The Ongoing Opening Statement

On that hill where He was lifted up, Jesus was higher than anyone. Some eyes turned upward in grief. Some eyes looked at the ground, following the casting of dice. Some eyes studied the crowd for any sign of protest. Some eyes gazed in derision.

Jesus’ eyes took them all in. His opening statement from the rugged cross has never expired: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV).

Did you catch that? Jesus Christ died for those who know they are sinning and for those who do not! What a Savior!


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The Forgotten Day of Creation

For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalm 33:9 NIV)

God spoke the world into existence. He did it in six equal morning-and-evening divisions. His total creative activity, except for the making of mankind, occurred by simply speaking the word. God said it and it was so. In making the crown jewel of His creation, however, God got His hands dirty.

On the sixth day, after speaking into existence all the creatures that live on dry land, “the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7 NIV). Then, like every good builder, God assessed His completed work:  “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31 NIV).

Creator God finished the world in six days, but there was also an additional day in His creation design. It was the capstone. “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3 NIV). God set apart the seventh day to be a memorial of His creative power.

This day in His creation week was so important in God’s eyes that ages afterward He wrote in stone a law for it:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work . . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
(Exodus 20:8-11 NIV)

God appointed that day for humankind to purposefully acknowledge and reverence Him as Creator . . . Sustainer . . . Sovereign . . . LORD of all. And to experience Him as Benefactor.

For when Christ, straight from the heart of God, walked on earth, He clarified:  “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 NIV). Creator God made it for our good–a day of rest for mind, body, and spirit. This day, the only day in His creation week that God blessed, was intended to give His image-bearers a more abundant life.

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Postscript to “Good Intentions Gone Awry”

More happened to Obed-edom than being the man King David had singled out when he was in fear of what Almighty God might do next (Good Intentions Gone Awry). Hurriedly depositing the holy ark in Obed-edom’s house, David got himself back to Jerusalem, where he could regroup.

Three months later he received uplifting news:  “Now it was told King David, saying, ‘The Lord has blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, on account of the ark of God.’ David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness” (2 Samuel 6:12 NASB).

While the priests properly carried the ark from his house to Jerusalem, Obed-edom played the harp and sang in the band that escorted it. When the ark was placed in its tent home, he was a part of the celebratory music service. Then, as the day of rejoicing closed, the king honored him with an assignment:

David left Asaph and his coworkers with the Chest of the Covenant of God and in charge of the work of worship; they were responsible for the needs of worship around the clock. He also assigned Obed-Edom and his sixty-eight relatives to help them. Obed-Edom son of Jeduthun and Hosah were in charge of the security guards. (1 Chronicles 16:37-38 MSG)

The day that God struck Uzzah dead on the spot and had King David shaking in his royal sandals was the day that He escalated blessings to Obed-edom and his family.

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Good Intentions Gone Awry

Their beloved king stopped dead in his tracks. Hands with clashing cymbals, tambourines, and castanets froze in space. Fingers which a moment ago were gaily plucking harp strings now hushed them. Singing lips let the song’s next note die. Silence rippled through the throng of thirty thousand.  All was still.

King David was angry–mad at God, actually. A corpse lay beside the holy ark of the covenant. Why had the Almighty struck down this man? Uzzah meant no harm. He had had nothing but the best of intentions when he put his hand on the ark to keep it from falling. It wasn’t his fault the oxen stumbled and the cart swayed. What he did was natural.

This was to have been a day of rejoicing. A glorious day of celebration for God. David had planned it to a T. All praise and honor would be lifted to God as the ark, the symbol of His presence, was brought to dwell in Jerusalem. There, he was sure, it would  revive his nation’s waning worship of Yahweh. How could God be displeased with making that happen?

David gasped as fear’s icy fingers clutched at his heart. Was he next? “So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?'” (2 Samuel 6:9 NASB).

Executing a quick decision, he motioned for Obed-edom to approach. This Levite lived close; so the ark would stay in his house while David returned to Jerusalem and figured out why God had turned joy into terror.

Three months later King David knew and was ready for a redo. Changing course, he brought the ark to Jerusalem God’s way:  “The sons of the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles thereon, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 15:15 NASB). David also realized from Moses’ writings that God had forbidden bearers of the ark to touch it “or they will die”  (Numbers 4:15 NIV).

Thus David learned to revere the Holy God with obedience.

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Lest We Forget

His heart was heavier than his feet. Yet it was his breaking heart that put one foot in front of the other. He knew, when he started out, that it would take seven hours to get here. Even if he got what he came for, there was no guarantee they would return in time. For all he knew, it might already be too late.

When he had run from the house in Capernaum, his son lay at death’s door. But he couldn’t wait helplessly at that bedside, watching for the lad’s last breath. It might be the eleventh hour, but he would do something. There was a vestige of hope in Cana.

At the top of of that town’s hill, he had no trouble locating the man he wanted. But could he persuade the one with the healing touch to go back home with him? Name-dropping, he already knew, would not give him an edge.

This Jesus didn’t give a fig about the social ladder. The emperor was no more important to Him than the lowliest slave. Presenting himself as the distraught father he was, he “began to beg Him to come down and cure his son, for he was lying at the point of death” (John 4:47 AMPC).

He couldn’t believe his ears! Jesus’ response was some nonsense about signs. They didn’t have time now for an apologetic discussion! Every second counted! Desperate to make Jesus understand the dire circumstance, he tried again:  “The king’s officer pleaded with Him, Sir, do come down at once before my little child is dead!” (John 4:49 AMPC).

Time and distance were of no consequence to Jesus, as His decision proved. “Jesus answered him, ‘Go in peace; your son will live!’ And the man put his trust in what Jesus said and started home” (John 4:50 AMPC).

May we never forget that God has but to speak the word, and it is so.
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The Birthday Cake

“It’s just another day,” said Daddy as we were about to sing “Happy Birthday.”

No, Daddy, it’s not! I silently screamed. This is the day you were born. That makes it special. Why can’t you feel special? Mama’s showing you you are. She made you a cake.

When Mama made my birthday cake every year, I felt special. I had the same feeling about my brothers and sister when their turns came. Our mother had singled out each of us as being unique and important.

Our birthdays never came with presents. Daddy’s alcoholism stole that money. But we six children could count on a two-layer cake with buttercream frosting from Mama.

I wished my father, wrapped in alcoholic tantrums, did not say and do awful things to Mama. In spite of it all, every November 16 she would honor him on his birthday with a cake. In her heart she thought of him as special, and she wanted him to believe it of himself.

Eventually, it was for Daddy only that Mama made a birthday cake. Her children had gradually left home. Year after year, though, we all returned with our growing families for Christmas dinner. One of those Christmas nights, Mama started a new tradition.

“Come into the kitchen,” she called to her grandchildren. “We’re going to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus. I made Him a cake.”

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Where Lies the Blame?

Eighty-five priests lay dead. All innocent. All slaughtered by Doeg. But he wasn’t through. Hotfooting it to the victims’ hometown, “He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep” (1 Samuel 22:19 NIV).

The massacre was set in motion with a lie by–of all people–David. Fleeing again from his irrational father-in-law, he had gone into the tabernacle at Nob. David convinced Ahimelech, the priest, that the king had sent him in haste on a secret mission.

Willing to lend a helping hand, the trusting priest gave David what he had available. No harm would have been done if there had not been a malicious eyewitness.

For some reason, the king’s top herdsman was also in the sanctuary that day. As if it were a get-out-of-jail card, Doeg kept what he had seen and heard for an opportune time. That was not long in coming.

Years earlier King Saul began deceiving himself  with a lie of his own making: that his son and son-in-law were out to get him. There was no evidence of it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Nevertheless, Saul’s tormented mind continually fueled his conspiracy lie. Once, during a woe-is-me mood, the king enlarged the fabrication to include his closest officials:

For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day” (1 Samuel 22:8 NASB).

Whether Doeg construed this as a do-or-die moment or a fleeting chance to suck up to the king, he played his card:

Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s officials, spoke up: “I saw the son of Jesse meet with Ahimelech son of Ahitub, in Nob. I saw Ahimelech pray with him for God’s guidance, give him food, and arm him with the sword of Goliath the Philistine” (1 Samuel 22:9-10 MSG).

When all eighty-five priests were brought to the enraged king, Ahimelech protested his innocence. At any point Doeg could have vouched for  the priest, but he did not. Instead, he carried out Saul’s command to kill the whole lot of them. Then on to Nob with his bloody sword for genocide! But there was a survivor.

Somehow Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, escaped the massacre and found David. Receiving the heart-wrenching news, he took the blame:  “Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father’s household” (1 Samuel 22:22 NASB).

Is it any wonder that Solomon, David’s future son, would someday include in his wisdom sayings:

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family (Proverbs 6:16-19 MSG).

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The Brother Behind the Brother

Nehemiah got the kudos but his brother started it:

One of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:2-3 NRSV).

What could he do about it–he, a slave in this palace far from his homeland? Cut to the quick, Nehemiah “sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4 NRSV).

As God would have it, Nehemiah’s job required him to spend up-close-and-personal time with the king. Four months after his brother’s heartbreaking news, Nehemiah could no longer put on a happy face in the king’s presence. Reacting to that no-no, King Artaxerxes asked, “‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart”’ (Nehemiah 2:2 NRSV).

After Nehemiah divulged his ancestral city’s plight, the king asked what he wanted. Nehemiah answered but not before first winging a silent prayer to heaven. “Then I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it’” (Nehemiah 2:5 NRSV). The king gave his leave, tacking on the caveat that Nehemiah would come back.

So Nehemiah gets the credit for rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and gates. For lifting his countrymen out of ruin and despair. For making the Holy City a safe place to live and worship. His memoirs became a book in the Bible.

But what about his lesser-known brother, who had started the ball rolling when he carried the devastating news hundreds of miles to Nehemiah? “I gave my brother Hanani charge over Jerusalem, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel—for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many” (Nehemiah 7:2 NRSV).

Was Hanani’s ego bruised because he wasn’t noticed as much as his brother? Or did he believe and accept what Paul, the missionary apostle, later analogized:  “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each” (1 Corinthians 3:7-8 NRSV)?

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David’s Darkest Valley

Time and again, David found himself in the valley of the shadow of death. While a shepherd lad, he did hand-to-paw combat with a lion and a bear. Still a stripling, he faced the giant Goliath with only a slingshot. David went on to become commander of King Saul’s troops, leading them into battles. Then he was on the run for thirteen years from the jealous, deranged king. After ascending the throne, David often went to war.

So David, throughout his life, had times of living in the valley of the shadow of death. But none of his valleys was as dark as the one he went through the night his traitorous son usurped the throne.

Surprised by a message that Absalom was heading to the capital with a revolt, he fled the palace. Brokenhearted, “David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, with his head covered and walking barefoot; and all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went” (2 Samuel 15:30 NRSV).

This event could have moved David to write the Twenty-Third Psalm with its ever-comforting promise, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4 KJV). Maybe he penned it then, maybe not. But there is little doubt about Psalm 3, whose superscription states that it is a psalm of David when he fled from Absalom.

During that dark valley of knowing his son desired not only his throne but also his life, David wrote:  “But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head” (Psalm 3:3 NRSV). David again mustered up confidence in God.

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The Divine Legacy

His death would come before tomorrow ended. He knew it but not the friends gathered around Him.

Nevertheless, this was the moment Jesus must leave them His legacy. Soon He would not claim even the clothes on His back. What He now gifted His nearest and dearest followers, however, no one could ever take from Him:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27 ESV).

It wasn’t as if His disciples had never heard “peace” before. Like “aloha” in the Hawaiian language and “ciao” in Italian, “shalom” (peace) was the Jewish word used for both hello and good-bye. But mere hours before His crucifixion, Jesus bequeathed a peace that was beyond the ordinary farewell.

The peace Jesus bestowed was “my peace.” What divine peace did Jesus own and give on the eve of His death? The rock-solid peace that He was right with God. God the Son was in the will of God the Father with nothing between. They were, in the truest sense, on the same page.

Jesus’ legacy was the soul at rest with God. As St. Augustine, contemplating God’s ways, concluded, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.”

 

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