Do You See the Man in the Middle?

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“Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left” (Matthew 27:38)

All four of the gospel writers note the presence of two others with Jesus when He was crucified.  They were thieves – most likely “career criminals” to be put to death for their crimes.  Jesus was the “Man in the middle.” Matthew tells us that these thieves joined in the crowd’s mocking and jeering against Jesus; they “heaped insults on him” (Matthew 27:44).  But at some point, something changed for one of the men.

Luke reports that “one of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!’” (23:39). But we see that the other criminal had a change of heart saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong” (23:40-41).  This enlightened criminal realized that Jesus was an innocent man, falsely accused, and wrongly crucified.  That in itself would be an amazing turnaround, but he understood even greater things than that.

He tells the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (23:42).  He recognized, by divine knowledge, that Jesus was, in fact, a King who could give him eternal life.  He also knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus in return for this gift of eternal life – but he asked anyway.  “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). 

I don’t know what was happening in the mind and heart of this man, but I believe, as he turned his head to gaze upon Jesus, his eyes were supernaturally opened to the Truth.   I believe he witnessed the intensity of Jesus’ suffering under the weight of mankind’s condemnation – including his own.  I believe he heard Jesus’ plea to His Father for forgiveness for the ones who nailed Him to the cross.  I believe he saw past the blood-matted hair and bruises and looked beyond the skin shredded to ribbons and saw a glimpse of who this Man in the middle truly was.  And a divine glimpse is all he needed.

Oh, Beloved, will you open your eyes to the Man in the middle and receive eternal life?

The Day Between Death and Life

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“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross.   They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet.  They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender.  They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit.  They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body.  They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross.  They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection.  But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters.  To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story.  He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women?  Were they numb with grief?  Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones?   This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief.  How could this be?  Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!”  As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty.  We know this is only the day between death and life.  But they didn’t.  In their world, death was final.  It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

Two Hearts at Calvary

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“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

In the midst of the crowd of people at Golgotha that day stood a mother with a broken heart. In the halls of heaven, amid the angels and the saints, the Father’s heart surely broke as well. As the soldier’s sword pierced the side of Jesus, a sword of grief and pain pierced the heart of Mary as she watched her son die. Though the face of God the Father turned away from Jesus, I suspect the same sword that pierced Mary’s heart likely pierced the great heart of God. A mortal woman and an immortal and eternal God, bound by the love only a mother and Father shared over their son. A life’s journey that began before time, in the heart of God. A life’s journey that began in a stable in the heart of a young woman.

Jesus the son of Mary. Jesus, the Son of God.

In the Gospel of Luke, within the familiar Christmas story of angels and wise men and shepherds, we learn something about the mother of Jesus. Luke 2:19 tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Every mother understands, to a degree, how we treasure the sight and sound and smell of our newborn baby. But for Mary, this was so much more than just the birth of her son. This was wonder. This was awe. For she had been told that her baby was to be the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Angles proclaimed His birth. Shepherds left their flocks and came to see this newborn King, then joyfully spread the news to everyone they met.

We find Mary again, tucking away treasures about her son in her heart, in the account of the boy Jesus in the temple. Frantic worry and fear about His absence from their group gave way to that same awe and wonder at the wisdom of her child, and His passion to be in the house of His Father. Luke repeats the phrase, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”   I imagine that, through the years, Mary added more and more to the treasury in her heart.   She knew her son was more than a flesh-and-blood man-child. The Son of God. The Messiah. The Deliverer of God’s people.

And what can we say about the heart of His Father? Can anyone describe the heart of God? A mother’s heart I can understand. Even the heart of a human father is not unique to us. But the heart of the God of Heaven and Earth? Vast. Eternal. Unyielding. Yet still, this was His Son. Surely we can say that the love God held for Jesus must have been beyond the scope of human comprehension. If the love God has for us, His creation is more than we can fathom, how much greater His love for His Son? He did not have to tuck treasures away in His heart, for He had perfect knowledge and remembrance; yet I image – just me thinking mind you – that He rejoiced over every moment of Jesus’ earthly life.

Until now. Until the cross. Until His mother and His Father witnessed the gruesome and cruel death of the son they both loved.

I wonder if Mary, watching her son’s life ebb away, took out those precious treasured memories of angels and shepherds and wonder and awe and tried to understand how this infant she bore could now be the hated, dying criminal hanging before her.   Was this really her child? Did she look at his hair, matted with blood from the thorns and recall pushing that same hair from His eyes? Did she remember how those hands held tightly to hers as they went to the market together?   The hands that were now nailed to the wood? Did she wonder, “How will he save anyone now?” The Son of God, the Messiah – battered, broken and bleeding. The light in His eyes dimmed as He surrendered His Spirit and died.

How much more was the Father’s heart in heaven breaking? If the love God had for His Son was multiplied to the nth degree, how much more His grief? And then, the Father did the hardest thing imaginable. He turned away from the sight of His Son, for in that moment, all the sin and shame and filth of mankind was cast upon Jesus. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. David’s sin. Peter’s sin. Your sin. My sin. The sin of the generations yet to come. The sin of all humanity for all time was heaped upon Jesus, and the Father turned away. Matthew 27: 46 records Jesus’ mournful cry: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet Jesus knew why. It was the plan of the ages to redeem mankind from sin and death. They had prepared for this from before time began. Prepared, but still shattered by grief.

Mary grieved for her son. Surely God grieved as He turned away from the sin His beloved Son bore.

Two broken hearts, forever entwined by love for the God-man who died at Calvary that day.