Archive for March, 2021

A man named Barabbas appeared on the pages of history only briefly. It is likely true that his name is known to us today for one reason only – he and Jesus Christ were in jail together. They were possibly even cell mates. That, you must admit, would have to be considered a most unusual experience.

Barabbas was a Jewish citizen who had been involved in an insurrection against Roman occupation. He was found guilty of the crimes of murder and sedition, making him liable to both Roman and Jewish law. It was at the time of the Passover when it was customary to annually pardon one prisoner. The Jews were so bent on achieving the death of Jesus that they influenced Pilate to pardon Barabbas rather than Jesus.

I have often wondered what happened to Barabbas after he was pardoned. What did he do while Jesus was being crucified? What was he thinking? He had been found guilty and condemned to die, but Pilate’s equivocation and the manipulation of the crowds by the chief priests and elders had won him his freedom. But what kind of freedom would it be if you know someone else is serving your sentence?

Had Barabbas met Jesus before we find them together in Pilate’s prison? We have no knowledge of it. It had to be interesting knowing that he and the Son of God were incarcerated together. While court was in session, Pilate tried to extricate himself from the dilemma the religious leaders of Israel had dealt him. Can you imagine the pressure that was building on Barabbas, thinking that his life was rapidly drawing to a close?

What we do know is that both Barabbas and Jesus loved Israel and wanted to set people free. But their patriotism was expressed very differently: Barabbas wanted the nation of Israel to be free of Roman domination; Jesus had come as the promised Messiah to achieve freedom from the domination of sin in the lives of believers. Barabbas called for military might; Jesus called for repentance and righteousness.

In my mind’s eye I can see the panic in the face of Barabbas when the earthquake shook Jerusalem and rent the veil in the Temple. I can almost hear the footsteps of the Roman soldier coming for Barabbas. He wonders, “Is this the moment I will be taken to be crucified?” As the prison door opened, believing his fate was sealed, he heard these words, “You may go free because someone else is taking your place on the cross.”

Barabbas never dreamed that he would walk out of Pilate’s prison a free man. It had to be hard for him to believe, and he had to be totally mystified. He soon learned that the charges against him were dropped. It is as though there had never been any charges against him. He was indeed a free man again. 

In 1973 when I spent ten days in Israel I stood at the foot of the hill called Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. It is outside the city wall and adjacent to a road leading into the city. Crucifixions took place on that hill because people passing by could see the price they would have to pay if they disobeyed Roman law.

Standing below that hill I wondered if Barabbas, after gaining his freedom, had journeyed out to that hill. If he did, he had to look into the Savior’s face as he hung upon the cross. Standing beside that hill in 1973 I could almost hear his anguished confession, “Oh God, that was my cross! And He took it for me!”

By the way, Jesus also died on that cross for you, and for me! Believe it!


Read Full Post »

Resentment between church members is just one of the problems with which Christian ministers have to grapple if they are to successfully lead the church they serve to fulfill its divinely assigned mission. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines resentment as “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, an insult or injury.”

Resentful people, of course, can be found in every walk of life. They work in the office where you are employed. They are members of your civic club, sing next to you in the church choir, and sit on a church pew in close proximity to where you sit. They come in all sizes and shapes and are not limited to a single age group. They can even be, and often are, members of your own family.

When something is said or done within a marriage that leads to resentment, it creates misery for every member of that family. I recently saw a true-to-life cartoon of a couple who had gone to a marriage counselor seeking guidance. The wife said to the counselor, “And you would never guess what he did on our honeymoon 21 years ago?” Can you imagine how much suffering an entire family would endure when resentment is allowed to metastasize for 21 years?

Persons whose minds are poisoned by resentment live in a dark world ruled by suspicion and distrust. They thrive on negativity because they believe they have been victimized. They experience little joy because they look at life through dark glasses.

Resentment is generally accompanied by two other counterproductive attitudes:

Initially, it gives birth to an attitude of hostility. This generally leads to criticism of others and possibly even to acts of aggression. Hostility directed inward can lead a person to have thoughts of suicide. Hostile people vacillate between depression and anger. They can cause any person who happens to be in their vicinity to have a most unpleasant day.

Resentment also gives birth to anxiety. Those who are anxious tend to worry about problems – even those they have never had and will likely never have. Every day they find something to be angry or anxious about or someone to be resentful toward. They live in a prison that they themselves have built brick by brick, and they don’t even know it. They need to learn that anxiety never robs tomorrow of its problems or sorrows; it only saps today of its strength and joy.

If your life is dominated by a spirit of resentment, God’s Word says there are at least four things you can do to be released from it:

First, you must admit you are resentful. You will never be able to change and be freed from what you refuse to admit and confront. Those who make excuses for their irrational behavior will continue to behave irrationally. Resentment that is nurtured continues to grow.

Second, go to the person who offended you and be reconciled. If you have allowed something to build a wall between you and a member of your family, or between you and someone in your church family, or between you and a friend where you work – go to the person who offended you and make an earnest effort to be reconciled. “If you will not forgive others of their offense toward you, God cannot forgive your offense toward Him” (Matthew 6:12).

Third, call a halt to your pity party. Stop blaming your mother or father or someone else for the problems you have. No matter what has happened in the past to cause difficulty in your life, you alone make the choices that affect your life. Choices, whether positive or negative in nature, have consequences – every single one of them! You are today what you decided yesterday to become. What you decide today will determine your attitude the rest of today and what you become tomorrow. In other words, you are as happy or as miserable as you choose to be. Stop playing the blame game. Quit riding the blame train.

Fourth, ask God to strengthen and guide your attitudes and actions. I’ve tried it, and it works! If you will do these four things and not look back, you will never regret it.

Read Full Post »

I have often said that God will answer every prayer we pray in one of three ways – by saying “Yes”, “No,” or “Not now.” After further study of what the Bible has to say about prayer I have concluded that there is one prayer God will not hear. The previous two sentences sound like a contradiction, don’t they? Not so!

Jesus, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, gives us an example of the prayer God won’t answer (Luke 18:9-14). His purpose was to alarm and help those who trust in themselves that they are righteous, and who view others with contempt. The concluding phrase of the parable expresses it in these words: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14).

Both the Pharisee and the tax collector had a lot in common. They were both Jews, or they would not have been allowed in the temple. Both had a desire to pray. And they both addressed God. But the similarity ends there. Their prayers could not have been more different.

The Pharisee’s prayer obviously didn’t get any higher than the roof of the temple. This is true because he was not really praying. He was bragging on himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, and adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (vv. 11, 12). In comparing himself to the tax collector he took the wrong measurements. He was looking down on a fellow human being rather than up to God. The comparison was both odious and opportunistic.

I am reminded of a poem we covered in college English class written by Robert Burns, Scotland’s patron poet, entitled, “An Ode to a Louse.” Burns pictures a woman sitting in church one Sunday. He describes her as obviously trying to impress others sitting in her vicinity with her imagined superior degree of saintliness. While she is reveling in her imagined holiness, a louse crawls out from under her hat brim and walks around. Burns concludes his poem with these words: “O would some power with vision teach us to see ourselves as others see us” – only he expressed the thought using Scottish brogue, not modern English.

The pride in the prayer by the Pharisee praying in the temple was built on the unstable foundation of what he had done, not on what he was or could become. Both what he had done and had abstained from doing were on the surface. He had accomplished it all himself. He had done it entirely without God, and he was proud of it. Not only that, he thought God should be as impressed with him as he was of himself.

This parable teaches us that pride can twist and distort our capacity for self-scrutiny. God designed us in such a way that our minds were meant to be truth-gathering computers. The Pharisee’s prayer is an example of how our minds can play tricks on us. We can ignore reality and forget things that are not on the agenda of our conscious or subconscious perception. We can even be deluded into thinking we are right with God because of our accomplishments. We see what we want to see, whether it is true or not.

Another reason the Pharisee’s prayer never got higher than the roof of the temple is that it lacked humility. Authentic humility is an outward expression of gratitude, honesty, courage, and willingness to grow. It asks and answers three questions: What do I have that I was not given? Who am I, really? What are the next steps in my journey as I seek to grow in faith? The Pharisee had no introspection. He did not dare! And worst of all, he was satisfied with himself – even very proud of himself.

Thomas Benton Brooks understood this, for he said, “God hears no more than what our heart speaks; and if the heart be dumb, God will certainly be deaf.” Well said, Mr. Brooks!

Read Full Post »

Is there anything in the world more awe-inspiring than the birth of a child? If so, I don’t know what it is. To see a newborn child function, especially if it is your child or grandchild – instilled by God with the spirit and soul of an individual human being – that should be testimony enough for any person to know and believe that there is a God.

Any person who desires to see and know the value that God attaches to the birth of every child should read Psalm 127:3-5 and Psalm 139:13-16 – read them! These passages clearly state that every single baby is a gift from God. Even so, millions of babies have been aborted in our nation – many of them even after they were born. What a tragedy!

As children grow and we witness the beauty and innocence of their character and their dreams, we can understand why Jesus said, “Of such is the kingdom of God.” So, what is a boy? And what is a girl? Some very perceptive lines written by Alan Beck answer these two questions in the following way:

“A boy is Truth with dirt on his face, Beauty with a cut on his finger, Wisdom with bubble gum in his hair, and Hope of the future with a frog in his pocket…. (And) when you come home at night with only the shattered pieces of your hopes and dreams, he can mend them like new with two magic words, ‘Hi, Dad!’

“A girl is Innocence playing in the mud, Beauty standing on its head, and Motherhood dragging her doll by the foot….But when your dreams tumble down and the world is a mess…she can make you a king (or queen) when she climbs on your knee and whispers, ‘I love you best of all.’”

Poet Andrew Gillies (1870-1942) described the value and innocence of every child in the following words:

“Last night my little boy confessed to me
Some childish wrong;
And kneeling at my knee,
He prayed with tears – 
‘Dear God, make me a man
Like Daddy – wise and strong;
I know you can.’
Then while he slept
I knelt beside his bed,
Confessed my sins,
And prayed with low-bowed head—
‘O God, make me a child
Like my child here—
Pure, guileless,
Trusting Thee with faith sincere.’”

Read Full Post »