“Take him away!”—three words that showed the truth of the prophecy of Isaiah: “He was despised and rejected by mankind” (53:3). “Take him away!”—three words that showed the truth of Jesus’ prediction that he would be handed over to the Gentiles and crucified. “Take him away!”—three words that showed the truth of St. John’s observation: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him” (Jn 1:10).
A young man was talking to an elderly gentleman and said, “Wow! You’ve seen a lot of change in your lifetime!”
The elderly man replied, “Yep! And I was against every one of them!”
Does that describe you?
I have a portion of a letter to read to you:
Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and they don’t hesitate to honor widows; and they rescue the orphans who are being abused. The one who has gives to the one who lacks, without bragging about it. And when they meet a stranger, they take him into their homes and rejoice over him as if he were a brother. . . . And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food themselves, they will fast two or three days just so they can have something to share with the one lacking food. They observe the teachings of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God has commanded them.
In Old Testament times, God summoned his people to Jerusalem three times a year, in pilgrimage. They were to appear before the Lord at the three high festivals—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. You know from the gospels that Jesus himself made that trip a few times, as well as one last time.
Today we begin our annual pilgrimage of sorts. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our 40-day trek through the Passion History of our Lord, visiting familiar places along the way and culminating with us gathered, in spirit, in the upper room, at the foot of the cross, and at the entrance of the empty tomb. Forty days—for the 40 days in the wilderness, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he battled temptation to remain sinless for us.
Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after he had been meeting with the Lord for the past forty days (Exodus 34:28-29). He carried two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. This is the second time this has happened. The first time Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, he smashed the two tablets after finding the Israelites worshiping a golden calf. The first tablets were carved by the finger of God. This time, the Lord instructed Moses to “chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones” (Exodus 34:1). Since Moses broke the first set, it was natural that he should replace them with new ones.
This time, when Moses came down the mountain, the Israelites had behaved themselves in Moses’ absence. They were gathered to hear what God had to say to them.
When someone asks, “How are you?” You will usually reply, “Fine” or “Good.”
If you ask me how I’m doing, I will reply, “Fantastic!” My dad will answer, “Better than I deserve.” I know one pastor who will always respond, “I’m living the dream!”
But what if you aren’t fantastic or fine? What if you feel like God is pounding on you because of what you deserve? What if your life seems more like a nightmare than a dream?
What did Jesus see in Simon Peter? Or in Peter’s brother, Andrew? Or James or John, the sons of Zebedee?
I suppose Jesus saw hardworking fishermen washing their nets on the shore.
But Jesus saw more in these four men. He saw men who were afraid of not catching enough fish to provide for their families or keep their fishing business afloat. He saw men who were keenly aware of their sinfulness and unworthiness. For after Jesus provides a miraculous catch of fish, Simon Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and cried out, “Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).
Several years ago, I went to the doctor because it hurt to lift my right arm above my head. It was really hindering my shot-blocking ability in basketball. The doctor sent me to the physical therapist. While she was writing in her notebook, with her head down focusing on her notes, she asked me, “How long has your arm been hurting?”
Eleazar was in tears.
Eleazar was 10 years old when his family were ripped out of their home by King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces. He and his siblings, his parents, his cousins and neighbors who lived with him in Jerusalem were chained together and led on the 900-mile march from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Life in Babylon was surprisingly satisfactory. Eleazar was able to grow up, learn, work and socialize. Life seemed rather normal. But he never forgot that he and the rest of his people were strangers in a strange land. Though they weren’t in chains or in prison, they were still captives to their foreign invaders.
They were captives for 70 years.
The parents have tried for so long to have a child. Finally, they are excited to announce to their friends and family that God has blessed them with that child. Then months later comes the heart-wrenching news that the new mother suffered a miscarriage.
The father of four learns he has cancer. He seeks treatment and the Lord blesses the treatment, so the doctor’s report is that the father is now cancer-free. Then half a year later, the cancer comes back with a vengeance. This time, there is no cure.