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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Did God Abandon Jesus? (Conclusion, Part II)

Many times throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus trying to prepare his disciples for his death. Naturally, this was very troubling to them, and the disciples tried to argue the point with Jesus. His response made little sense to the men.

“Now my soul 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.” (Luke 12:27-28)

I appreciate that God’s Word didn’t leave out the emotional scene in the garden of Gethsemane. Otherwise, we could read this mighty declaration, knowing that Jesus was well aware of the situation, and think that Jesus didn’t seem to have the normal human emotions we would expect a man to have.

God let us see the humanity of Jesus in his struggle with what was ahead of him. God didn’t ignore the weakness of Jesus’ best friends, who really didn’t get it and when Jesus needed them most, they just went to sleep.

I love this account because it so graphically depicts the way I know I would have reacted. Had I known…and had they known…it is very likely that they wouldn’t have been able to doze off—not once but thrice! People normally can’t sleep at all when bad stuff is about to happen, right? They didn’t get it.

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So He left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:36-46)

Isn’t it interesting how the mother of Jesus, Mary, had the same response to the Angel who had just told her of the supernatural birth of Jesus? That is to say, regardless of how that would so totally change her own life, because it was according to the will of God, she agreed to walk through what was ahead.

Now, it was so close to the end of the life of Jesus, and He was saying the same thing to God. He didn’t really want to walk through the suffering of it all; but if there was, truly, no other way for His mission to be accomplished, Jesus was willing to submit to the Father’s will.

God didn’t save Jesus; it was the time for his mission to be completed. Instead, God strengthened Jesus and gave Him grace as the final test began. Jesus could dump his human form, rip off his robe to reveal the over-sized J on his tee shirt, and with a mighty, “Ta-Dah!” smite all of those who had come to arrest Him in the garden. He could have but He didn’t.

Yet, even when the pain reached an agonizing crescendo, Jesus didn’t choose to turn away from the reason he had come; Jesus endured it out of love for us. Jesus knew well that it was the only way we would ever have the connection with Father God restored.

But, Sojourner, what about the Scripture passage where Jesus is screaming out to God that He has forsaken Him? Doesn’t the Bible say that God will never forsake us, yet even His own Son felt like God had abandoned Him when He needed him the most? If God will do that to Jesus, how can we, mere mortals, ever trust God to not abandon us?

Here is the passage to which the comment refers. It’s found in Psalm 22 as well as this passage in Matthew.

“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27:46)

The truth of the matter is that Father God cannot look upon sin. In the very moment that Jesus took all of the sins of the world--past, present and future—on His totally innocent body, Father God could not look at Him. For that moment in time, Jesus was completely alone on that cross and, indeed, it is the most human cry in the world to exclaim just how Jesus had felt right then.

Remember, though, this was a one-time deal. Jesus did it once and for all. God will never leave us; it is still only sin that will separate us from God.

Immediately after Jesus cried out in this agony, He had successfully completed His mission here on earth. What joy there must have been in Heaven!

“Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John  19:28-30)

God had a plan, a perfect plan to bring to completion the sojourn of Jesus on earth. God saw that every last detail had been taken care of before Jesus breathed His last on that cross. ("...all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" [Jesus], Luke 24:44.*)

It was Jesus’ choice to do it, to obey the Father to the end of the plan. He could have skipped out, called down legions of angels to stop it all and relieve the suffering. But, Jesus didn’t do that; Jesus finished the work God had given Him to do here. Jesus died at the appointed time, in the appointed way, that all of us for all time and in every culture would find salvation through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” it was finished, once and for all.

The verse in Hebrews 5 that follows the mention of Jesus learning obedience through his suffering, reads:

“And, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” (Hebrews 5:9)

Jesus did it; He lived a perfect life here on earth, with the help of His Father God. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for us all.

Okay, Sojourner, I see what you’re saying, but it still seems like Jesus died too young. He’d only been in the ministry three years. Think of all the good Jesus could have done had He lived out the normal lifespan for the time? There were still a lot of sick people around, tormented folks to be delivered, and probably a lot more sermons left to preach, don’t you think?

This is exactly why the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, came! The work would carry on and on, but, that’s another story. It should be noted the Bible only records a small portion of what Jesus actually accomplished in those three years. In fact, the last verse in the Gospel of John lets us know he knew of a lot more stories that could have been told.

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

Why did Jesus die so young? The main reason is quite simple: As with his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus had completed his mission on earth. The job was finished in accordance with all that was written about Him. In fact, there are 351 prophecies recorded in the Bible that are fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus. The link below will take you to one of the sites that will give you the full list and reference point, if you would like to check it out for yourself. Under that is another link, for the folks interested in the statistical probability that Jesus actually is the only man who could have been the Messiah.

When we started the search for the answer to the question: “Did God abandon Jesus?” I said that Jesus was eagerly awaited by many generations of the Jewish people, though the announcement that He would be born was not such a happy surprise to his unmarried parents. So, what happened that, instead of welcoming Jesus with the welcome arms of a long-awaited Redeemer, Jesus was hated and killed by those same leaders who had been preaching of the coming Messiah?

Well, just as we sometimes do when we are waiting for God to answer a prayer, especially over a long period of time, we have our own ideas of just how God will do it, just what the fulfillment will look like.

In fairness to the Jewish leaders, they had a good reason to miss the first coming of their Messiah. Isaiah mentioned His coming as a baby, born of a virgin, but the description of what would happen fell far short of what was happening in the life of Jesus.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Wow, sounds like a wonderful time in which to live. The leaders expected the prophecy about the Messiah to be fulfilled just as it is written here. And, it will be, but first this conquering King needed to come as the Suffering Servant recorded in Isaiah Chapter Fifty-Three. The description and explanation of the life of Jesus are exactly what happened to Jesus. It wasn’t what they were watching for; it wasn’t what they wanted to see, so they missed it.

More than this, however, the ones who did miss it…and it wasn’t everyone, because the disciples were Jewish folks, did so in accordance with God’s will, too! God had blinded them to the truth in order that there would be a time for the Gentiles to come to Jesus. Otherwise, only the Jewish people would be saved; the rest of us would have lost out. (Check Romans Chapters 9, 10, and especially Chapter 11 for the Scriptural passages.)

God had a plan that would allow all of us entrance into relationship with father God. Jesus provided the sacrifice for all of us. Refusing to repent of sin is the only barrier between us and the Father God now. Jesus was born, lived and died—all for us—but, it is each of us, who must decide if we accept His perfect sacrifice and enter into that relationship with the Father.

God didn’t abandon Jesus, but sustained Him through every hard part of His mission, His sojourn. God will do the same for each of us as we surrender our will to His. Our journey will not be easy, but it is possible to complete at the appointed time. One day in the future, we will join John and Jesus in declaring, “It is finished.” What rejoicing there will be on that day for each of us as we cross the beautiful threshold into the Heavenly place prepared for us!

*Links mentioned above:

The story of Job is reported to be the very first book of the Bible that was made available to the people, not just passed on through oral tradition. Contained in this book is the story of a man who, though faithful to God and His laws, endured a great time of suffering in his life, specifically because of that stand for righteousness.

Next, we’ll take a look at the life of Job to see what in the world happened to the poor guy. Did God abandon him, even though Job tried to do everything he could to please God?

****Did God Abandon Job?...Next Post

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Did God abandon Jesus? (Conclusion, Part I)

At the end of the previous post, we looked at the following Scripture:

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:7 and 8)

This leads to a couple of important questions. First, if Jesus was God, and God knows everything, why did Jesus have to learn obedience? That makes him sound like any other kid on the block, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does, and that’s the point exactly! Jesus was born of a woman, just like the rest of us. Jesus went through the usual childhood growth and development stages…a time when children are learning all sorts of things.

We can see verification of his human developmental needs in a passage from Isaiah, the prophet who first mentioned the birth of the Baby Jesus and his childhood development/learning:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right... ” (Isaiah 7:14-16)

Okay, so Jesus was like us as a kid, needing to learn to obey. Indeed, it is a mystery that there can be, contained in the very same human form, a Person Who is both totally man and totally God, but that’s what the Bible tells us. It was the totally human part of Jesus that had to make choices for right, to reject what was wrong. It is this uniqueness of God’s earthly form that made Jesus the perfect bridge between us and the Father, Who cannot look upon sin. (But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here; let’s return to the issue of the questions.)

The second question that pops up when reading the above passage from Hebrews Chapter 5 is this: How can you believe that God always heard the prayers of Jesus, Sojourner? I mean, the verse says that Jesus asked to be saved from death, but Jesus did die at a young age. Not only that, but He died a humiliatingly painful death on the cross. How can you say God always answered the prayers of Jesus?

Okay, let’s see what it says in Hebrews 5 again: he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

The previous post suggested that the suffering of Jesus was a lifetime thing, not just during Passion Week, as many contend. Sometimes as young people, we feel that the pressures and taunts of peers can hurt so much that we just want to lie down and die, right? I believe that Jesus also suffered this kind of pain from peers and others, all of his life. Maybe Jesus did like the rest of us, too, then? Maybe Jesus begged the father to save Him from the suffering of it all, deliver Him from that inner turmoil? We don’t see that in Scripture at all; it’s just my own ponderings as I consider the human side of Jesus, especially as he was growing up.

Isaiah 53 speaks to us of the life Jesus would experience on this earth, in order that His specific mission be completed.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:3-4)

Many decided Jesus deserved what happened to Him. After all, even though he was a carpenter’s son, Jesus was really challenging the learned Jewish leaders, not just the people. He was a major sinner in the eyes of the Pharisees and God had punished Him. Interestingly, the learned Pharisees did know what the Prophet Isaiah had said about the Man Jesus. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him…” (Isaiah 53:5)

But, they didn’t get it. And, until the Holy Spirit draws us to Him, we don’t get it either. Jesus was innocent, we were the guilty and should have suffered, not Him.

You might think that God let Jesus down because God could have called down angels to destroy the kids and adults who taunted his Son; God could have done that, so why didn’t He spare Jesus that suffering? Remember it was through the suffering Jesus learned obedience? The same is true for us today. Suffering can be a tool to learn more about the grace of God, and experience His Presence more fully. We so often draw near to God when times are tough, don’t we?

As the Heavenly Father did for Jesus during His earthly life, God will also strengthen us for times of trial, giving us His grace to walk through it with Him. If God doesn’t relieve the pain—or prevent it—He has a reason.

Truly, God is a loving Father; One Who suffers with us, when it is necessary for Him to strengthen us through it, rather than to just remove it. He will always do what is best for us, and to see that we successfully complete our mission.

But, it wasn’t just the miseries of rejection and misunderstanding that the human side of Jesus might have asked God to deliver Him from on the worst of such occasions during His life here on earth. There were times when his physical life was threatened, too. God did deliver Jesus from those times when He could have died at the hands of the people before He finished the mission.
Let’s review a couple of instances that show us the life of Jesus was saved from death, likely in response to His prayers, though such a specific verse hasn’t been recorded with the actual event.

In Luke Chapter Four, we read an account of something that happened at the start of His ministry on earth. Jesus had gone to the synagogue on the Sabbath and read a passage from Isaiah. In fact, it was one of the passages recorded that foretold of His coming and ministry. He closed the scroll and told the people that that very day was the fulfillment of that passage of Scripture.

Jesus expounded on why the miracles done elsewhere were not being done right there in Nazareth, his hometown, using examples of why several Old Testament accounts saw God’s miracles being done for those who were not from the Jewish people.

While what Jesus said was true and could be verified from their records, the truth hit a bit too close to home, greatly insulting the people. How dare this carpenter’s son talk like that! They tried to kill him.

“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30)

We don’t read of the prayer of Jesus for Father God to save Him as he is being pushed out of town by a mob who wants to throw him off a cliff; but because Jesus was human, we can assume that He was doing exactly what any of us would have been doing at such a time. Something like, “Help me, God! I really need a hand down here right now!” Or, maybe Jesus reminded the Father of the event in the Old Testament where God had temporarily blinded the eyes of the enemy?

In any case, whatever it was that Jesus prayed, God answered and saved Jesus from the mob. I mean, He just turned around and walked out through the crowd! How else but answered prayer could the Man Jesus have been able to do that?

Later on, when Jesus had gone to Lazarus, dead already four days in his tomb, and called his friend back to life, the Jewish leaders were determined to kill Jesus and Lazarus, as soon as they showed up for the Passover celebration. Hearing the two were at Lazarus’s home, they didn’t wait for them in Jerusalem any longer.

“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.” (Luke 12:9-11)

Well, we know that Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, with the people cheering and treating him like a king, so the leaders didn’t kill Jesus on that occasion at the home of Lazarus either. Jesus knew that His time was near to fulfill the mission, but He also knew that the time was not then. Perhaps, Jesus prayed for God to confuse the leaders who were on their way to Him, or that God would drop a great fear on them so that they were afraid of the crowd if they touched Jesus? I have no idea, what I do know is that they wanted, desperately, to kill Jesus and Lazarus, but didn’t do it. Why? Because it wasn’t time yet.

Where was God when Jesus was suffering during Passion Week? Why didn’t God prevent that torture His own Son had to endure, if God loved Him so much? How can I trust God to help me, when it doesn’t seem like He was there for His own Son? To me, Sojourner, it looks like God abandoned Jesus.

The next post will shed some light on those very questions. Read the Conclusion, Part II and let me know what you think: Did God really abandon Jesus when He needed His Heavenly Father the most?

****Did God Abandon Jesus? (Conclusion, Part II)…Next Post

Monday, May 13, 2013

Did God Abandon Jesus?

As with Cousin John [the Baptist], the coming of Jesus was a long-awaited event; however, it was not his parents who were elderly and pleading with God to give them a baby. In fact, they were a young engaged couple; sexual relations prior to the marriage ceremony were strictly forbidden. As with Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph devoutly worshipped God. They were common folk. Joseph worked with his hands like many local craftsmen, a carpenter; rather than filling a priestly role at the Temple like Zechariah.

So, by whom was Jesus long-awaited then? The answer is the entire Jewish nation. The people constantly watched for the Messiah, but as we will see later on they did what many of us do when spiritual things are involved, we have one idea of just how God will do things and God has another.

Six months after Gabriel paid a visit to Zechariah, serving as a priest in the Holy of Holies, God sent Gabriel to bring His message to Mary. The news totally disrupted her life and through a major wrench in the plans she and Joseph had made. In his message, Gabriel gave indication of the reason for the extraordinary way Jesus would be conceived. Here’s what the angel said to Mary:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

Wow, that sounded intense to a girl engaged to a carpenter. I mean, she was not a princess and, though Joseph’s family line included King David, Joseph wasn’t a prince; so, how is it that she, Mary, would be birthing anyone of that high-level leadership in their nation? But, no, that’s not what she asked Gabriel. Her question didn’t relate to class or family business. The young woman didn’t ask the angel which of the children she and Joseph would raise should they prepare for the supernaturally appointed position of the Head of State for Israel. Mary already knew that if the angel was meeting with her now, the fulfillment of what Gabriel was speaking had an earlier date. Her immediate concern was for her marriage to Joseph, since she knew the two would never have sex before the wedding. Just Who was it that would provide the male Y-chromosome, if not Joseph? (The implied, unasked, question was something like: And, what about Joseph and me, Gabriel? Don’t you know what this will mean for us?) That was Mary’s immediate concern and question.

Well, Gabriel cleared all that up for Mary, but Joseph wasn’t there when Mary had this angelic visit that would totally change their lives, forever. Sounded like quite a story to everyone else, but Joseph loved Mary and wanted to send her away quietly, not have her stoned for having sex with another man when she was engaged to him. Gabriel made another trip in the region and this is what he told young Joseph:

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21)

And, that’s exactly what the couple did, including the name they’d been instructed to give their baby boy, Jesus. (If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can click on the links below and read more details.)

By the time the Magi, or wise men, got to Jesus, the little family had taken residence in a house. Jesus was a few months old at that time, perhaps around seven months old. King Herod tried to trick the three men into divulging the whereabouts of Jesus, but they left for home via Route B. Fear had gripped King Herod so he planned to order the death of all children under the age of two years, just to be sure the Magi hadn’t fooled him on the date they saw that Star they followed to Jesus. Before his plan was instituted, however, the angel came to Joseph and told him to go right away to Egypt with his family. Don’t stop and collect things he’d loaned out, or say his good-byes; just get up, wake the wife and boy, and head for Egypt. They did and, again, Herod’s plot to kill the baby Jesus was foiled.

Well, eventually Herod died. The angel returned to Joseph and let him know it was okay to return to Israel. They packed up, again, and moved back; although, this time they went directly to Nazareth, fearing the son of King Herod who was now in power. The others might be dead and gone now, but the son was still there. May as well just go back home to the Galilee. (You can read the whole account for yourself in Matthew Chapter Two.)

We don’t have a lot of info on the childhood of Jesus. This is what we have on that period in his life, found in the Gospel of Luke.

“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” (Luke 2:39-40)

The next time we read of an event from his childhood, Jesus is an early adolescent, not yet a man. At thirteen years of age, boys and girls have a special ceremony, called a Bar-Mitzvah for the boys and a Bat-Mitzvah for the girls. It’s their coming of age ceremony, full of Scripture recitation and prayers, as well as plenty of feasting and fun for everyone invited. Jesus was a year shy of that, so still considered a child. Here’s the story of one of his adventures, as we continue to read in the second chapter of Luke.

“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s House?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:41-50)

Now, what would you expect an almost-teenager to do at this point? Remind his parents that he had a job to do and it wasn’t to build cabinets. They should just go on home now and leave him to do his Father’s real business there in the Temple, questioning the Pharisees. He might even take an apartment there, since it was obvious that he was acquiring a lot of people interested in listening to him already.

Nope, not Jesus! This is exactly what he did:

“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52)

There is a verse in the New Testament that is usually interpreted to mean the suffering of Jesus during Passion Week.

“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

I submit to you that he didn’t just learn to obey his earthly or Heavenly father in that one week of torment. A kid that always obeys his father and chooses not to do the things that would displease Joseph or Father God, well, he had to stick out from the crowd a bit, don’t you think? The people needed a savior from their sins, so one can assume that there was a lot of pressure on the young teen to succumb to those peer pressures common to all kids his age, in all generations and from every culture.

Why would I think that? Because the Bible tells us that in I. Corinthians 10. It says that there is no temptation but such as is common to man. Jesus walked on this earth as a man, from the same point of earthly origin as all of us—a baby who had to grow into a man—with all of the choices a growing child and teen has before them. Still, Jesus chose to do the right thing, always.

I bet Jesus suffered at the hands of bullies every bit as much as a kid in his position would today. How else would Jesus be able to identify with today’s kids?

I think that Jesus suffered the whole while he was growing up, but that he learned the benefits of obedience as he was working through the hard parts.

In that same portion of Scripture we see why it is that God always listened to the prayers of Jesus; it wasn’t just because Jesus was His Son. He was fervent in his praying, yes, but he was also reverentially submissive.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:7 and 8)

Some might say, “Well, if Jesus’ prayers were heard, then why did he die? Doesn’t sound like God heard his prayers to spare his life to me. In fact, it looks like God abandoned Jesus just when He needed his Heavenly Father most.”

Yes, it does look like that, doesn’t it? The next post will deal with that exact point. Where was God when Jesus really needed Him? Jesus had never disobeyed God; Jesus prayed earnestly and submitted to the Father always. Even if Jesus would have preferred to heal everyone, all the time, He didn’t do anything that Father God hadn’t told him to do. So, is this the thanks I can expect from God, if I follow that example of Jesus during my own sojourn on earth?

It is the very question with which my friend’s ill father has been grappling. The reason I interrupted my recounting of my mid-twenties sojourn to consider. I wanted to have answers, too!

Earlier posts, for those unfamiliar with the Birth of Jesus:

****Did God abandon Jesus? (Conclusion)…Next Post

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Did God Abandon John the Baptist? (Conclusion)

It’s not noted in the Matthew account just how long it was from the time John baptized Jesus and John’s arrest. Jesus was seen in the area of the Jordan River where John was baptizing folks after his time in the wilderness had been completed, but Jesus wasn’t there at the time of John’s arrest.

“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He withdrew to Galilee.” (Matthew 4:12)

Now, it was the time for the earthly adult ministry of Jesus to begin. There is little doubt that, while the news of his cousin’s imprisonment had caused him pain, Jesus knew it was time for His own mission to begin. John’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus. John had done that; baptized Jesus; Jesus had victory over satan in the temptations after the baptism; and now it was the time for Jesus to do what he’d come to do.

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”(Matthew 4:17)

So, how’d John see that development? I mean, he’d done all the work, was still plenty young yet, and was his cousin about to upstage him while he sat there in prison, an innocent man? Let’s see what the Bible records a bit further along in Matthew.

“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Matthew 11:2, 3)

The disciples of John did as their incarcerated leader asked. Remember; John had been preaching and baptizing folks before Jesus came to be baptized, so there were already disciples ready to do the will of God there.

“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’” (Matthew 11:4-6)

One might ask how Jesus felt about John the Baptist. After all, John was sitting there in prison, wasn’t he? Now, John’s disciples had come to ask Jesus who He was. What would Jesus say behind John’s back about him? Was Jesus threatened by the competition?

“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John… ‘This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…’” (Matthew 11:7,10-11)

Herod was living with his brother’s wife, and John had spoken against such things. So, what did Herod care, right? I mean, Herod was a Roman leader, not a Jew.

However, Herod did care and wanted to kill John, because of his anger over the issue of his brother’s wife.

On the other hand, John was a fascination to Herod, too. In fact, when he was backed into a corner as a result of a promise he made in front of dinner guests, Herod was forced to kill John, or risk losing face before the others.

Herod had John beheaded. John’s head was presented on a silver platter to the daughter of his brother’s wife, because it’s what her mother had told her to request, when given the chance to ask for anything she wanted.

“When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13)

The love Jesus had for his cousin, John, made such a death a real grief for Jesus, and He did what most of us would want to do… find a place to be alone.

What an awful end for this faithful servant! It does sound like it, doesn’t it? On the one hand, it seemed like it should be time for John to get an all-paid vacation to some tropical island to just chill for a while to recover from prison life, right?

On the other hand, is there a paradise any more beautiful than Heaven? Let me submit to you that John did get rewarded for faithfully completing the mission for which God had granted him life on this earth. Who said he had to die of old age? Where’s that written? God had given John a mission to complete; he completed it. Finished.

Did God abandon John the Baptist? Absolutely not! Having experienced some rather difficult situations in my life as a blind person living in an African jungle, I can tell you with absolute certainty , God was with John every step of his journey. There is nothing as difficult as John’s life that could be lived with joy, unless God’s grace was abundantly evident.

God didn’t abandon John. God made it possible for him to go through what needed to be done in order that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. God wants us to succeed.  

Then, when John was nearing the finish line, I am convinced that God was right there cheering him on. I believe that a shout filled Heaven as John crossed over the finish line. Everyone waited for John’s entrance into Heaven, no doubt a tremendous party erupted as soon as John stepped through those pearly gates.

Perhaps, when John’s disciples returned with word from Jesus that His ministry had begun, John looked up to Heaven and said, “It is finished.”

John had faithfully finished the work God had given him to do. It was time for John to go home.

****Did God Abandon Jesus? …Next post

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Did God Abandon John the Baptist?

John the Baptist was one of the most anticipated babies in the Bible. His mother had pleaded with God for a baby for many years, but her womb just never bore a child. Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful servants, both from the priestly line of Aaron. How they longed for God to give them a child.

One year Zechariah was the high priest for the celebration, so it was his turn to enter the Holy of Holies on behalf of his people. While there, the angel Gabriel brought a message to the childless couple. Naturally, Zechariah was startled. This is how Dr. Luke recorded it in the Gospel account he left for us, Chapter One:

“But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’” (Verses 13-17)

Wow, now that’s a tall order for Zechariah’s not-yet-conceived son, isn’t it? No wonder he was a bit shocked. His response is recorded in verse 18.

“Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’”

Since the focus of our study is not John’s beginning but his end, I’ll skip over the rest, and just say that John was, indeed, born just as the angel Gabriel had said. Zechariah and Elizabeth called him John, of course. (You can read the rest of the story for yourself if you just continue on in Luke Chapter One, from where I left off.)

Elizabeth and Zechariah raised John in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Like all Jewish families, they longed for the Messiah to come. From what the angel Gabriel had told Zechariah, their son would have a key role in the Messiah’s appearing.

Not much is mentioned about John’s childhood, so we’ll pick up his story in the Gospel of Matthew, when John’s ministry has already begun.

“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (Matthew 3: 4-6)

John was careful to keep the end-point of his ministry before the people. He was not the messiah they had been waiting for all those years. He was doing the job he’d been born to do, but the Messiah would come after him.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

Later, Jesus came to have John baptize Him, and that was a tough one for John. He knew Jesus was the One he had been preparing the people to receive. Jesus persuaded John that it was necessary and the right thing to do. John baptized Jesus, Who then went off into the wilderness where He was tempted by satan. As for John, he continued preaching and baptizing folks there at the Jordan.

Things went along well for John. His disciples were learning a lot from him, and every day there were more people to be baptized as a result of his preaching. Though he must have been tired at the end of the day, most of us would imagine that the thrill of seeing his ministry producing fruit gave John a lot of pleasure. Sometimes, we feel like it could go on forever, when things are going well, don’t we?

I don’t know if that’s how John felt or not, but trouble was right around the corner for John the Baptist.

****Did God Abandon John the Baptist? (Conclusion)…Next Post

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Question of God and Abandonment

I decided to interrupt my mid-twenties recollections of lessons learned about God while sojourning on earth to focus on an important question. We’ll pick up the journey after taking a brief look at the lives of John the Baptist, Jesus, and Job to see why the things happened to them as they did.

All were faithful servants, yet there is no question about their innocence in the events through which they suffered, and for John and Jesus, died. Did God abandon these servants?

The father of a close friend and colleague of mine raised a question that I thought might be one with which you have also struggled at tough times in your life: Has God abandoned me? Her father is, himself, coming to the end of his earthly sojourn, related to an illness that began producing symptoms only a couple of years ago. The diagnosis was finally made a month ago, with the verdict… inoperable.

He is a good man, who has worked hard long past the time most have retired to enjoy leisurely days. At 86, he finally did retire. Truly, her father can bring before the Lord a long list of good works he has done in his own defense and ask the question, “Why me, God? Have you abandoned me?”

We know that he is going through the natural process of grieving, where this question is commonly posed, but the mention of Jesus and Job as examples of men God had also abandoned, set my mind to pondering the question.

Why did these faithful servants suffer what looks to be a miserable period of time in their lives when they had proven themselves faithful to God? Why did the suffering of Jesus and John end in, what looks to a lot of folks, like a very tragic and untimely death? Is there something for me to learn from their stories?

In earlier posts, I have mentioned Psalm 139:16 which tells us that, before we have even breathed one breath on planet earth, our days have been numbered. Of course, the way we live our life may, certainly, affect God’s plan for that outcome; but we will be addressing those who have, to the best of their understanding, lived a life pleasing to God.

Don’t worry if you are one who has come to God later in life, all of us have been forgiven of sin and moved on. God has forgiven us and re-directed our steps, in order that we can fulfill the mission He had in mind when He sent us here. Though times may get tough during the journey, it would be comforting to know that God won’t abandon us near the end.

The quick glance at the end of the lives of John and Jesus, definitely, look like these men were on their own. Their lives ended just when the young men were doing what they had been born to do! I mean, can you imagine how many more good years the thirty-something John, one of the most aggressive and productive evangelist who ever lived, could have worked? His diet of honey and locusts wouldn’t cause him to be troubled with cholesterol or obesity; that’s for sure. To the outsider, looking in, his death was very premature and unplanned. Was it?

Jesus died when his adult ministry had been going only three years. Why, it’d barely got off the ground. There must have been a lot more people that needed his healing touch, or could have been freed from demonic influence in their lives by His Word. Why stop when Jesus was just getting started? Really doesn’t seem like a good deal for those who are always looking for the Five- and Ten-Year Plan for their mission or business. I mean, only three years!

And, poor old Job! Now, there’s a guy who didn’t die an early death, but how was his faithfulness rewarded? Destruction, loss, and suffering. What’s up with that? I thought God was always just? Not only that, but Job’s life was the very first book ever written of all the Scriptures.

Well, I can tell you, if God’d asked me, I wouldn’t have made the Book of Job the first when there are so many other examples of blessings as a result of proven loyalty and faithfulness to the Master.

But, as we will see when we get to the man, Job, there’s more to the story than unreasonable pain and suffering on top of loss and destruction of all Job had in his life. Okay, there was that one family member who survived…that wife of his who suggested he just curse God and die… but I’m not sure she was a lot of help to the poor man.

We’ll get to Job and his troubles, but first let’s take a look at the cousins, John and Jesus, who died and suffered just as their work was going so well. Can Father God have had any reason to not keep them at their posts until a ripe old age?

****Did God Abandon John the Baptist?... Next Post