moment’s thought, he looked at me and nodded. “You,” he stated loudly enough to catch the attention of the other guards, “come and carry this man’s cross.”

Relieved that he understood, I walked over to Jesus and placed his arm across my back and his cross on my shoulder. We then, slowly, made the agonizing trek onward to Golgotha.

His Glory

© 2012 Pimmi Nag
© 2012 Pimmi Nag

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him and praise him, and you are filled with a glorious, inexpressible joy. (1 Peter 1:8)

 

Dear Father, I don’t see Your face;

But feel You in a warm embrace

In every single grain of sand;

The darkened, veined, brown, wrinkled hands dispensing grace.

 

The beating wings of birds in flight,

In rustling leaves in breeze at night,

I hear Your whisper softly say,

I love you; please know this today; in this delight.

 

At every turn Your glory’s seen;

Deep, lasting rain that washes clean,

To golden sun which dries and warms.

If I allow, I’ll be informed with each new scene.

 

Each day I notice more and more

My acumen increased by score

Your Word’s intentions are revealed

Which formerly were once concealed; Son, I adore!

 

And I, though I do not know how,

Can see Your splendor even now

Through eyes which see my looking glass

And realize Your Spirit’s vast Vine to my bough.

 

So grateful You did gift me grace

And unrestricted loving space

To come to You; You set me free.

In freedom, now I hear, I see; You rescued me.

 

Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image with ever-increasing glory, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it. (2 Corinthians 3:18)