Hebrews: Jesus, Man of Sorrows

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I’ve been told I am a “strong” person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I appear strong because I do a pretty good job of hiding when I am falling apart, although some of you have learned to read between the lines. Like you, I have cried and yelled and begged God to change certain things in my life. Like you, I have struggled with depression and anxiety and despair.  But you and I are in good company.  Even the strongest person in human history came under the weight of emotional affliction.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death . . .” (Hebrews 5:7). If you didn’t know who Jesus was, you would probably think that this guy went into whatever he was facing kicking and screaming all the way. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Luke said, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus walked toward the cross with determination. But the Scriptures are clear that it was a terrible strain on Him.

Of course, you know that this verse is speaking of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest. Jesus was “very sorrowful and troubled,” even “to the point of death” (Matt. 26:37, 38). He said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Luke said His anguish as He prayed produced “sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  He pleaded, Abba, Father, everything is possible for you Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). I’ve prayed much the same thing, and I am sure you have as well.  The difference is, you and I bear much smaller burdens compared to Jesus, who was feeling the weight of the sin of the entire human race being piled on His shoulders. Isaiah called Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). So when the author of Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). it is because He also felt the weight of despair. It was one of the most “human” moments in Jesus’ life.

I’m going to leave you right here, Beloved, in the Garden with Jesus, watching Him cry to His Father. But know that He was not lost to despair, nor are you and I. When we return to Hebrews, we will see that this very human moment is also a moment of divine glory.

Storms

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It’s easy to trust God when things are going well and life is easy. But, it’s harder to trust Him when storms – literal or figurative – are raging around you.

Like when Jesus and His disciples were crossing a lake. “A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). A squall was a hurricane-force wind on the lake, and it was terrifying – even to seasoned fishermen. But Jesus was with them. He was probably helping them bail water or fight with the sails, right? Nope. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). The terrified disciples woke him crying, “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Yes, Jesus cared. “He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 39).

Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Why would Jesus chastise these men for a normal human reaction to a life-threatening situation?

I think there are at least two reasons. First, Jesus was with them. He had protected them before (John 17:12). Yet they doubted He would save them now. They thought He was “asleep in the job,” but He never lost control of the situation. Then, look back a bit at verse 35: “He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.” He had already told them that they would reach the other side but they forgot His words when the storm rose. Don’t we do that too? Sunday morning we nod when the pastor reads, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Then when the storm comes up on Tuesday, all we hear is the wind and the crashing waves. As if He had never spoken at all.

I’ve been through more than a few “squalls” in my life. Jesus has never failed me. He won’t fail you. He’s not asleep. He’s not forgotten you. Beloved, God has promised you a hope and a future. He cares about you. That’s a promise you can take with you to the other side.

Hebrews – Jesus is God

In our Hebrews study thus far we have discovered that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of God, and the exact representation of God. In fact, He is God. And He does what only God can do. In Hebrews 1:3b, the author said, “After He [Jesus] had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

One day, Jesus was teaching to a packed house in Capernaum when four men, determined to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, tore through the roof to get him to the Healer. When we tell this story, we always accentuate the faith of the friends, and rightly so. Most people come to faith in Christ because of the faith of a friend. But there’s an even greater point to this story. Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). And the teachers of the law reasoned in their hearts, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). And that’s the point. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking. He healed the paralyzed man as proof that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10). Jesus has the authority, the power, and the means to forgive us of our sins. Because He is God. That’s the argument the author is driving home throughout this letter. Jesus is God.

Remember that he is writing to the Hebrews – people of Jewish heritage who start their day with the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In a polytheistic world, they had one God. So the idea that Jesus also claimed to be God seems to contradict the core of their faith. The author is pressing this point because it is the foundation of his entire message. Jesus is God.

You and I may not have the same background, but we need to set our hearts on the same firm underpinning: Jesus is God. That matters because, as the religious leaders pointed out, only God can forgive sins. You need to know that when you cast all your sins on Jesus, He has the authority to make you right, holy, pure, and acceptable. Beloved, you are a sinner. But Jesus has done everything for you to be forgiven. He’s the only one who can save you. Because He is God.

P.S. I promise we’ll pick up the pace in this study and cover more verses in each lesson. But we need this foundation before we do, so hang with me Beloveds – there’s a lot of good stuff ahead!

Hello, My Name is . . .

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The kid looked up at the preacher after the service, “God knows you by name? Dude, what did you do?”  The message from Exodus 3 was about obedience, but the point that stuck out to the boy was that God called Moses by name out of the bush (v. 4). The preacher said, “God called me by name too when He saved me and told me to preach.” “What do you  mean, ‘What did I do?’” the preacher asked. The boy replied, “All the teachers in my school know my name cause I’m always in trouble. If God knows your name, you must have done something really bad!”

God knows my name and your name too, but not because of anything we have done, good or bad. It is because of His great love. One of the most precious verses to me is Isaiah 43:1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name . . .” My name was a point of ridicule and embarrassment when I was growing up: Dorcas Beegle. I heard “Dorky, Dorcas the beagle dog!” accompanied by barking and howling every day. That’s why most of you know me as Beth, from my middle name, Elizabeth. Even that was not safe as my brothers called me “Dorcas the Lizard.”

But God doesn’t call me Beth or Dorcas or any of those. One morning I came across Revelation 2:17: “To  him who overcomes, I will give . . . a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” “Lord,” I said, “I wish I could know what my new name is, cause I hate this one.” Later as I was reading a devotional in Mark 5, I read verse 34, “[Jesus] said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’” I heard in my heart, “That’s your name. You are Daughter.” If I were free to elaborate on my past, you would understand why that brought me to tears.

The last part of Isaiah 43:1 expresses why God knows you and me by name. He said, “You are mine.” Beloved, if you are in Christ, you are God’s. He has a special name for you that speaks of how much He loves you.  I pray that means as much to you as it does to me.

My name from God is Daughter because I am His.

In the Storm with Jesus

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Mark 4:35-40 is the familiar story of Jesus calming a storm at sea. As He and His disciples tried to make their way across the water there was a “furious squall, and waves [breaking] over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (v. 37). A storm at sea was a terrifying thing and the disciples wondered if they would survive. As they fought the wind and water, we wonder, “Where is Jesus?” Was he holding to the lines to keep the sails from twisting? Was He bent over with bucket in hand, bailing out the water that threatened to sink them?  No – “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). What on earth!?  What kind of person sleeps through a storm at sea? One who is not afraid. But the disples were and they awakened Jesus saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Then Jesus “got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 38-39).

Storms in life have a similar effect as storms at sea. They are terrifying and we wonder if we will survive. We also wonder sometimes, “Where is Jesus?” “Does He even care about what’s happening to me?” But before we answer those questions, there’s something else I want us to see. Before they all climbed into the boat Jesus told them, “Let us go over to the other side” (v. 35). Before the storm hit, Jesus has given them His word that they would all reach “the other side.” When He spoke, it was assured, though they still had to ride through the storm. That’s where you and I need to settle our peace. Right in the promise He spoke before the storm. Did He say, “Take care of your sick, grumpy family member.”? Did He say, “Let go of your precious granddaughter and trust Me.”? Did He say, “Go be My witness in a hostile workplace.”? Did He say, “Move your family to a far-away mission field.”? Then find the peace you need in the assurance of His words. When Jesus speaks it is accomplished. He will not call you to failure and no storm will ever render His words null and void.

Mark 5 starts with these words: “They went across the lake . . .” Jesus kept His word to the disciples. He will keep His word to you too Beloved. All the way to the other side.

Too Busy to Pray?

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I have a paper for my grad class that was due yesterday. I have not been able to devote the time I should have to it for a lot of different reasons. My professor was gracious and gave me extra time to complete it and turn it in without penalty. I sat down here at my desk early this morning with my cup of life-elixir and my first thought was: “I need to jump on this paper. I don’t have time to pray.” Then I realized that if I don’t have time to pray, I don’t have time for anything. I need to pray. When I am too busy to take the time to pray, that is when I most need to take the time to pray. When I have too much on my plate to give God fifteen minutes of my day, that is when I need to give Him thirty.  When I feel like I just don’t want to pray, when guilt and shame and hopelessness are weighing me down, that is when I must pray.

Jesus made time to pray – even in the middle of busy days. Luke 5 says that, as word of His teaching and healing spread, crowds came to Him to hear Him preach and to be healed. Yet, verse 16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” And Jesus, knowing His days would be full and demanding, prepared ahead with prayer. Mark 1: 35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.” After His time with His Father, He took His disciples into the nearby villages to preach.

What’s on your docket today? Is your plate very full? Do you have more than one plate to manage? Who’s pulling at you? What urgent thing is demanding your time and attention? Beloved, you need to pray. If Jesus needed to talk to His Father about His hectic day, you and I need to all the more.

Holy Week


“When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 HCSB).

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week – which marks the days leading up to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  Some denominations don’t make as big a deal over the traditional Holy Week events as others.  For 18 years, I was the Admin Assistant at a United Methodist church and Holy Week meant extra work for me. Bulletins had to be prepared for all the services: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Sunrise Service and Easter Worship. For two of those years I also doubled as the custodian and Holy Week meant extra hours scrubbing and polishing to make the facilities shine. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, I was exhausted.
Since leaving that position, I’ve been able to approach Holy Week with more reflection and worship – and rest. But it makes me think of the Lord throughout that week, how His mind, body and spirit must have been strained to the breaking point, even before the nails tore through His hands and feet. There was no rest for Jesus. There was no shopping trip to buy new shoes and a spring outfit. No day off for Good Friday. No Easter basket piled high with chocolate bunnies. Jesus’ experiences the days between the triumphal entry and the empty tomb were grueling, and they are what make the week truly Holy.
I want to encourage – maybe even challenge you to spend this coming week studying Holy Week in all four of the Gospels – stopping short of the resurrection passages until Easter Sunday. Take note of all that Jesus did and endured in the span of 7 days – and try to envision the physical, emotional and spiritual toil it took on Him. Those passages are: Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 19:28-chapter 23; and John 12-19.

Then come to the resurrection.