When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.”
NEHEMIAH 4:14 NASB
Nehemiah and his contemporaries were faced with a great challenge: Rebuilding the burned and broken down wall of Jerusalem. Not only was there the simple, physical challenge of doing this massive job with antiquated tools and untrained people, but it was complicated by the presence of enemies who mocked, threatened, discouraged and frightened the people.
So Nehemiah stood to encourage them. Their fear was palpable, and obviously even visible: “When I saw their fear….” And he told them three important things: first, “Do not be afraid.” Our families were never created to be led by fear. So many parents today spend their days in fear; some for their children’s safety, and others in fear their children will not succeed. The enemy is constantly planting seeds of fear.
Second, Nehemiah said, “remember the Lord who is great and awesome….” We should always seek to view our families through the lens of our Heavenly Father who loves us and who is “great and awesome.”
Third, Nehemiah said, “Fight….” There is a storm today. Our homes are fraught with enemies vying for the minds and souls of our children, and longing to tear apart our marriages. Family life is a battle that must be entered daily.
Pray for your family. Pray for your children. Recognize the greatness of your God, and the constant assault of your enemy. The battle does not end while we’re on this earth. We don’t get to vacation away from it. We must maintain vigilance, and be alert and fight for our families… our marriages and our children… our homes.
It is the Lord who brings us the victory. But it is we who must continue to fight; not in fear but in confidence knowing He will empower us to continue… and to have victory!
By Tim Maynard
Grave clothes cast aside
Stone rolled away.
Breathless wonder…He’s alive?
Earthquake rumbles, veil is torn.
“He is risen, just as He said.”
Can it be?
Questions, fear, doubt.
The sun is rising; the Son has Risen!
Soldiers silenced, night of fear.
Confusion, shock, disbelief.
An empty tomb.
The Son is set free.
“Mary!” “My Rabbi!”
The dawn brings new life.
Sin has been forgiven.
The grave is overcome.
Christ the Lord is risen today!
Jesus died. “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” The Spirit of Jesus left His earthly body. The body, placed in an earthly garden tomb, hastily wrapped for burial, waited the “what’s next” of resurrection.
There seems to be great uncertainty about where the Spirit of Jesus went when He bowed His head and “gave up His Spirit.” We certainly see in this that Jesus was in complete control, even of the moment He died. But He died in as true a way as He suffered. His death was no pantomime. He experience death for us.
But then, where did He go? He told one of the thieves who died with Him that afternoon that he would be “with Him” in paradise. We don’t know for sure where that would be or what those words meant.
We do know for certain, that Jesus did not go from the cross to spend three days in hell being tormented, as some believe. That is absolutely impossible, since to hold that view means that Jesus was not able to accomplish all that was needed for our redemption at the cross; something more was needed.
He did not go to purgatory. There is not a place like this in Scripture. But what we can know for certain is, wherever He went, He went in victory and not to endure more punishment.
And as His bruised and crushed body breathed its last breath and exhaled His Spirit, the last blow to defeat death was accomplished. All that was left was the celebration coming…
…on Easter morning.
And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” And having said this, He breathed His last. Luke 23:46
Father, may we as Jesus commit all that is in our living… and all that is in our dying, to Your hands. May we equally trust You with them both. Amen.
“It is finished.” (John 19:30). The battle is over. The war’s last shot has been fired. Jesus was preparing momentarily to surrender the last breath of His life to the Father. Nothing was left to accomplish. “Finished.”
What a blessed word! To finish with a grueling race; to finish the long course of a graduate degree (or, for that matter, high school). To finish with a prescribed course of chemotherapy or radiation. Finished.
For Jesus, this word carried more than meaning just “the end.” There is another Greek word for “the end” which He could have selected. Instead, He chose “tetelestai;” it is finished. It meant, “the debt is now paid in full.” “Nothing else is owed.” With His own blood He wrote in large letters over the “certificate of debt that was against us,” IT IS PAID IN FULL.
The Roman prison system was largely a debtors’ prison. Bad debts were not be forgiven lightly. Prison cells were reserved for those in debt over their heads with no other means to pay what they owed; no family to sell into slavery; no goods to barter.
Bankrupt. Busted. Broke. No hope. Just as we stood before God before our debt was paid on the cross. No way out. Freedom was gone. When a prisoner was locked in his cell, a “certificate of debt” was nailed over the door signifying how much was owed and how long the sentence would be. When the fine and penalty had been paid, the judge would take the certificate of debt and write the word “tetelestai” over the debt.
For most, that certificate never came. It was often a life sentence to pay what they owed. Unless, that is, a benefactor stepped up to pay it for them.
Do you understand that is exactly what Jesus did for us? He stepped in to pay a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay. With His own blood He canceled the “handwriting of ordinances (offenses) that were against us and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
And before He died, He reminded us that this is what He did. The debt is paid. We are free.
“Tetelestai.” It. Is. Finished.”
Heavenly Father, we are thankful as Easter approaches to be reminded again of the great debt that was cancelled by Jesus’ payment on the cross. Our souls would have been locked forever in a debtor’s punishment but because of Jesus the door has been unlocked and we are free. May we never outlive our gratitude to you for that great gift. In Jesus we pray, Amen.
“Thirsty.” That’s the only word Jesus really uttered. We have added the “I.” Dehydration was one of the cruelest aspects of the cross. Long hours of exposure to the Middle Eastern sun, loss of fluids due to perspiration and severe blood loss and the simple absence of compassion that would have offered Jesus even a drink of water during the long hours of trial after trial.
“Thirsty.” (John 19:28). The Water of Life… needing water. What a picture. The humanity of Jesus on full display. The One who filled every ocean with water; who caused the flow of cavernous rainstorms and who at one time, with a word, flooded the earth with water… thirsty.
Some merciful person ran to get a sponge filled with weak, soured wine and lifted it to moisten His lips and give a momentary relief to His parched tongue. His body had now been almost completely drained of life. Just a few more moments remained of His earthly incarnation before the end.
We want to turn away from this moment. We want it not to be true. The Son of God begging for a sip of liquid. How humbling, how humiliating. But how like our Savior who emptied Himself of Divine rights and privileges… of His ability to have washed Calvary hill away with a deluge of what He was asking from the hands of His tormentors.
But He chose to ask. And to wait. And I suppose had they refused, to have died without it. “He was made like His brothers….” “In all points like as we are, yet without sin.” Even to the point of being dependent on water.
“What wondrous love is this?”
Our Father, our minds are inadequate to grasp the depth and height and width and breadth of your love for us. Please open the eyes of our hearts and enlarge and awaken the capacity of our minds to absorb more deeply the truth of Your love for us. And thank You, Father, that because of Jesus we need never thirst again. Amen.
Two men hung alongside Jesus on this day. Condemned men. Given the practice of the Roman Empire, they were not surprised to be there. They both well knew the price of breaking the absolute law of Rome. And the price for their crimes would be extracted from their flesh.
They were dying. Perhaps their souls drew back at the sight of the execution party awaiting their arrival at Golgotha hill. But within moments of their brutal but scientific placement on the Roman’s cross, both were begging for sweet death to take them.
Life was ebbing away. One of the thieves, we are told, took up the taunting and cursing the crowd was directing toward Jesus. Maybe he was relieved that the attention of the cruel crowd was turned somewhere but at him for a moment.
What makes the scene bizarre is the fact that none of the three men hanging there as the Palestinian sun burned through the sky could breathe or speak without great eﬀort. Surely he knew that only a few words were left to escape his mouth before death snuﬀed them out. And yet, he chose to curse. And to taunt. Peer pressure? Perhaps. Desperation for the claims of Jesus as the son of God to be true? “If you’re God’s Son, prove it! Prove it now!”
But hardly belief, or saving faith in Jesus. Just guttural, desperate and profane words coming as quickly as he could draw his breath.
Jesus never responded. Never answered. Never defended Himself. “As a lamb before its shearers is silent….” He heard the man. He heard his words. But no reply was coming. Only death for this man.
On the other side, however, was a conversation that caught Jesus’ attention. A man in the same spot… the same desperation… the same death sentence… spoke to the other man, defending Jesus. “Can’t you see this man has done no wrong?”
And then, the sweetest words Jesus could have heard that day on Calvary’s hill: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I don’t know what the man had seen of Jesus; maybe he had watched Him do miracles on the street. Maybe he simply observed the way Jesus suﬀered. Sometimes, this is our greatest witness to the reality of God.
“Remember me….” No theological proclamation about Christology or soteriology or theory of atonement. Jesus, remember me.
And it was enough. Jesus responded with four words in Aramaic: “Today… with me… paradise.” With that the nameless thief continued the hard work of dying crucified. But now he turned to the task, not in despair but with hope.
And with the salvation of this nameless, former thief, the first victory of Calvary was…
“The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away.”
“There is a Fountain”
What mother wouldn’t go? She gave Him birth, rocked Him to sleep, changed His diaper and fed Him from her own breast. Like mothers do, she believed her Son could do no wrong. (Well, in this instance she was absolutely right!)
Her Son, this Divine gift that appeared in a womb that had never known a man, was now being ripped from her arms in the cruelest form imaginable. She watched as merciless hands accused, slapped, cursed, whipped and stripped Him and ultimately hung Him on Roman timber to die a death gasping for air, for water, for relief.
Jesus now occupied the place for which He had come. A cross between two thieves, falsely accused, blood flowing, sweat mixed with blood from a crown of thorns pressed painfully into His brow; an ironic form of mockery. He deserved a crown. We gave Him thorns. He made all the water on the earth. He was not given even a taste.
He was crucified. Not known even by His loving mother Mary, He was dying for her. But maybe this one indignity was more than the God-man could bear. She heard the old prophet Simeon in the temple speak the harsh words at His presentation in the temple as an infant, “A sword will pierce your heart.” And so it was. This was the day of the sword. Her heart was pierced and torn to pieces.
And so, even as every form of human dignity and decency was taken from Him, and every nerve of His human body set afire by unimaginable pain, Jesus thought of this woman who said to the angel Gabriel, “Let it be unto me as you have said.” She never imagined it would mean this day at Golgotha.
But Jesus spared her the worst. He left it to her imagination on this day of suﬀering. He saw His friend John standing near His mother and with gasping breaths spoke these words, “Mother, behold your son. Son behold your mother.” John knew what he heard. He knew what Jesus was saying.
And so weeping, Mary left the cross with her new son. Legend tells us he cared for her until her death in a little house outside of Ephesus.
Jesus didn’t see even the extremity of this moment or the eternity-altering mission He was undertaking as a reason to overlook the needs of those He loved. In a day when people are easily abandoned because of the inconvenience they bring, Jesus brought the needs of His mother to the forefront.
What wondrous love is this?
“When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, `Woman, behold, Your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Son, behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” John 19:26-27
Our Father, as Jesus taught us with His dying breaths, may we love and give care to those among us who need it most. May our compassion be like His, and never lack. Amen.
We are called to forgive. Sometimes that is an easy thing to do. The injury wasn’t great; we sustained no permanent loss. Life was not altered in any negative way.
But certainly there are circumstances where the call to forgive presents a challenge.
Life was taken. A spouse was stolen away. A child was abducted. You were abused. You were falsely accused and fired from a job. These injuries linger. They are filed away deep into our memory banks, and begin to intertwine themselves with normal life. Life is, in fact, altered.
And yet, the call to forgive lingers. And with it sometimes some falsehoods also linger.
We hear these things, repeat them to ourselves or have them repeated to us, we hear them in songs, or see them acted out in a movie. And they become real, and true and inviolable.
Let’s take a careful look at a few:
Falsehood 1: “I cannot forgive because I cannot forget what happened.”
This false statement assumes that, if forgiveness truely has taken place, we will not remember the injury any more. The truth, however, is that the only time the human mind forgets something is when it’s malfunctioning. We are made to remember… everything. That doesn’t mean we can immediately call a name, or a place, or a memory back to conscious thought immediately. But it’s in the file room… somewhere. For the Christian, remembering an injury and the reality that we have forgiven it stands as a reminder of the power of the Gospel.
Falsehood 2: “I cannot forgive because I don’t ever communicate with the person who hurt me.”
The truth is, forgiveness only takes one person: You. You may no longer have a relationship with the person who offended or hurt you. That is no matter. We are commanded only to forgive, not to reconcile. Now reconciliation would be an ideal ending, but the truth is some people will not reconcile with us… and some relationships should not be restored again… and some people we need to forgive aren’t even alive.
We must forgive to set OURSELVES free, but the only way that can happen is to set the other person free from our debt collection activities. We cannot hold on to the injury they did to us and find the freedom we need to move forward. Forgiveness only takes one person. You.
Falsehood 3: “I cannot forgive because they never asked me to forgive them.”
There is no necessity in a person coming to you begging your forgiveness as a prerequisite to forgiveness. While that may happen, the mandate and command to forgive overrules even the offending party being aware they have hurt you. Our desire to collect a debt we feel they owe us is what drives this last falsehood. We want them to feel embarrassed, to feel shame, to feel some of the pain that we felt. But if that’s how we truly feel, then we have not yet forgiven. They don’t need to ask you for your forgiveness to be offered.
With that, it is also worth noting that you are not required to tell them you forgave. As stated above, some people who need your forgiveness can’t ask since they’re dead. Others are persons you may not even know how to contact. While the day may come that you will face them, telling them what you’ve decided to do in forgiving them is not mandatory for true forgiveness to be offered.
The truth is, we will be injured in life. The test of forgiveness will be a test all of us will at one time or another (maybe multiple times) have to face and pass. But each time we do, the grace that fills your heart will spill out more easily…
…and you’ll know you are free.
“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Our Father in heaven, we have been forgiven so much by You. Our debt to You was far greater than anything we could pay, even if we spent an eternity trying. But with the blood of Jesus, You washed us clean, made us pure, and created a new heart within. Thank You for the cross, for Your Son who died as our sacrifice there, and for the full and free forgiveness You now offer us. Through Christ who is our Savior we pray, Amen.