He died for me: The story of Barabbas
Barabbas was a man who lived in Jerusalem, Judea, around AD29 during the time of the Roman Empire. Barabbas was a troublemaker, a thief and a murderer. The punishment for his crimes was that he had to be crucified; which was a common punishment. This meant that he was to be nailed to a wooden cross until he would die of exhaustion and suffocation. Beyond these details, the Bible does not tell us very much about Barabbas, so the story described below is a realistic interpretation of what may have taken place.
Often the Romans would force a criminal to make the cross that they were going to die on. This may have been to cause the criminal some mental suffering to go with the physical suffering that was going to occur later, because as they made it, they would have to be thinking about what was going to happen.
As Barabbas picked up the wood to make his cross, splinters became caught in his hands and he thought about when it would be his bare back that would be against the rough splintery beams. As Barabbas took the long, rough, jagged nails and hammered them into the shorter cross piece, attaching it to the long upright beam, he thought about when it was going to be his hands that would be nailed to the wood. As he tried to make the beam a bit smoother, as though it would somehow make the experience less painful, he suddenly felt the sharp point of a spear in his side. ‘What do you think you are doing?’ boomed the voice of the Roman soldier. ‘You keep that rough bit there because you are going to suffer on that cross.’
Having very reluctantly completed his cross, Barabbas was left in his cell alone with his thoughts, not knowing when his time would come. Every moment that passed, he knew that it drew a moment closer to the unimaginable agony and slow inevitable death that waited for him. This depressing reality served to feed his thoughts of self-pity and sorrow. However, Barabbas’ sorrow was not one of a man who had come to a point of being sorry for what he had done. His sorrow was for the fact that he had been caught. He thought again and again about how he had been caught and that if only he had done things differently, he might have got away with his crimes.
This is often our thought when we are caught out. When we are punished for something we have done we think, ‘If only I was more careful; if only I had done things differently.’ Our sadness is at being caught, not for what we have done. While this is our thought and our heart, we can never be forgiven because we are not truly sorry for what we have done.
The other thought that was continually coming to Barabbas was the date. It was the 14th day of the first month, Nisan. The reason Barabbas was thinking about the date is because the next day, 15th Nisan, was a special public holiday called ‘Passover’. Now Barabbas had always liked public holidays, however, never more than he did at that point, because no one gets crucified on a public holiday.
Conditions in that prison cell were horrible. There were no toilets, so the stench was unbearable. The floor was filthy and rough, so sleeping was difficult. However, despite this, Barabbas still thought that it was much nicer than the cross that awaited him. He knew that if he could manage to make it through that day, it meant that he would at least have a few more days. Although this was still a very bleak prospect, it was something to hold onto. In desperate situations, people will find even small things to hold onto; for where there is life, there is hope.
Anyway, Barabbas, being lost in his thoughts of self-pity and survival, did not notice the crowd that had been gathering outside his cell in the courtyard. They had been gathering for some time, but he had not noticed. Suddenly, he was snapped out of his thoughts. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up in fear. He heard the crowd for the first time. They were all yelling and crying out, saying, ‘Give us Barabbas!’ Now fully focused on every noise of the crowd, Barabbas heard them again cry out angrily, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ In that instant, that little bit of hope that he had been holding onto was ripped away from him. He knew that he was not even going to see the day out. He felt gutted and completely empty.
As he sat there in the cell, he was thoroughly depressed. He was not startled as he heard the sound of the Roman soldiers’ sandals marching towards his cell; a sound that usually made him jump, having lived the life of a criminal always avoiding the soldiers. He did not even look up as he heard them rattle the key and swing open the rusty cell door. He did not even protest, as he normally did, when they told him to get up. As he was marched out of the prison with a Roman soldier on each side of him, he had resolved that this was it – this was his end.
As he walked out, he caught his first glimpse of the crowd. The crowd was very large and they all seemed extremely agitated and stirred up. Barabbas was surprised by this. He knew because of his crimes that he was unpopular, but he did not think he was hated so much that so many would come. Once he drew nearer, he experienced a feeling that was foreign to him. He was actually pleased that he had a large armed Roman solider on each side of him, because he thought that if that crowd got hold of him he would not even live long enough to make it to the cross.
Then something happened that he did not expect. One of the soldiers undid the chains that bound his hands and feet. Barabbas stood and looked at him, dumbfounded. The soldier spoke and said, ‘Go on, Barabbas. Get out of here.’ Barabbas still stood there. He had no idea what was happening. ‘Move it, Barabbas! You have been set free.’
Still confused, Barabbas hesitantly moved away from the soldier, but he was still afraid of the crowd. However, as he walked towards the crowd, he began to notice that they were not even looking at him. They did not even notice him. He could see that they were stirred up, that they were angry, but their anger was not towards him. So he quietly moved into the crowd unnoticed.
While he wanted to get as far away from the soldiers as possible in case they changed their minds, he tried to see who the crowd was focused on. As he moved around he saw a man standing in front of the crowd. The flesh of the man’s back was torn open from being whipped. As Barabbas looked at Him he realised, ‘I know that man. I have seen Him before. That man is Jesus!’
Now Barabbas was even more confused. Although he had never met Jesus, he had heard about Him. Everyone had. He was the most talked about guy in town. There were all sorts of stories about the things that Jesus had done. There were stories about lepers who had been healed and blind men that could see. There were even stories that a man had died and four days later Jesus had caused him to live again.
Barabbas did not know what had been happening; but the Bible recorded the events in great detail. On the previous night, Jesus had been taken and arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. They had arrested Him because He had said that He was the Son of God; and they considered this blasphemy and deserving of death according to the Jewish religious law.
In those days, the Jews were under the rule of the Romans. To make the judgement official, Jesus had been taken to the Roman authorities the next morning; the morning of the 14th. With the commotion of Jesus, such a well-known person, being arrested, a crowd had begun to gather to see what was going to happen.
They delivered Jesus to a man named Pontius Pilate, who was the Roman governor in Jerusalem at that time, saying, ‘We caught this man trying to mislead the people and telling them not to pay taxes to Caesar. He also is claiming that He is a king.’ So Pilate, who also acted as a judge, conducted a trial to find out Jesus’ guilt according to the Roman law.
As the trial proceeded, many accusations were brought against Jesus; but to it all Jesus answered nothing. These proceedings caused Pilate to marvel. He had been a judge for many years so he had seen many trials. However, there were two things that amazed him. First of all was the extremely obvious fact that Jesus was innocent. From what people were saying about Him, there was not a single piece of evidence that could prove Jesus guilty of any law. However, there was something that amazed him more. He had never seen a man remain silent while being accused, especially when the accusations were so clearly false.
Think about when somebody brings an accusation against you. Doesn’t it stir up something in you that makes you want to defend yourself? This need to defend ourselves is even stronger when the accusations brought against us are not true. Nevertheless, Jesus did not speak up, fulfilling the words that were spoken of Him by Isaiah many hundreds of years before; ‘He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter.’
So Pilate found himself in quite an awkward situation. He was the judge, so his job was to see justice done. Clearly, for justice to be served, Jesus must be released. However, as Governor, his job was to keep the peace; and the religious leaders that delivered Jesus to him had stirred up the people. Already a large crowd had gathered and it seemed to be growing larger by the minute. They were stirred up so much, that Pilate feared that releasing Jesus would cause a riot. If that was to happen, word would get back to the Roman Emperor and that would not be good for him.
Pilate tried to make a compromise and ordered that Jesus be whipped. He thought that this would make the people happy; to see Jesus suffer in such a painful and brutal way. However, it also would not weigh on his conscience, as he had not sentenced an innocent man to death. However, his compromise did not work as the people were still not happy; and they wanted to see more done to Jesus, leaving Pilot in an even more difficult situation.
Then Pilate had an idea. Realizing the time of year, Pilate knew that there was a tradition of releasing a Jewish prisoner each Passover. Thinking about the prisoners who were in custody at that time, he decided to offer the people a choice. Standing before the agitated crowd Pilate waved his arms in an attempt to hush them so that he could be heard. ‘Which prisoner would you like me to release to you this year? I can release to you Barabbas, who has stirred up trouble amongst you, who has stolen from you and who has even committed murder. Or I can release to you this man, Jesus, who has done nothing wrong.’
The crowed, being stirred up and led by the religious leaders who had arrested Jesus shouted back, ‘Give us Barabbas!’ Pilate was astonished at this and replied to the crowd, ‘What then do you want me to do with Jesus?’ Their cry was quick and unanimous, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ These were the words that Barabbas had previously heard shouted when he was in his cell. Barabbas had thought that they were crying out his name because they hated him, but they were crying out for his release. When he heard the cries of, ‘Crucify him!’ he thought that it was his death, but it was for Jesus.
So Jesus was immediately taken and crucified, along with two other criminals. Nothing is said about His cross. We know that there was not enough time for Jesus to make one, so it is reasonable to conclude that they may have used the one Barabbas had already made.
The Bible makes no further mention of Barabbas after he was released, but you would think that he would have stayed around to see what happened to the Man who took his place. He would have winced as he saw the Roman soldiers drive the massive nails through Jesus’ hands, remembering back to when he himself drove the nails into that very same piece of wood when he had made that cross. He would have been thinking, ‘That should be me’, as the nails were driven into Jesus’ feet. He would have looked at Jesus hanging on the cross, a man each side of Him, and thought, ‘That is my cross. That is my punishment. That Man is dying in my place.’
If Barabbas had been close enough, he would have heard Jesus speak while He was hanging on the cross. Having remained silent throughout His trial, and through all the pain and humiliation He had endured, Jesus finally spoke. Considering His circumstances and all He had been through, the words He uttered make the most remarkable sentence ever spoken. Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven and said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ Such is Jesus’ love for us, that even in the midst of all the pain and injustice, He cared for the ones who were hurting Him.
Then one of the criminals on the cross next to Jesus spoke up and mocked Jesus, asking, ‘If you are really the Son of God then why don’t you get down off the cross and save us as well?’ The second criminal had observed Jesus and all that had gone on, and answered in defence of Jesus. ‘Do you not even fear God? We are getting exactly what we deserve. We have committed our crimes and we are being punished for them. This Man here has done nothing wrong.’ Then he spoke to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me.’ Jesus replied to this man, ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise.’
What this man had done was something very simple, yet also very important. In that brief encounter, this man found eternal life, with an assurance from Jesus that he would be in heaven. It is important to understand what occurred so that we are able to do the same. The first thing he did was acknowledge that Jesus was God. Secondly, he acknowledged his own sin. Finally, by speaking to Jesus saying, ‘Lord, remember me’, he sought to know Jesus. To know God’s eternal life we must know Him.
As the afternoon drew on, the Romans were faced with a problem. Due to the fact that the next day was Passover, they could not have anyone still on the cross by sunset. This was a problem because crucifixion was not a quick death. The death was caused by suffocation.
When a person hangs on a cross their total body is carried by their arms. As they hang on the cross, the weight causes them to sink down, collapsing their chest and restricting their breathing. Human nature causes people to fight to stay alive, regardless of the circumstances. So when someone hangs on a cross, as they begin to run out of breath, they pull up with their arms, and push up with their feet, just to take another breath. But each of these breaths is agonizingly painful. This continues until the person becomes so exhausted and weak from the pain that they can no longer pull themselves up to take a breath. They stay slumped down and suffocate. The time this takes varies according to the endurance of each person. It can be anything from eight hours to several days.
However long it usually takes, was too long for the Romans on this day. They needed the bodies down, so a soldier was ordered to go and break the legs of the three men who were on the crosses. This would cause them to die more quickly as they would not be able to push up with their legs to take a breath. When he came to Jesus, he was surprised to see that Jesus was already dead. This was not because Jesus was weak. It was because Jesus laid down His life.
On that day, Jesus took the place of one man named Barabbas. However, by His actions, He actually took the place of all mankind. The Bible tells us that because of our sin we all have a price to pay; we have all earned death. However, Jesus did not sin; therefore, He did not earn death. Nevertheless, He chose to die to pay the price for us. His life is a gift for anyone who will receive Him. To receive that gift, we must be like the criminal who died next to Jesus. We must call Jesus our Lord. We must confess our sins and only then can we know Him and His eternal life.
He died for me: The story of Barabbas
A study of the Bible clearly portrays Jesus as God the Son, the Son of God and also the Son of Man. Although every one of these aspects is vitally important, our focus for this article will be on the dimension of the Son of Man and the point of history when God became flesh and lived amongst us.
One of the most famous scriptures in the Bible is that from the book of John. John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’. To understand the uniqueness of Christ’s birth, we need to briefly look at exactly what took place in the heavens with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
The desire of God the Father was that He would have many sons filled with His life. Knowing this, God the Son then made a very unique offering to the Father by making Himself fully available to the Father so that He could have His desire fulfilled. The Father then made an offering toward the Son and gave God the Son His life. In the seed of this life was every individual child of God. God then created the human race as suitable vessels to receive His life and participate as His children. Firstly, God the Father created Adam from the dust of the earth and He then created Eve by taking a rib from Adam. Both were created in the image of God and according to His likeness.
Having said this, how was the Father’s life that was now in the Son going to be received in the life of all humans? The answer to this question is through the Son of God becoming flesh (human). This is the uniqueness of the birth of Jesus – God becoming human so that we as humans could become sons of God and receive His life, therefore fulfilling the Father’s desire.
Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah said that ‘the virgin shall be with child and bare a son and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us”’. We can see this story unfold in Matthew chapter one.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.
We must remember that God the Son had received the Father’s life – His eternal life. Now as the Son of God with the Father’s eternal life, He was born as human, as Immanuel. Through Immanuel, the only begotten Son of the Father, you and I can receive the Father’s eternal life and become sons of God and partakers of the divine nature.
Another unique aspect of Jesus’ birth was the city in which it took place. Isaiah the prophet also prophesied that the child would be born in Bethlehem. Luke 2:1-7.
It was here in Bethlehem where the child was then named Jesus, the name which was given to Him by the angel of the Lord before He was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:21. The name ‘Jesus’ meant ‘Saviour’ and it was He who would save the people from their sins.
The most unique aspect of the birth of Jesus was that He came to bring the Father’s life, to forgive us from our sin and cleanse us so that we too can be about the Father’s business. How do we do this? It is our response to the word of the Lord which will determine whether or not we receive His life. With God, nothing is impossible; all we have to do is believe as Mary did when the Lord said she would conceive and carry the Son of God. Mary said, ‘let it be to me according to your word’. Luke 1:38. We too, can respond in the same way that Mary did and receive the Father’s eternal life.
His early years
There is little recorded of the early years of Jesus, but what we are told is full of meaning. Because it was declared that this child Jesus was to be King of the Jews, an assassination was attempted on His life. His parents fled to Egypt, so Jesus as a child was a refugee. Again we realise that Jesus understands every aspect of life.
At twelve years of age, He was in the temple, sitting with teachers of Old Testament scriptures, both listening to them and asking them questions. Jesus said something that is a call and challenge to us all – “I must be about my father’s business”. Luke 2:49. That also is to be our purpose in our life – to do the works that God has given to us.
Jesus stayed submitted to His parents and increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
His family tree
Family trees can reveal some rather unexpected surprises and shocks. Mostly, these surprises are pleasant, but there are also times when there is information revealed that we may have rather not known. We may discover members in our family who may have had an unsavoury and infamous past. This is the case with the family tree of Jesus.
There are some names that appear in Jesus’ family tree that may come as a surprise to many of us. We must realise that Jesus’ family tree is not the pedigree line of righteous, godly, upstanding citizens that we may have come to originally expect. Interestingly, the way Jesus’ family tree is worded in Matthew chapter one would suggest that certain names have been included deliberately when they may have been seen to be initially excluded. In fact, these names have been specifically and purposefully included. All the names included in Jesus’ family tree are there for the entire world to see. Nothing has been hidden because we know that God hides nothing. We will later come to understand the significance of these names.
Interestingly, a person can learn volumes about themselves by studying their lineage, because we are all the sum of our past. From Jesus’ lineage, we will learn who He is and the significance that His life has on our own lives and our individual lineage.
The family line of Jesus included many people from very vast and colourful backgrounds and races. In Jesus’ lineage we will find both noble and unrighteous kings, tradesmen, prostitutes, murderers, prophets, messengers, commoners, people of many different cultures and even cases of immorality. From this we can see that all humanity and indeed all walks of life are gathered up in Christ. When we see Jesus and His family tree, we see God demonstrating to us all His love, mercy and, most importantly, His unconditional acceptance.
Earlier, we highlighted that we can learn a lot by looking at our family history. We will now look at some examples of individuals in Jesus’ family history who have had questionable lifestyles and the significance of their inclusion in Jesus’ lineage.
Rahab the Harlot
In the book of Joshua chapter two, we read of the harlot Rahab. The story of Rahab and how she hides the spies sent by Joshua is very significant when considering the lineage of Jesus. In this story, Joshua sends two men to spy out the city of Jericho where they come across the house of Rahab located on the city wall. The King of Jericho is aware that these spies had been sent and sends a message to Rahab to bring out the men. Joshua 2:3. Instead of revealing the spies, Rahab hides the men in the roof of her house and tells the king that she saw the men, but they had fled from her house and she did not know where they went. The king then sends his men to pursue the spies.
Knowing the consequences of her actions, Rahab pleads with the spies to spare her life and the life of her father, her mother and her brothers and sisters for her act of kindness and peace toward the spies. The spies tell Rahab that if she left a scarlet cord hanging from the window of her house where she had let them down, that every person’s life in her house would be spared when they come to take the land of Jericho. Joshua 2:17-20. Rahab agreed and placed the scarlet cord hanging from the window in her house. As the walls of Jericho came down, just as the spies had promised, all the lives in her house were spared.
In this story, we can see that Rahab took a step of faith. Had she not gone against the wishes of her king and shown peace and kindness to the spies sent by Joshua, she and the lives of her family would have perished. Who would have thought that the faith and obedience of a prostitute could have such an immense effect on the life of Jesus and His birth many generations later?
In the book of Ruth, we read of another of Jesus’ lineage who took a step of faith. Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Elimelech and Naomi, who had come from Bethlehem to dwell in the country of Moab, and whose two sons had married two local Moabitess women. Elimelech and his two sons die, and Naomi makes the decision to return to the land of Judah. At first, both of her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decide to go with her, but as she considers the journey, Naomi entreats both women to return to their own families and cultures.
Orpah chooses to return to her people and her gods, her Moabite culture, and kisses her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clings to Naomi. When Naomi again encourages her to return, Ruth’s reply shows her step of faith, her love for Naomi and her decision not to become the sum of her past: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you. For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17.
Ruth’s step of faith and her commitment to her relationship with Naomi, enables her to meet Boaz, the son of Rahab, and to find favour in his sight. Boaz sees Ruth’s faith in leaving her family and the land of her birth, and her commitment as a virtuous woman to establishing a godly culture. Ruth becomes Boaz’s wife and great grandmother of David the king, joining the lineage of Christ.
We might ask ourselves – why are these people included in Jesus’ lineage? Each of these people took a step of faith and made a choice to obey the word of God unique to them despite their situation, past or culture. They did not allow their circumstances to affect their faith and obedience to God. They believed God and His word for them and God received them. Once God received them, their whole life took on a new purpose – God’s purpose for their lives.
We are no different. God’s love, grace and mercy abounds toward us. He did not exclude sinners from His own lineage and He will not exclude us. As each of those people took a step of faith, so must we. We are to be included in God’s purpose, so that we can live by His word and by His purpose for our own lives. We must make a decision to take a step of faith. As each of us are individuals, so too are our circumstances, but there comes a point where we each need to make a choice. We can make this choice knowing that God will not reject us.
On the cross, Jesus became sin for us and He gave His life for us. In doing so, He gathered up all humanity – every individual. If we believe that we are included because it is our sin He is suffering. Each of us accepting that His death is my death, only then sin is put to death.
We do not have to continue on in life as the sum of our past. It is through faith in Christ that we can live by His life and by the purpose that He has for us. This is how we can know His eternal life. We must face who we are and believe on Christ and become who He has purposed us to be. Each generation can be made new, and through Christ we are all made alive to God.
It is not where we have come from that matters, but where we are going to that actually counts. We cannot hide or undo our past, but we can be forgiven and made new through Christ. It is by grace and mercy, and through faith, that we will find salvation.
Birth of Jesus
We spend our entire life interfacing with fellow humans. How we interact in these interpersonal relationships determines the quality of life we enjoy. Without relational interactions with other humans, our lives would have virtually no meaning or purpose. Yet, it is our interpersonal relating that creates most of our difficulties.
Imagine life without any interaction with another human. No arguments, no fights, no obligations, no misunderstandings, but also no love, no joy, no laughs and no life. Obviously, the answer to interpersonal relational difficulties is not to withdraw from or avoid interaction with others, but rather to learn how to relate in a meaningful, honouring and constructive way.
Because of this reality, Jesus made it His priority to teach us how to relate in every type of relationship. In many ways, all of Jesus’ teaching addresses our responses in relationships. However, a large section of the sermon Jesus spoke when He was with His disciples on the mountains, by the Sea of Galilee, is focused specifically on our interpersonal relationships.
Attitudes of the heart
Jesus made it clear that if we are to live in peaceful harmony with one another, it requires us to change our heart attitude towards one another, not just our outward behaviour. Jesus said that, “throughout the history of the human race, a murderer is put on trial, but I say to you, if you are angry and hate from the heart, it is the same as murder”.
For example, it is possible for a person to plot a murder; the plot fail and no murder take place. The person who plotted the murder cannot be found guilty of murder by a court because no murder took place. But surely that person is guilty because murder was in their heart and their intent. It goes without saying, and is an understatement to say, that the relationship between a murderer and their victim is broken. Likewise, when we are angry with another person, our hate has murdered the relationship.
Jesus taught the same about adultery. Adultery can take place in the heart. For this reason, many marriages are greatly affected or destroyed even if there hasn’t been any actual physical adultery. Because lust and adultery is taking place in the heart of a person, the relationship is affected. Honour, trust and openness are broken. The relationship moves into pretence and a lie starts to be lived. A heart separation has taken place. This stops us being one with our spouse.
Nothing undermines individual worth or human relationships more than anger, hatred, contempt and lust. These attitudes destroy relationships. Jesus taught that we must not be controlled by any of these emotions as they are fuelled by pride, jealousy and revenge, and the result is the same as murder and adultery.
Relationships in the Family
Family relationships consist of husband and wife, parents and children, and sibling to sibling. How we relate within these relationships impacts directly on society and our eternal life. They also contribute to our personal well being.
The Bible teaches that our earthly family relationships are to be based on the heavenly family relationship. That is, the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This heavenly relationship functions by love, trust and offering. As each member of the Godhead honours and gives worth to the Other, nothing is done for self glory or selfish intention. Each lives for the Other. The relationship between them never ceases.
Jesus said that this is the way a marriage is to function. It is entered into forever based on love, trust and offering, each toward the other. Jesus taught that the answer to a difficult marriage was not divorce (unless of course it had become irreconcilable through adultery). Divorce has become an accepted answer to husband and wife relationships. Interestingly, at the time of writing this article, Australian Law totally agrees with the teaching of Jesus. “Marriage is a life-long union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.”
Every society knows the destruction and devastation caused by broken marriage relationships. We need to turn our focus away from Hollywood and gossip magazines. This is not where we will find relational joy and worth. Rather, if we turn our heart to Christ and obey His words we will find that He will not only be able to save our soul, but restore our lives, marriages and family relationships.
Relationships within Society
In the course of life we all come across difficult situations in which we are unsure how to relate. Jesus said not to live by the mode of retaliation. Don’t have the attitude of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That only leads to more violence and only escalates the problem. Jesus said not to retaliate if someone is over and against you. “Turn the other cheek.”
Jesus Himself was our example. Jesus was innocent of all sin and yet He was punished for our sin. He had His beard pulled out, was punched, spat on, whipped, mocked and crucified. He did not retaliate. He didn’t open His mouth. If Jesus had opened His mouth to defend Himself, or if He reviled His attackers, He would have become a sinner Himself and no longer a perfect sacrifice for our sin. Can we be like Jesus? We can receive His life and live by His strength. The following are further things Jesus spoke about. They describe the way God’s children should live.
If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Matthew 5:40-46.
Relationships in the Church
As brothers and sisters in Christ, our yes is to be yes and our no to be no. We must be totally reliable, trustworthy people and people of our word. We should not have to add to our statement or have to qualify it or make others prove that what they say is true. It is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Our love and hospitality should extend beyond our close circle of family and friends. We should extend our hand to the poor and needy, and those who cannot return the favour. In the same manner, Jesus taught that we are not to “big note” ourselves and boast about our offerings and good deeds. We should not be seeking the praises of other people. If we are genuinely giving, it is hypocritical to let everyone know so that we become the focus. Jesus said to do your charitable deeds in secret so only your Father in heaven sees.
The other important relational issue Jesus addressed was that we quickly resolve any issue that another brother or sister in Christ has against us. Before we come to the communion table and bring our offering, we must first be reconciled with our brother. The communion proclaims the Lord’s death; it is the place where all can be reconciled, cleansed, forgiven and fully redeemed. We cannot eat and drink the communion of love and forgiveness and hold a wrong attitude in our heart toward another. Some respond by not taking communion. But that is not what Jesus taught. That is refusing to deal with the relational problem. We must first go and be restored in our relationships.
Jesus compares our sinful heart attitudes with our physical body that we sin with. He says that we would be better off maimed or blind than to sin in our heart. The eternal soul and spirit is of more value than our temporal physical body. Yet, we spend more time on our body than our spirit. The Bible teaches us that if we live by Christ’s life and not by our own passions, we can be changed from presenting our physical body parts to sin. We can present the members of our body as instruments for righteousness. Who and what we choose to serve will determine whether we continue in sin or live the righteous life of Christ.
Will we be slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness? The only possible way to live by the interpersonal relational standards that Jesus asks of us is to become a slave of Christ. Again, which will it be – a slave of sin or a slave of Christ?
Perfected in Love
Jesus said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The love of God is perfect. It is complete and it lacks nothing. Our failing love causes failure in our interpersonal relationships. The good news is that we can be changed. We can live and relate with God’s perfect love. Jesus did not speak on this high standard of relationships to have us condemned as failures – ever trying but always failing.
The love of God sent Christ into the world. He brought the love of the Heavenly Father with Him. He demonstrated it toward us in that while we were enemies and sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus rose from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit. All who will believe and obey will receive the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, the love of God is poured out into our lives. It is poured out into our soul and spirit so that we can love as He loved. We can be made complete in love, enabling us to live as Jesus asked us to live in our interpersonal relationships, even toward those who are against us.
Anger, hatred, pride, contempt, lust and every other sinful emotion that breaks relationships can be changed and removed. We can be made complete in love, and relate as God relates. If you find yourself in a situation where you have not lived by Jesus’ teaching, where your behaviour has caused broken relationships, whether this is in your marriage, your family, your church, your workplace or even with your neighbour, then Christ can bring you back, freeing you from that behaviour. You can be set free from your alienated position and be joined to Christ. As you are joined to Christ, the love of God can work in your life. Being joined to Christ is being established in His body, the Church. In such a relationship, God is able to work in our lives and recover what was broken, and join us according to His purpose and will. But it will take our willingness to be restored, to face up to and work through every broken relationship, being fully accountable for our responses. However difficult that seems, the love of Christ is working in you to bring it about.
Jesus Teaches on Interpersonal Relationships
Jesus continued to teach from the mountainside. As soon as He had finished teaching on the nine attitudes for true happiness, He moved right onto the subject of how to be right with God so that we can enter the kingdom of heaven. Everyone wants to go to heaven! We all hope we will make it. But how? By what means? What is the criteria? Do all roads lead to heaven?
Many people have opinions. Some say to just do the best you can; God understands that He can’t ask for anything more than your best effort. Others say you must be baptised, while others insist that you must belong to a certain religion. There is an old song about getting to the pearly gates where Peter says something to this effect: “It’ll be right, mate. You’re a good bloke. Just come on in.” Nice thought, but is it true? Who is right? How do we know? Where is heaven? What is it like? Can anyone be certain about going to heaven?
In this article, we will examine what Jesus, the Son of God, said about entering into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus clearly taught how to have God’s life abiding in us now, and how we can dwell in the presence of God now and for eternity.
OUR OWN RIGHTEOSNESS
For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20.
This statement of Jesus challenges us and provokes serious consideration. To enter heaven, our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were the most law-abiding group of people living at that time. They were fanatical about keeping the smallest detail of the law. Their whole existence was to do what was right. How could anyone match them, let alone exceed them in moral goodness? What did Jesus mean? Was He excluding everyone from heaven? If the answer to that was on the basis of moral goodness, then yes, Jesus was excluding everyone from heaven. Because as the wisest man to ever live said, “There is not a just person on earth who does not sin.” The Bible also says there is none righteous, no not one, and that all have sinned and all people have fallen short of God’s holy standard.
When Jesus said that to enter heaven, our righteousness must exceed the highest moral standards ever set, He was saying two things. Firstly, we cannot enter heaven because of our own goodness. No one is good enough. Secondly, He was showing us that there is a righteousness that is not according to our laws and moral goodness. There is a righteousness that is of God. Jesus was setting us free from the shame and condemnation of sin and failure. He knows our weaknesses, He knows that we fail and He knows our sin. Jesus was saying, “I am not judging you on the basis of good and bad or right and wrong.” Jesus didn’t come to condemn us. He came to save us.
A great example of this is when these scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman they had caught in the very act of adultery. These crusaders for moral righteousness, these who boasted of their good works, were the very ones that Jesus had said that if we are to enter heaven, our righteousness must exceed. This event teaches us what Jesus meant by our righteousness exceeding theirs.
If Jesus was asking for moral goodness from the law, then He had no choice but to stand with these men and condemn this sinful woman. On the other hand, if He was talking about a righteousness from God that is apart from the law, is motivated by love and doesn’t condemn, then what was He to do? Let us join this most interesting event in the life of Jesus.
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM GOD
Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:3-12.
We see from this event that being accepted by God is not on the basis of good and bad. We have all sinned and Jesus is able to forgive us our sins. He is the only one who can forgive us. More than forgive us, He is the light that keeps us from going back into the darkness. When we, by faith, receive Christ as Lord of our life, we have light and we have eternal life. We no longer live by shame, guilt and condemnation. The Bible says that the righteousness of God is not according to the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the righteousness of God. When we believe from our heart that Christ died for our sins and receive Him as Lord and Master of our life, we then receive the righteousness of God that exceeds the righteousness of our own moral goodness.
When Christ is our righteousness, we don’t become lawless. In the same conversation on the mountainside, He said that He didn’t come to remove the law but to fulfil it. When He is our light and our life, we are able to do His works by His life and ability. God has prepared a way of living for each individual. Christ will enable us to live this way and do His will so that we fulfil all righteousness.
SALT OF THE EARTH
When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men”, He was saying that when we do the works that He has prepared for us, His righteousness permeates our society, just like salt flavours and preserves food. But if we stop doing His will, if we return to try to live our life by our own righteousness, or if we turn back to wilful sinning, we are like flavourless salt – useless, tasteless and of no value. I am sure we have all had the experience of thinking that a little salt would really enhance this meal. We pick up the salt shaker and nothing comes out. Perhaps the moisture has got in and no matter how many times you bang that shaker on the table or poke it with a fork, it is useless. No salt. It is only good manners that stop us from throwing the shaker out the window.
When we receive Christ as our righteousness, we are free to live the way God purposed for us. We are free to be and do His righteous works. We are the salt of the earth. If we do not continue in this way, we are like useless salt.
LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Jesus teaches us how we can continue to walk in the light that comes from His life.
When we receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our righteousness, it is like a lamp being lit. I am sure we have all been camping at some point in our life when the night is cloudy and there is no light from the moon or the stars. Light a lamp and we find that we don’t have to keep falling over everything. We know how to negotiate a safe path. So it is with our life. We receive Christ and we have light. Nothing has changed, except that we know where to walk so as not to stumble into sin. But how do we keep it that way? How do we continue to proceed and negotiate the obstacles that everyday living throws at us? How do we know we are making the right decisions? What do we say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to?
Jesus gives us the answer. It’s where you place yourself. You are now the light in the lamp. Jesus said, “Put yourself on a lampstand and not under a basket.” The Bible explains what a basket is. It is a woven implement that was used for measuring commodities. The Bible also explains what a lampstand is. It was made of pure gold and symbolically means the church.
Revelation 1:20 says, “the seven lampstands are the seven churches”. Jesus said to place yourself right in the church. Don’t allow your life to be covered by the woven, measured ways of man that filter the light, like from under a basket. These are man’s religious systems that don’t allow each person to express the fullness of Christ’s life. But when we place our life in a true expression of the church, it is like our lamp is on a lampstand. We can know the will of God and we can live in the light with every other member of the church. In such relationship and fellowship, we can navigate through life without ending up in situations we regret – not only for ourselves, but for our whole households.
Parents, let us keep the words of Jesus. If we want our children to live godly lives, then let us also see them established with us in a church fellowship that lives in the love of God. There is righteousness that is apart from the law. It is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. When we live by this righteousness, we will not be lawless, but we will be like salt and light.
THE NEED TO TURN TO CHRIST
Let us go back to our story of the woman caught committing adultery, and the scribes and Pharisees. Who walked away forgiven? Who had light and life for living? The scribes and Pharisees didn’t stay, they left knowing they had sin. Despite their good, righteous efforts, they did not find forgiveness and continued on, stumbling in the darkness of their own righteousness that is from the law. The sinful woman didn’t need any convincing of her sin. She needed light and life from heaven so that she could be free to live the life that God had planned for her. She found this reality through believing the words of Jesus.
Jesus says to all of us, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Is your righteousness and expectation of entering heaven based on what you believe is right and good? Or have you realised that you are in need of a heavenly ‘doctor’ who is able to forgive and give to you the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ?
Jesus Teaches On How to Enter Heaven
The teaching of Jesus from the mountainside
Jesus taught that true happiness is based on our attitudes. Jesus sat on a mountainside and taught His disciples regarding attitudes that bring blessing, contentment, peace and true happiness.
Nine Attitudes to True Happiness
The Bible speaks of nine gifts of the Spirit and nine fruit of the Spirit. The following lists nine attitudes that Jesus taught us regarding true happiness.
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The word “blessed” used in these verses is sometimes translated “happy”, and means “favoured by God”. In this article we will refer to “blessed” as true happiness.
Attitude One: An Attitude of Spiritual Poverty
In this statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, Jesus was teaching on the need to have an attitude of total dependence on God; to not be self-sufficient or self-reliant.
Many are raised and taught that being independent and self-reliant is something to seek after. This is not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that true happiness cannot be experienced without an attitude of total dependence on God. A person who is not puffed up in their own attitudes and opinions. A person with an abundant pride is not poor in spirit.
Every ability and talent we have has come from God anyway. There is nothing we can boast in of ourselves. We must not confuse independent, self-reliant attitudes with hard work and living in an accountable way. Jesus did teach us to work, but to remember that it is God who gives us the strength, talent and ability to do it. So, even in achievements, we remain poor in spirit.
Being aware of our spiritual poverty is the first attitude toward true happiness. This attitude of being poor in spirit causes us to turn to the source of life. We realize how helpless we are to live as we should apart from God. When we come in sin and weakness to God, we discover His love, His mercy, His graciousness, and we experience His forgiveness and His strength to live His life, which results in true happiness.
To summarise, the first attitude to true happiness is to acknowledge our own utter helplessness and put our whole trust in God for our spiritual, emotional and material well-being.
Attitude Two: An Attitude That Grieves and Mourns
When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”, He was speaking hope to us all. We have all known times of grief. We are rarely prepared for it as it often comes suddenly. Sadly many do not find comfort, only deeper sorrow, despair and loneliness.
When we grieve and mourn, well-meaning comments like, “She’ll be right mate”, “Hang in there”, “You’ll feel better in a while”, or “Look on the bright side” do little to bring comfort.
Before we look further at the comfort Jesus was speaking of, it may be helpful to understand a little more about the attitude of mourning.
The mourning that Jesus speaks of is not self pity or the bitter cry of the victim. It is the mourning of the culprit, the guilty. It is a mourning for our sin; our recognition of our offences before a loving, holy God. The Bible says godly sorrow leads to repentance. It causes us to hate our sin and turn from it. Self-centred sorrow only leads to bitterness that is never satisfied.
Only when we mourn in this way can we be comforted. There is comfort for the person who sorrows with a godly sorrow. It is the comfort of Christ who fully identifies with us. The Bible says that Jesus has compassion and is gentle toward those who are ignorant and going astray, since He Himself is also subject to weakness, having been tempted at every point as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus lived without sin, yet having faced every trial, temptation, pain, suffering and grief that we face, He is able to comfort all who mourn.
Attitude Three: An Attitude of Meekness
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5.
Meekness is not a word commonly used in our everyday vocabulary, nor is it commonly practised. To be meek is to be humble, submitted, gentle yet strong. A good definition would be “bridled strength”. Not unbroken and wild but bridled, able to be led and directed. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.
Through being yoked to Christ, we can have a change of attitude. Instead of being reactionary, angry, sulking and full of complaints, we can have an attitude that gives value to others without being undignified yourself; showing self-control, rather than angry outbursts, even when we are unjustly treated. With an attitude of meekness we can be friendly, caring, encouraging and gentle toward others because we are strong in our identity through Christ. Such a person experiences true happiness. They are no longer fighting the world. They can now inherit all the good things God has placed on this earth and are laying up treasure for the New Heaven and New Earth that Christ will bring about.
Attitude Four: An Attitude that Hungers and Thirsts for Righteousness
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6.
We can all relate to being hungry and thirsty. When we are thirsty nothing else satisfies like a long, cool drink. I remember many occasions travelling through India being hungry, hot and thirsty. Each time the bus stopped, eager salespeople would be selling roadside food and homemade soda water. I would longingly watch as locals satisfied their hunger and quenched their thirst. What I would have done to join them, except the potential risk of contaminated food and polluted water left me unsatisfied. I must ask myself: do I have the same longing for righteousness? Am I happy to fill my life with things that pollute? The things I read, look at and talk about?
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8.
Jesus calls us to an attitude that longs for righteousness as we would hunger for good, satisfying food and thirst for good, pure water. He doesn’t want to fill us with things that will destroy us. Rather, He fills us with His righteousness.
Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20.
When Jesus was speaking about righteousness, He was not referring to moral goodness or law keeping. That was the righteousness of the Pharisees. He called us to be filled with a righteousness that is not bound by our assessment of right and wrong. It is not us trying our hardest to be better. It is being hungry and thirsty to be in right relationship with God and man, and Jesus promises that He will fill us with His life, which enables us to live right in every situation and context.
Attitude Five: An Attitude that Shows Mercy
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” Firstly, what does it mean to show mercy by God? God shows us compassion and pardons our sins. He hears us and forgives us, even when we have been stubborn and rebellious.
King David sinned against God. He had taken another man’s wife and, in the process of trying to cover it up, he deceived and plotted the man’s death. David cried out to receive mercy. Let’s read his cry for mercy.
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitudes of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Psalm 51:1-3.
God heard his prayer and David received God’s mercy. If we are to receive mercy we must also be merciful. We must forgive if we are to be forgiven. True happiness is found when we have an attitude of mercy, showing compassion to others.
Attitude Six: An Attitude that Turns from Sin
Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Pure in heart! How is that possible? We were born in sin. We have all sinned. There is none pure, only God. It’s because our heart is sinful that we must have an attitude that turns from sin. An attitude that is quick to acknowledge our sin and bring it into the open. The attitude that David had when he prayed:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Psalm 51:10-12.
Sin separates us from God. There is no true happiness when we are separated from the source of all love and joy. Sin causes us to withdraw because of shame. We try to cover our sin up and put on a good face, but it has a way of eating us out on the inside. Sin finds us out, regardless of how well we have hidden it. When we are trying to sleep, our sin is before us. When we wake, it comes to mind again. There is no happiness in that way of living.
Jesus taught that if you want true happiness you need an attitude that turns from sin, confessing it to God and forgiving one another. This is the only way to have a pure heart and see God.
Attitude Seven: An Attitude that Makes Peace
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9.
Jesus taught that if you are to be a son of God living in true happiness then you must be a peacemaker. Quite a challenge in a world that seems to have little peace! From the extremes of the battlefields to the overstressed mum in the kitchen, the common statement is, “Can I just have a bit of peace?!”
Before we can live at peace in our day-to-day living with our family and where we work, we must first make peace with God. If our relationship with God is broken, we have no hope of making peace with our fellow man. We make peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus taught that if we are to receive forgiveness from God we must forgive others. We must make peace, where possible, with all. Jesus showed us the way of peace. It was through offering up His life. To be peacemakers we must put off every personal attitude and prejudice that hinders us from forgiving others and living in peace with them.
Attitude Eight: An Attitude that Doesn’t React Against Persecution
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10.
Jesus does not give a “glossed over” view of what it will be like to be one of His true followers. Followers of Christ will suffer persecution. It happens because of Jesus. He taught that if He is persecuted then His followers will be also.
This proved to be true. The first-century Christians were persecuted constantly. Instead of decreasing, persecution has continued to this day. In fact, in the last one hundred years there have been more followers of Christ persecuted and put to death than in the previous 2,000 years put together.
There is a deep hatred that exists towards Christ and His followers, particularly from the world’s system of politics, finance and the media. Persecution is happening and will continue until the end.
Jesus promises that when a person is persecuted for the sake of His righteous life and they have an attitude that doesn’t react against it, they will be blessed and favoured with His joy and true happiness. They will experience the joy of eternity in Heaven.
Attitude Nine: An Attitude that Doesn’t Retaliate When Falsely Accused
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.” Matthew 5:11.
Jesus emphasised the need to have such an attitude because there will always be those who speak all kinds of evil lies about followers of Christ. He said that in the last days the love of many will grow cold. People will become offended and betray one another.
It is extremely challenging when falsely accused to not retaliate and try to defend yourself. Jesus is our example. If our joy is to be full, and we are to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, we must learn the way of Christ.
Peter, a follower of Christ, expressed it this way. “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” 1 Peter 2:19-23.
If we live by these nine attitudes we will find favour with God and experience eternal happiness in Christ.
- An Attitude of Spiritual Poverty
- An Attitude that Mourns and Grieves
- An Attitude of Meekness
- An Attitude that Hungers and Thirsts for Righteousness
- An Attitude that Shows Mercy
- An Attitude that Turns from Sin
- An Attitude that Makes Peace
- An Attitude that Doesn’t React Against Persecution
- An Attitude that Doesn’t Retaliate When Falsely Accused
Nine Attitudes for True Happiness
Every person desires true happiness. It is the quest of every human, regardless of culture, country or religion. The longing for happiness lies deep in the heart of everyone. Yet few find true happiness. Why? Why do all search for and desire true happiness, but so few find it, keep it and live it?
Could it be that we search the wrong places? The things we think will bring happiness actually don’t. Many a millionaire has declared that they thought money could buy happiness, just to be disillusioned. How many have walked the aisle in marriage, believing that the result would be true happiness, only to be disappointed as their many expectations could never be met? Others have thought that success would bring happiness, yet it only brought depression. No one can say that true lasting happiness has been found through money, sport, knowledge or fame. It may have brought some temporary pleasure, but not lasting happiness. The search for true happiness can be like chasing the wind or trying to hold water in our hands. It is allusive.
No wonder crowds of people would follow Jesus and sit and listen to His words, because He spoke about true happiness and lasting peace and joy.
Two kinds of happiness
There is a temporary happiness. This comes to us when the circumstances are just right; when things are pleasant and we are free of troubles. As we all know, this can never last. Circumstances can change in an instant and, with it, happiness evaporates. If we were really truthful, even in ideal circumstances happiness can be missing. We can still be troubled within. We are still unsettled about our children, our future, our finances or relationships. Something eludes us. The happy moment we experience still seems to fall short of what we long for deep within. This first type of happiness is only temporary and shallow. It always disappears and the desire for true happiness remains.
There is a happiness that comes from God. It is a happiness that lasts. It brings an inner peace regardless of circumstances. No matter what situation or difficult circumstance that we face (and we all face them) true happiness remains. In fact, it can even grow stronger in adversity. The happiness through Jesus is a contentment that fills the soul, even if the eyes are filled with tears. True happiness is not based on success or failure, wealth or poverty, fame or obscurity. As we journey with Jesus we will learn what He taught on true happiness.
Jesus dispels the myths that society says will bring happiness
The general attitude of society is that being wealthy will solve every problem and that if every problem is solved we will be happy. Just listen to the conversation in the lunch room of a work place: “How are you today?” “I’ll be great if I win gold lotto.” “Is everything ok? You look troubled.” “Nothing that a million dollars wouldn’t fix!”
Jesus dispels this thinking and says, “A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
The man in this story felt that material possessions equaled peace and happiness. He felt that he had ‘arrived’. The problem was that his focus on wealth and possessions had blinded him to eternal and spiritual realities. Jesus also said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” His heart was in the things he had accumulated, his earthly treasures.
And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” Luke 12:19.
He had no heavenly treasure, therefore he had no heart for God and His life. Many possessions had brought about an invincibility to his thinking. Jesus made it clear that to put material possessions ahead of spiritual well-being is foolish.
“Fool, this night your soul will be required of you”
You cannot put a price on a soul. Money and possessions cannot add one second to our life. Once we have died, our earthly possessions hold no value to us. They are worthless. We come into the world with no possessions and we leave it the same way. We must find happiness and contentment in what we can take with us when our soul is required of us. This is why we must find true happiness and contentment apart from earthly possessions.
Many of us are worried about the opinions of others. We must firstly be concerned that we are not a ‘fool’ in God’s opinion. Jesus said: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
How can we be rich toward God?
This is first understood by what it cost Christ to restore us to Himself. God the Son, being equal and one with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, offered Himself to become a man. Yet, the price He paid went further as He made Himself of no reputation, living as a servant. He paid the full cost by laying His life down in death, even the death of the cross. He treasured us so much that He purchased us, not with silver and gold, but with His own precious blood.
God has declared the value of an eternal soul – His life. For us to be rich toward God we must put the same value on our soul and place it in His hands. We give ourselves fully to Him, putting Him and His life above all else. The apostle Paul expressed how to be rich toward God this way:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
What robs us of true happiness?
It is very difficult to experience true happiness while we are anxious and have no peace. There are myriads of things that can make us anxious. Finance, health, family, a busy program, staff, work and the list continues to go on. We spend a lot of our time worrying about the past. What we did or didn’t do and how we did it or even what we said. “Did they really mean that?” “I hope they didn’t take me the wrong way.” Our mind goes on and on about the things of the past. We also spend our time being anxious about the future: what might happen next? But we seem to spend very little time living in peace right now. True happiness is when we are not living in dwelling on the past or being anxious about the future, but being able to enjoy the now.
Through Jesus Christ, the peace of God can guard our hearts. Having a relationship with the living God is the only genuine way to remove anxiety. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He has opened a way for us to know God and receive the life of God. He says that He will never leave us nor forsake us. God can forgive and restore the past. So why be anxious about the past? Let God heal and restore. God knows the future, so we can confidently trust our tomorrow to Him. There is no need to be anxious about a future that we have no control over.
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Jesus lived His time on earth fully as a man. As God, He limited Himself to all the emotion, pain and feelings that every human experiences. He trusted fully on the life of God the Father. He experienced tiredness, hunger, thirst, sorrow and betrayal. Yet He was never anxious. He was at peace. He knew that His life was in His Father’s hand, and if we are in the hand of the all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful God, we have the recipe for peace and true happiness. Why would you be anxious?
We can receive the same life and live as sons of God. Through prayer, we can bear whatever situation we are in to be content. Sometimes in life we will have abundance and at other times we may be in real need, yet through Christ we can be strengthened, be at peace and be genuinely happy, experiencing the joy of the Lord.
Another false belief
The advice most people give is to “look after number one”, because if you don’t put yourself first, no one else will. Jesus, again, contradicts this.
He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 10:39.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” Matthew 16:24-27.
Nature also teaches us this. For a tree to bear fruit, its seed first goes into the ground and dies. The fruit it bears is not for itself, but is a gift to all who will partake of that fruit. New life and abundant fruit is the result of the seed going into the ground to die.
Jesus teaches us that if we try to put ourselves first and look after number one, then there will be no fruit of happiness. But if we will deny ourselves for Christ, we will find abundant life in Christ. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance.” This abundant life that Jesus spoke of is His life from above – a life of joy in Christ.
Be of good cheer
“Be of good cheer,” is a statement that Jesus made on several occasions. One of the occasions was to do with finding joy in a world of conflict and sorrow. He taught that He had overcome those pressures of the world that rob and destroy, and found peace and joy. He taught that it was possible for His followers to also overcome through prayer and the enabling presence and life of the Holy Spirit.
“Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
On another occasion, Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.” Forgiveness of sins would be the most important reality for true joy and happiness. Sin robs us of peace. Sin brings guilt and shame. Sin leaves our soul in darkness. Sin stands in the way of open relating. Sin separates us from God. We have no power or capacity to forgive and remove our own sin. No man can forgive sin. Jesus, only, can forgive our sin. He came to earth that He might take away the sin of the world. Christ died for our sins. Happy is the person whose sins are forgiven and God has removed all record of sinful deeds.
Jesus invites you to come confessing your sin to Him and accepting that it was your sin that He bore on the cross. Turn to Him, call on Him to be your Lord and receive His life. Jesus taught very clearly that for His life to be in us we must participate and abide in the fellowship of the body of Christ which is His church..He said “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:10-11
It is His Joy that enables us to have our joy full. His disciple John said that this is experienced through the fellowship of the body of Christ which is the church.
Jesus Teaches on True Happiness
The first record of Mary meeting Jesus was her sitting at His feet hearing His word. This is a snapshot of Mary’s life: devoted to Jesus with an eagerness to receive what Jesus has to say. This scene of Mary at Jesus’ feet, eyes gazing up, drinking in every word that came out of His mouth, could seem a little unreal and seemingly idealistic or even unrealistic. As we look at her relationship with Jesus, we will see that it was neither.
Mary’s first meeting with Jesus
Let us set the scene. Mary had a sister named Martha and a brother named Lazarus. It was Martha who had invited and welcomed Jesus into her house. Martha soon became distracted with a lot of serving. Martha was focused on getting the meal right, not overcooking the food and worried that things might not turn out as she had hoped. When she looked around and saw Mary sitting, listening to Jesus, Martha grew very troubled. Firstly, as far as she was concerned, Mary wasn’t pulling her weight and helping. Secondly, wasn’t it her who had invited Jesus into the house? Why was Mary getting the honour of Jesus’ focus?
Martha was so troubled by this that she actually placed the blame on Jesus, or at least believed that Jesus should acknowledge the hard work she was doing and rebuke Mary for her laziness. This is what she said: “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
What will Jesus do? Agree with Martha and tell Mary to stop listening to Him and get on with more serving? Jesus’ answer is a very big help to us as we let our lives be changed by Him. He didn’t tell Martha that she shouldn’t serve, because clearly this was her God-given work. He did say we must not live by worry and stress, but by hearing and receiving His word. On another occasion, He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
If we are to meet Jesus and find favour with Him, we need to learn from Mary and be devoted to hearing what Jesus is saying so we live by His word, not our own assessments that result in leaving us worried and troubled. It is hard to stay worried and troubled if we learn to set our devotion on Jesus and His word.
The greatest expression of Mary’s life of devotion is seen in this following scene as spoken by John.
Mary’s devotion met with disdain
Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”
The household of Bethany made new by Jesus
We could note both the similarities and differences between this visit and the first one that Jesus made to His friends’ house in Bethany. We note that Martha is still caring and serving food. This time she is not worried and anxious. She is functioning according to who and what God had planned for her. She has obviously responded to the adjustment to her mode of functioning that Jesus brought to her in His first visit. Lazarus has come back from the dead, so he is engaged in conversation with Jesus as he now desires to be certain that he fulfils God’s plan for him, having the unique opportunity for a second run at life. He is showing us the need for fellowship.
Mary is still at Jesus’ feet, but now she is not just receiving from the Lord; she is giving. Mary is pouring out her devotion by making offering. Mary has taken her most valuable possession, expensive perfume possibly put aside for her marriage. But she wants to express her devotion to Christ, so she takes what is her best and pours it out on Jesus.
What can we offer to the Lord? He doesn’t need anything. So why did He accept Mary’s offering? Mary was rebuked and criticised by one of the disciples for making an offering. It is quite common to be mocked when we offer to Christ. People say it is wasteful and stupid. I sometimes think that these same people choose to offer a percentage of their wage to poker machines which happily receive it and return nothing. Or to a bookie who just gets richer or tobacco companies that return their offering with cancer or breweries that oblige by destroying families.
Offering our first and best
Why offer our first and best to Jesus? Mary was making offering to anoint Jesus for His burial. In six days, Jesus was to make the greatest sacrifice by offering Himself on the cross to die for each of our sins. It is impossible to pay for our own sin, as the wages of sin is eternal separation from God. Jesus was demonstrating the love of God by offering Himself to become sin for us. By His death we can be forgiven and receive His life and nature. We have hearts of sin, full of selfishness, envy, lust, greed, unforgiveness, jealousy, pride and hate, to name a few things. Yet, through the offering of Christ, we can receive a new heart, having been released from the old.
Mary showed us the way. Our offering is to join and be one with His perfect offering. Mary, being one who had sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His words, knew that He was the Lamb of God without sin and blemish who would offer Himself for the sin of the world. Mary desired to accept His offering, so she joined it by offering her all. The Bible teaches that we must offer ourselves as a living sacrifice if we are to receive His will for our lives. When we offer ourselves, we are offering our talents, abilities, possessions and our time to Christ; to be joined with Him in His offering that we may live for Him and not ourselves.
Neutral you cannot be
Judas, who rebuked Mary for her offering, never did join in the offering of Jesus. In fact, like many others, he tried to profit and gain from Jesus’ death. He gained thirty pieces of silver from Jesus’ death. But it led to him committing suicide because he found no peace.
We may think we can just stay neutral on the matter. Why go to extremes like Mary and millions of others who have chosen her way? Why try to profit like Judas and many others who try to make money and fame out of religion? We think we can be neutral like Pontius Pilate who washed his hands of the matter. Yet, in so doing, he condemned Jesus to death. Jesus made it clear that if we are not for Him, we are against Him; neutral you cannot be.
Joining Jesus in His offering
Jesus did say that what Mary did would be spoken of forever. Here we are, two thousand years later, speaking of Mary’s devotion and her offering of joining Jesus in His offering for us all. Before Jesus died, He instructed all who would join Him in accepting His death as the provision for eternal life to come together as the body of Christ to eat the communion bread and drink the cup. This was not to be a religious ritual where we may profit and think we are doing God a favour. Rather, like Mary, we are to eat the bread and drink the cup by offering ourselves to fully participate in His body on earth doing His heavenly will. Like Mary, those who give Him the first and best will not have this privilege of offering taken away from them.
Jesus Meets Mary a Woman of Devotion
It is a common phenomenon that following the passing away of a loved one, you tend to notice people who look very much like the person who has died. I know I had this very experience a few times following my father’s death. I can remember having quite a double take after walking down the aisle of a shopping complex and suddenly seeing a man who closely resembled my father. This can be very disconcerting because it looks like them, but you know it cannot be as you know they have died.
What would you do and say if it was them? Could this be possible? Has it ever really happened? The people in the town of Bethany faced this very thing. They had attended the funeral of their good friend, Lazarus, and four days later people started to say they had seen him walking around. Imagine the talk at the markets and the questions from the kids: “Is it true?” Imagine the answers.
Friends of Jesus
Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany with his two sisters. Everyone knew them because Martha was a great cook and very hospitable. At one stage or another, the town folk of Bethany had tasted some of her baked delights. Mary, on the other hand, ever since she had Jesus visit her house was constantly talking to them all about this man, Jesus. Mary would tell all who would listen about His love for people, His healing powers and His humility. When they asked why He was so special, she would tell them that He was the Lord from heaven.
Lazarus wasn’t so talkative, but no one was in any doubt that Jesus was his special friend. With this in mind, everyone was surprised that Jesus didn’t appear to make the effort to come and visit Lazarus when he fell ill, particularly when Jesus had healed so many other very sick people. He had healed total strangers, even lepers with whom no one would associate. Now one of Jesus’ closest friends is sick and Jesus is nowhere to be seen.
We will pick up the story from another close friend and disciple of Jesus by the name of John.
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
Enemies of Jesus
Lazarus’ illness came at a most difficult time in the life of Jesus and His disciples. There was a groundswell of hatred toward Jesus from the religious leaders. They had falsely judged Jesus as an imposter and trouble-maker. This was due to jealousy and straight-out religious bigotry, because in reality they served themselves and their positions rather than the living God.
Due to this rising hatred toward Jesus, the disciples felt very nervous about going anywhere near Jerusalem, the headquarters of the religious Jews. Bethany, where Lazarus lay sick, was only a few kilometres from Jerusalem. Again, we will pick up the written account of this most unusual meeting of Jesus and Lazarus.
So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
Jesus is the resurrection and the life
We can gather from that account that they were very uncertain about going to where Lazarus was, particularly now he was dead. What did Jesus have in mind? There was certainly no fear in His heart and He had a clear purpose in view. Jesus is about to give us some of the most amazing assurances we would ever want to hear. Jesus is about to make clear that the grave is not the end of our journey. Our life’s existence does not end with a funeral. People were about to witness who Jesus really was and that His ways are not our ways. Also, that He has a purpose and if we will trust Him through every circumstance there is no need to fear.
As Jesus came near Bethany the funeral of Lazarus was over. He had been dead four days and was buried in a tomb. The townspeople are mourning, the religious Jews are looking on and the disciples are nervously looking over their shoulder. Martha goes out to meet Jesus and chastises Him for not coming sooner and healing her brother. Let us note Jesus’ response.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Do you believe?
Within Jesus’ answer to Martha is both a challenge and answer for each of us. Death has come upon the human race as a result of sin. Sin also separates us from God, destroying the wonderful relationship that we could have. As sin and death came by one man, Adam, and spread to all, likewise, life and salvation can come to all through one man, Jesus.
He said that if we will believe in Him we will be raised on the day of resurrection. But more, if we will believe in Him, He will restore our relationship with God. He will reverse the effect of sin. Instead of living by the death of sin, we can live by the life of God. He is the resurrection and He is the life; He has come to destroy the works of Satan. He will forgive our sin and through Him we can become sons of God.
But, as Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” He asks us, also, do we believe?
Jesus is our comfort
Mary also joined Jesus at this point and the two sisters took Jesus to the place where Lazarus was buried. He was buried in a cave with a boulder in front of it. Jesus stood outside and wept. Jesus understands our grief, our sorrow, our pain. In Him we can find true comfort and also, with His comfort, we can comfort others. It is not easy to bring comfort to someone when you don’t really know what they are going through. The next time you are at the side of someone dying or at a funeral, remember that Jesus stood at the grave of His friend, Lazarus, and He wept.
Shock and bewilderment came when Jesus asked for the stone to be removed. Mary said that after four days the stench was going to be strong. Jesus said, “If you will believe, you will see the glory of God.”
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
Jesus came so that we as sons of men may become sons of God. In the same way that Jesus called the name of Lazarus, He calls our name. We, like Lazarus, need to respond and meet Jesus with faith, by coming away from our sinful life. Like Lazarus, the graveclothes of our old self-centred ways are binding us. Things like pride, anger, anxiety, lust and fear cling to us, keeping us from moving forward as sons of God.
This is one of the many reasons we need to fellowship in a church where the love and compassion of Jesus is demonstrated. Through the care and spiritual advice of others, we can go free of the past and begin to live as God planned from the beginning.
The second life of Lazarus
Just as it would have been strange to have attended Lazarus’ funeral and then see him around the town again, it would have been very impacting on Lazarus as well. The one certain thing for Lazarus was that he held no fear of death. He knew that, through Jesus, death has no sting and the grave has no victory. Through Jesus, Lazarus had overcome sin, death and the grave. He was constantly telling others that they need not despair: God gives victory through the Lord Jesus Christ.
We also can live again. If we will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we can be born from heaven, born according to our name written in heaven. We must be born of God’s life by water and of the Spirit. We will know His strength to overcome sin and its death-like effects and, when we pass from this life, we know that we will be in the presence of the Lord.
Taken from the Life of Jesus Series by Bruce Mackay
Jesus meets Lazarus the man who lives twice
Zacchaeus was rich
Most people go into business to make money. Not all succeed in doing so. Of course, it would be wrong to gauge a person’s business success on their wealth alone. However, most would like it said of them, as was said of Zacchaeus: “and he was rich”. Thankfully, many have clearly chosen not to become rich through corrupt business practices, as Zacchaeus had.
We know Zacchaeus had become rich by corruption from his own words. He said he had wrongfully exacted money from people. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector in the city of Jericho. Tax collectors were known for being utterly shameless in their rude manner and unconscientious way of exacting extravagant taxes from people. Zacchaeus was the head man, so he had many working under him; therefore, he was receiving a fair percentage of corrupt money from each of them. This gives us a picture of Zacchaeus, the rich businessman.
However, Zacchaeus’ life was about to change radically. Jesus was passing through Jericho and Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. We would assume Zacchaeus was drawn to Jesus initially because Jesus was famous, but also, like Zacchaeus, was despised by the religious leaders.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus
The crowd on the street to see Jesus was much larger than Zacchaeus had anticipated. He was a short man and was unable to see over the heads of the people and they weren’t going to give way to a chief tax collector who they knew had ripped them off.
One of the reasons the crowd had grown so large was that earlier, as Jesus was coming into Jericho, Bartimaeus, a well-known local blind beggar, had just received his sight by the healing words of Jesus. The word was out: “Bartimaeus can see. He was blind, but Jesus has healed him. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, can see.” This was no made-up story, because there was Bartimaeus himself following Jesus on the road with perfect eyesight.
Zacchaeus was all the more determined to see Jesus. The crowd was too large. He noticed a tree up ahead in the direction Jesus was heading, so he ran and climbed up so he could see Jesus. What an amusing sight it would have been; this little man known for his crooked deals hiding up a tree. And right under the tree Jesus the Son of God, stops and looks straight up at Zacchaeus. All eyes are on Jesus and Zacchaeus, who, possibly red-faced, is looking down while perched like a koala on a branch. What would happen next?
Jesus greets Zacchaeus
Would Jesus condemn him for his corruption? Would Zacchaeus engage Jesus in a conversation? Imagine the surprise of the crowd, and more so from Zacchaeus, when Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down from there, because today I must stay at your house.” The surprises kept coming, because Zacchaeus came down the tree as quick as he could and joyfully greeted Jesus and whole-heartedly welcomed Jesus to his house.
This set the crowd into a commotion. One minute they are praising Jesus for healing a blind man and the next they are outwardly complaining and denouncing Him for receiving a sinner. In this short visit to Jericho, we get a good picture of who Jesus is. He is no respecter of persons. He will receive all; the poor, the rich, the sick, the corrupt, the man on the street; He came to seek and to save all who are lost. He receives all who will confess they have sinned.
This is why many people never meet Jesus and find His forgiveness and eternal life. We are a bit like the crowd. We can see the needs in others, but don’t recognise our need as sinners. We see the faults in others and the goodness in ourselves. But we will never experience the righteous life of God through our goodness. In the Garden of Eden, Satan came to Eve and said, “You will be like God if you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Of course, this was a lie because Eve and then Adam ate and they knew what was good and bad from their knowledge, but not God’s. They were now living according to their own goodness and they lost relationship with God.
When we seek to live by our own goodness we become self-conscious and in bondage to our own assessments. We cannot truly love another because that takes self-giving and we are self-centred and, therefore, self-protective. We find ourselves trading in our relationships by taking rather than giving and receiving. We are constantly protecting and defending ourselves and the outcome is that we use others to our own ends.
Rather than living by our efforts to be good, we need to acknowledge the aching void in us and no longer try to fill it in the way that seems good to us. Rather, we must turn to Jesus, the giver of life and love and live by His righteous life.
Zacchaeus confesses his sin
Zacchaeus put off his self-protective guard. He didn’t allow his shame and guilt to cause him to hide any longer. He welcomed Jesus into his house and confessed his sin by saying, “Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor and what I have taken by false accusation, I repay fourfold.”
We know Zacchaeus had met Jesus because of his change of heart. The person who has truly turned from their own goodness and trusted in Jesus to receive His righteousness, brings their life into the open. No more justifying and excuses, but confessing and showing the fruit of it by restoring relationships.
Could you imagine the shock on the faces of the people when Zacchaeus came to them giving them money? All they had ever known was him taking from them. A hard, rude, ruthless man demanding taxes way beyond what they owed. Now, a kind, loving, even jovial man giving back fourfold what he had wrongfully taken. What a difference meeting Jesus makes!
It was true what Jesus said to him in his house when Zacchaeus confessed. “Today, salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Jesus calls your name
Has the salvation of God come to your house? Just as Jesus stood under the tree that Zacchaeus was hiding in and called him by name, He knows you and calls you by name. Jesus is willing to meet you wherever you are, whatever you are doing, regardless of what you have done. The Bible says: “Behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Salvation is not a word we may be familiar with, but it is full of rich personal meaning when spoken by Jesus. His love for every person is beyond description. He is aware of our separation from God’s love and life and the consequences of that separation. He desires nothing more than to establish that relationship so that we can fulfil the wonderful purpose God planned for us as sons of God. We can experience salvation through Jesus when we will admit that our sin has separated us from God; also accepting that His death was to pay for our sin and put to death our old way of living so that we might begin a new life in Christ.
Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved
The process of salvation begins by us calling on the name of the Lord with a desire to be born from above, born of God’s life. Jesus said that unless you are born from above, you will not even see God’s kingdom. He also said that He is the only way to a relationship with the Father.
May I encourage you now to be like Zacchaeus and meet Jesus? Respond to Jesus’ invitation. Come away from your shame and self-centred living and welcome Jesus into your house. Like Zacchaeus, you must also confess your sin and forgive and make restitution. You will also experience God’s salvation.
You then can grow as a son of God by continuing to obey Jesus and His words to you. A change will begin to happen. You will desire to find relationship with others who have met Jesus. We do this through fellowshipping at a church. You will have a desire to read the Bible and you will be challenged to no longer live out your purpose, but to fulfil God’s purpose for your life.
Jesus Meets Zacchaeus the Rich Businessman
Many stories, plays and musicals have been written about Mary Magdalene. This has possibly made her one of the most heard about woman of Jesus’ time. Unfortunately, the majority of concepts and things spoken about Mary Magdalene have very little or absolutely no substance or fact to them. They are purely the made-up imaginings of people. Mary was a very common name in the time period when Jesus was on earth. There are at least five different people the Gospel writers mention with the name Mary. The Mary we are focusing on came from the town of Magdala, hence Mary Magdalene.
Jesus liberates Mary
When Jesus meets Mary Magdalene, she is a woman with a great need. Mary was under the bondage of seven demons, so she was in great need of being liberated. We don’t know what these demons caused her to do or the specific nature of her bondage. The certain thing we do know is that she was bound, and not free to be the woman God had purposed her to be.
Interestingly, Jesus says that we are all bound by sin. Regardless of demons, we are all in bondage to things that restrict us from being a son of God. We can be bound by anger, anxiety, fear, insecurity, inferiority, lust, greed, jealousy, shame, pride, drugs, alcohol, our looks, eating disorders, pornography and the list could go on and on. We all need to be like Mary Magdalene and meet Jesus and be liberated.
These habits and issues in our life bring us into bondage. We claim liberty, but we are not free. Some are not free to actually express their true self in the fear of being rejected. Others are not free to go to a function without worrying what others will say about their appearance. Some are not free to let their marriage partner be, without becoming jealous or suspicious. Some are not free to go a day or two without a joint between their lips or a needle in their arm or taking some pills or swigging alcohol, while others can’t look at an attractive person without lusting after them. There are people who are not free to drive to work without road rage. Others are just bound by their loneliness, or there are those who habitually lie. If you don’t find yourself in that list, then be honest enough to name your bondage. Perhaps it is to social media?
We can all argue our cause and claim that our habits are not such a big deal, and ask what is wrong with them anyway? The issue is not so much “right and wrong”, rather, are we truly free to live as God purposed? In addition, these habits that keep us bound have a very detrimental effect on relationships.
Adam and Eve were in Paradise and they fell under the bondage of sin. They were not able to live the way God had asked. Eve found herself, through anxiety, having to control and manipulate Adam, while Adam came under the bondage of ruling over Eve. What happened to Paradise?
Mary becomes a devoted disciple
Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities – Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.
How it came about we do not know, but Mary Magdalene was bound by seven demons. The biggest misconception told about Mary is that she was a prostitute, when there is no biblical or historical evidence to support that thought. Jesus did forgive and liberate prostitutes, but their names are not given. But Mary needed to be liberated and Jesus set her free. From that time on, she chose to devote her life as a disciple of Jesus. The only genuinely liberated women have meet Jesus and become a follower of Him. There is no true liberty for women or men without meeting Jesus and becoming a committed follower of Jesus. Have you meet Jesus? Have you been set free?
Ransomed to serve
When Jesus met Mary and cast out the seven demons, He did liberate her, but it would also be true to say that He ransomed her from her slavery to sin and bondage. It could be said that she moved from one slave master to another. This is true, but who do you think she preferred to be a servant to? Surely, if a person is prepared to pay all our debts, they will be a loving, caring master?
We have all sinned and the wages of sin is death. We are in debt to sin with no capacity to pay that debt or ransom ourselves. Jesus came to earth to ransom us from bondage and the debt of our sin. He paid the price. But, because He paid the ransom, we belong to Him. We either serve sin and die in our sin or allow Jesus to redeem us and serve righteousness and know eternal life. Jesus has paid the debt of our sin; He has purchased us to serve in His house.
Mary joyfully submitted herself to Jesus and served Him, rather than be a slave to sin and demons. Mary, along with other men and women, travelled everywhere with Jesus, serving Him as He healed the sick and fed the hungry. She was finding meaning and purpose.
Mary watches while others run away
Mary’s new-found life was suddenly thrown into confusion because Jesus was about to be crucified.
And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”
There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marvelled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.
The crucifixion of Jesus was a distressing and confusing time for His disciples. Even though Jesus had clearly told His devoted followers that He would be crucified, they seemed to not take in what He was saying. Judas betrayed Him while Peter denied Him and others ran away. Mary followed at a distance, watching and observing. Mary was liberated and not bound by fear and the opinions of others. She knew that Jesus was not just another man. Since meeting Jesus, her life had found purpose and direction. There was no way she was going to turn aside because of Jesus’ death; she would believe in Him until her death. The least she could do was be there in His death and respectfully embalm His body for burial.
It was getting dark. The Sabbath for the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread was upon them. All the others had gone, but Mary Magdalene and another lady named Mary stayed until the very end. They saw the two-tonne boulder placed over the entrance of the tomb where Jesus was laid. They quietly and thoughtfully made their way home, having agreed they would return at the next opportunity and finish embalming the body of their deliverer.
Jesus is alive
Mary Magdalene was the first person to see, meet and speak to the resurrected Jesus. Jesus had been in the tomb for three days and three nights, and Mary took the first opportunity to go to the tomb and go in to finish embalming Jesus’ dead body. How she and her female friends thought they would move that two-tonne boulder, I don’t know. How they would get past the fourteen Roman soldiers guarding the tomb was another issue that didn’t seem to deter them. While all the other disciples were asleep and hiding for fear, Mary and her liberated friends were motivated by love and devotion and, despite the obstacles, ran to the place they had seen Jesus buried.
They were shocked; the boulder was already rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. The soldiers who guarded the tomb were lying like dead men. Mary stooped and looked in and saw that it was empty. She began to weep, fearing that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. She ran back and got Peter and John to come. They saw that her report was true and returned back to their own homes.
Mary, still crying outside the tomb, confused, wonders who has taken the body and where have they put Jesus? In the foggy dawn, with eyes full of tears, she sees a man she assumes is the gardener. She says to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him.” The man says, “Mary.” She knows that voice; this is the man who had delivered her, who had saved her from her sin; the one who had given her new life. It is Jesus. He is alive. Her sorrow turns to joy and she answers, “Teacher!” When Jesus had cast out the demons from Mary, the great liberty that followed caused her to think that it couldn’t get any better than this. But it did. She is standing before the King of all glory, the risen Saviour.
Mary now knows what Jesus meant when she heard Him say: “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” She was experiencing abundant life; resurrected life. And the true meaning of when He said, “Out of your innermost being shall flow rivers of living water” was impacting her. Mary was spiritually alive; all fears, tears and doubts were gone. This time, when she went back to the other disciples, she ran with assurance and confidence that never left her till her dying breath. Mary had a message to declare: He is risen. Jesus is alive.
Jesus is the way, truth and life
Many have lived and declared that they are the way to God. There are many who say that if you follow their teachings you will find peace and happiness. Religions all over the world make such claims regarding their prophets or gurus or teachers. Is there a difference? Why Jesus?
There are a multitude of differences, but I will conclude with just one. Every other founder of various religions has a tomb or monument identifying their place of burial, but the tomb of Jesus is empty.
Because of this reality, each person can know Jesus personally and can receive His life. Not just a code of living, not a bunch of rules or ideals, but a living Saviour who has paid the ransomed price for your liberty to be a son of God. We each must choose like Mary to meet the risen Christ and say to Him, “I have been bought with a price. I am not my own. I will believe, obey and serve You all the days of my life.”
Taken from the Life of Jesus Series by Bruce Mackay